• Video
  • 15 mins
  • Level 1: Introductory

When words do matter

Updated Monday 23rd April 2012

Gestures and body language can only get you so far. Sooner or later, you will find yourself in a situation in which verbal language actually matters.

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
 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

When words do not matter Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC video icon

Languages 

When words do not matter

Body language, gestures, willingness to communicate and share knowledge can get you a long way when you do not speak each other’s language.

Video
15 mins
From sound to meaning: hearing, speech and language Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 2 icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

From sound to meaning: hearing, speech and language

Human communication is vastly more complex than that of any other species we know about. It is so complex that linguists are only just beginning to identify the processes in the brain that are related to understanding language. This free course, From sound to meaning: hearing, speech and language, looks at how language is understood by taking an interdisciplinary approach.

Free course
12 hrs
Having a go Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC video icon

Languages 

Having a go

The key to successful intercultural communication is very simple: just get out there and give it a go!

Video
15 mins
Learning to talk Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Py2000 | Dreamstime.com article icon

Education & Development 

Learning to talk

Dr. Clare Wood takes a look at the development of communication in babies and children

Article
Parlez-vous Eurovision? Creative commons image Icon Ngo Quang Minh under CC-BY-NC-2.0 licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Languages 

Parlez-vous Eurovision?

As English-language songs dominate the Eurovision Song Contest in its 60th anniversary, this article explores why so many of the songs are sung in English.

Article
The language of baking across Europe Creative commons image Icon Sifu Renka under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license activity icon

Languages 

The language of baking across Europe

Read and listen to the language of bakeries and cake shops across eight European countries by exploring our map. Find out about regional and cultural differences (and similarities) as you browse our collections.

Activity
Gaelic in modern Scotland Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 1 icon

Languages 

Gaelic in modern Scotland

Modern Scotland is a multi-lingual country. Gaelic, Scots and English, along with newer introductions from Europe and beyond, all influence the way Scotland's people now speak to each other and to the rest of the world. Created with the positive encouragement of Brd na Gidhlig and with support from BBC Alba, this free course, Gaelic in modern Scotland, is available in both Gaelic and English. The course has been designed to provide a resource for people with a personal or professional interest in increasing their knowledge and understanding of the development and impact of Scottish Gaelic and its culture. It aims to surprise and challenge where necessary; to provide links and ideas for further research; and, for some, to kick-start a journey into learning a language which is integral to Scotland's national identity.

Free course
15 hrs
The trouble with stereotypes Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: MorgueFile article icon

Languages 

The trouble with stereotypes

Tita Beaven explores the fine line between making sense of reality and sweeping generalisations in this article.  

Article
Catalan resurgent: how a language has gone from ban to boom Creative commons image Icon Byronv2 under CC-BY-NC licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Languages 

Catalan resurgent: how a language has gone from ban to boom

Cruelly supressed during the Franco regime, the Catalan language is experiencing a revival - and bringing a sense of pride with it.

Article