Gail Sexius: Communication Exchange – Are Hand Gestures Ever Really Enough?

Hand gestures are often looked upon as a universal language. I mean, it makes sense right? If you cannot explain to someone what it is exactly you want, pointing is definitely the easiest and most effective means of communication. If counting numerically is feasibly difficult in a foreign language, what easier way to state how many apples you want than to use your fingers (well, except for cases that involve numbers which are larger than ten). One of my goals when first coming to China was to effectively be able to illustrate to people what I wanted using hand gestures. Sounds simple enough, right? However, I soon learned counting in Chinese using your fingers were completely different from those in Western Cultures. The number seven is not illustrated with five fingers pointed on one hand and two on the other hand, likewise for the following numbers after seven. Although using my hand gestures were helpful, they were never really enough to clearly communicate. They were never really enough to fully demonstrate all the things I wanted to verbalize and relying on simply gestures just caused more confusion when trying to communicate.

With hand gestures being an inefficient method, over the course of my past months in China, I have really focused on immersing myself in the language to have a basic level of communication for necessities such as food, directions, bathroom locations and cost of items. Taking my Beginning Mandarin Course has really assisted me in understanding the intricacies of the language such as correctly making the tonal sounds, using proper measure words (because there are a million), and also forming grammatically correct sentences. My Mandarin Class also assisted me in learning basic characters such as distinguishing between foods such as pork, chicken and beef.

As I thrived to learn Mandarin, it became increasing evident to me that here in Chengdu, many people are also very anxious to learn English and to also practice their English with Western foreigners. One of the ways many English learners practice their English is by going to English Corner. English Corner isn’t technically a corner in an alley, but instead English corner is on Sichuan University’s Wangjiang Campus and is a place where many Chinese people go to meet with foreigners and simply engage in conversations that are in English. Those practicing their English will ask all sorts of questions. Some may be political and others can be about American television shows or state geography; nevertheless, each question is to further develop a better understanding of the Western world and enhance their conversational skills.

Although I did enjoy English Corner the first time I went, the whole experience was a bit overwhelming at first. English Corner was surrounded with many people and while at English Corner usually more than one person is speaking to you at a time. My first time there, I was surrounded by eight people who asked me several questions back to back. Though the experience was overwhelming at first, in the end it was truly rewarding.  It was a win-win situation for everyone. The Chinese participants practiced their English and I, in turn, had the opportunity to further learn about Chinese culture and tradition, and I also made new friends, each learning opportunities that would of never have been met had I stuck to only using hand gestures.

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