If someone frowns while you’re speaking, you will probably assume that they don’t understand what you’ve said. Of course, it could also mean that they have a stomach pain or are thinking about something else entirely! You can’t always assume that you know what is meant, but expressions usually help you to know what is going on. They add meaning.
Activity 20 Common expressions
1. Take a few minutes to note down some common facial expressions or gestures that people use when talking with others.
You may have thought of some of the following:
- Shrugging your shoulders
- Rolling your eyes
- Shaking your head
- Raising your eyebrows.
2. Now try to add meaning to the list of expressions and movements you created. Write down next to each what you think it usually means.
Here are some common gestures and what they usually mean:
- Nodding — agreeing
- Shaking head — disagreeing
- Raising eyebrows — showing surprise or disapproval
- Shrugging — I don’t know
- Rolling eyes — disbelief/frustration/dismissing an idea.
Sometimes people can say one thing with words and another thing with their expression or tone of voice. For example, they may tell you that they are very excited but they actually look bored and speak as if they are reading the phone directory. What conclusion would you draw?
Perhaps such a person wants you to believe that they are excited because they want to make you happy, but are not really excited at all.
Activity 21 Real-life situations
In the video below, various people make a statement and then repeat it using a different expression, tone of voice and body language. How does this change the meaning of what the person says?
Here are some of the ways in which facial expression, tone and body language seem to change the meaning of what’s said.
I’m sorry about what I said earlier. In the first clip, she frowns and has her arms folded. You wonder if she really means it. In the second clip, she reaches out with her hands as if to emphasise that she really is sorry.
I saw someone run a key down the side of your car. In the first clip, she looks down while she’s speaking and has her arms folded. It makes you doubt her story and wonder if she was the person responsible for scratching your car! In the second clip, she looks at you as she speaks and she sounds concerned.
Have a lovely time tonight. In the first clip, he looks down, has his arms folded and sounds rather bored and unhappy as he says it. But in the second clip, he looks at you, has a brighter tone of voice and sounds as if he means it.
So tell me, what do you think of my idea? In the first clip, she has her arms folded and frowns as she asks the question. You get the impression she’s not actually that interested in what you think. In the second clip, her expression is more open, as is her body language, and it seems as if she really does want to hear your thoughts.
I’d love to go to the cinema with you tonight. In the first clip, she leans back with her arms folded and you’re not sure whether she means what she says. In the second clip, her facial expression and her outstretched hands suggest that she really would like to go out.