A few years ago, well many years ago I guess, several Spanish newspapers published a striking image on their front pages. It wasn’t related to a grisly story of violence, with bodies lining the ground, nor was it of a scientist who had just discovered a magic solution to a serious problem. It was a picture of the then US president Bill Clinton, taken during a trip to the state of Texas. Mr. Clinton appears standing and smiling with his left hand raised and his index and middle fingers sticking up. Why would newspaper readers in a distant country like Spain find Clinton’s domestic visit interesting? Because this gesture, which for American southerners symbolizes Texas longhorn cattle, a breed of bull that are a source of pride among Texans, this gesture, in Spain and in Italy at least, is considered an aggressive insult.
If you ever travel to Greece and decide to catch a taxi from your airport to your hotel, don’t even think of calling the cab by raising your open hand, in Greece this gesture is as offensive as giving someone the middle finger.
When considering the importance of teaching students the real language, moving away from the excessively heavy focus on grammar that many methods include, and moving towards concentrating on more practical lessons, it’s important to remember non-verbal language, which is an undeniably important element in Spanish. Everyone knows that we Spaniards cannot speak with our hands behind our backs, we need the support, the emphasis, and at times the contradiction and irony that hand gestures can –and should- contribute to direct verbal communication. By the way, there’s an interesting article on what Spanish to teach on the forum Comunidad Todoele.
With a language like Spanish, which so often makes use of emphatic elements and the possibilities afforded by the language to express irony (such as the flexible order of elements within a sentence structure or the forms of reported speech, the so-called implicaturas that have been a source of debate for so long) gestures are something that we should teach so that our learners don’t sit there staring in silent confusion when, after someone is asked how a party went the night before, they make a sound like “fuuu” while first shaking their right hand, with the palm facing down, then immediately afterward they rotate the hand with the palm facing up, closing and opening their fingers rhythmically, our way of saying “there were a ton of people there!”
Of course, as the expression goes, cada maestrillo tiene su librillo, and the decision of how to teach is really up to the teacher, who knows the internal dynamics of their class group and the way to introduce paraverbal aspects of language. There’s one invaluable reference book however that can offer helpful guidance on how to systematize your teaching, a book that may be 20 years old, but which has gracefully survived the passage of time: Diccionario de gestos, con sus giros más usuales, edited by Edelsa, de J.Coll, Mª José Gelabert and E. Martinelli. We’ve also found a website about Colloquial Spanish – unfinished – which although has some gaps, provides plenty of very useful material which is also easy to use in the classroom, it’s worth checking out.
by Lauris on Wednesday, May 15, 2013
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by Salomé Torres on Thursday, May 09, 2013
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