Throughout cultures, sub-cultures, entertainment, political movements, religious ceremonies, and, simply, at the dinner table humans talk with their bodies, especially hands.
A theory of language development speculates that the earliest language developed from simple gestures. One of the oldest, common gestures is the outstretched hand with the palm up indicating begging or requesting.
This gesture is so universal, it’s not just recognized by humans but also by nonhuman primates, like chimpanzees. However, despite similar actions and movements, most gestures tend to have different meanings ascribed to them depending on the speaker’s culture and country of origin.
Will you know how to interpret your client’s or witness’s gestures?
Your interpreter does.
Here are some common hand gestures that can be misinterpreted depending on who is on the receiving end:
Most of Europe and North America: Okay (approval/agreement)
Brazil, Germany: Offensive gesture
Turkey, Tunisia, Greece: Vulgar expression, threat or obscenity
France, Belgium: Zero or worthless
American Sign Language (chest level): Profanity
Middle East: Represents the evil eye, a curse
Buddhism: Represents discussion and communication
India: Classical dance gesture in Hinduism
Mediterranean Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, France, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Mexico, Peru, Italy, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay (directed at someone): An insult indicating someone’s wife has been unfaithful
Italy and Malta (fingers pointing down): Corna – protection against the evil eye
USA: University of Texas, Texas Longhorn Football Team
Metal & Rock culture: Adopted by the Rock and Metal communities to signal approval
Buddhism: Used to turn away evil influences such as demons, sickness, and negative thoughts
Germany, France, Hungary: One (1)
Finland: Good luck!
West Africa, Iran, Greece: Pejorative meaning, expresses disapproval
China: “You’re number 1.”
American Sign Language (wiggled): Ten (10)
Ancient Rome: Passing judgment on a gladiator (death sentence)
Britain, USA, Australia, South Africa, Singapore, New Zealand, Russia: “Good/okay” or to indicate the desire to hitchhike
Hawaii: Aloha Spirit meaning friendship, understanding, compassion, and solidarity
Holland (thumb touching mouth): Indicating one wants a drink or asking someone else if they would like a drink
China: Six (6)
Russia and Australia (thumb touching mouth): An invitation to smoke marijuana
New Zealand: Recognized gang sign
Surf culture: Greeting and expression of thanks
Your interpreter will be able to parse out not only your client’s words but use their in-depth cultural knowledge to convey meaning, taking into account body language and gestures. More than just being bilingual or taking a few classes in a foreign language, the interpreter uses their extensive cultural knowledge to examine every detail ensuring the correct meaning is conveyed.