Although basic communication is possible without words, there are certain situations in which verbal language is essential. As soon as speakers refer to matters that are beyond the 'here' and 'now', gestures alone do not work. For example when we talk about the past or the future, when we refer to abstract matters such as speed, happiness or politics, or when we make a joke, it becomes very difficult to convey those meanings through body language.

How do you point at something that happened yesterday, or will happen tomorrow? How should you read a smile when you cannot see what people are smiling about? The missing link in all those situations is language.

When words do matter

Click each image to watch what happens when words actually matter.

Dave and Si try to make sense of a naughty joke. In the end, the French producer has to come to the rescue. Copyright BBC BBC producer, Dan Slee recalls his experience in Hungary. Copyright BBC The young man helping in this shoot is not a professional interpreter, and struggles with a traditional saying . . . watch how Simon copes with the situation. Copyright BBC Richard Sharman, BBC producer, shares an example Copyright BBC In this clip the BBC programme editor uses subtitles to make a private joke with English-speaking viewers. He then discusses the ethical issues raised. Copyright BBC