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    Shake hands or bow

Enhancing language education in cross-border vocational education

Cette page sera disponible en français en 2024. Veuillez vous référer aux pages en anglais pour le moment.

Carte des régions frontalières

Les régions frontalières d'Allemagne-France-Luxembourg-Belgique, Allemagne-Danemark, Pologne-République tchèque et Lituanie-Pologne revêtent une importance particulière pour ce projet. Veuillez cliquer sur la carte pour en savoir plus sur une région particulière.

Shake hands, nod or kiss cheeks? Keep one’s distance or come close in conversation? Non-verbal signals, such as gestures or body language, play an important role in communication. Especially, in working context it is helpful to know how to master different encounters.


  • Get to know some basics on non-verbal communication and its relevance for successful communication.
  • Understand why non-verbal communication has to be considered in language education in vocational cross-border settings based on practical examples.

Non-verbal communication

Verbal and non-verbal communication belong together. In our daily perception, the words we say are enriched by body language and gestures. In an indirect way, without words we provide information about our emotions, which accompany interpersonal contacts. As research shows, involuntary body movement communicates about 65-70% of the (conversational) content. During the conversation, we unconsciously receive signals from our interlocutor and we are also producing such signals (e.g. Morcinek-Abramczyk 2018, 2019).

These features of non-verbal communication have specific meanings and can vary from country to country and even (border) region to (border) region. Including verbal and non-verbal communication in cross-border vocational language education is important because misunderstandings, for example, can be easily prevented at the workplace. In this way, this section aims at raising awareness of the existence of different non-verbal standards, creating awareness of one’s own 'norms' and how to interpret different norms and behaviours and use this consciously.

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A more concrete look at an example from the Greater Region

In Saarland, Germany, in formal professional contexts, people tend to shake hands to greet, while our neighbours in Lorraine, France, tend to shake hands or – sometimes – kiss the cheek.

  • How do you greet in your border region? Are there also differences or do you share non-verbal codes?
  • Think about further non-verbal signals, such as the use of gestures like thumbs up/down or nodding for saying yes and shaking the head for saying no.
  • What kind of non-verbal communication do you use during your working day? Try to make a list and think about whether you behave in the same way  when talking to business partners from another country.
  • What attitudes and language skills (for example formal and informal) would help you behave appropriately?

Social distance and understanding of space

Proper functioning in a society requires understanding and being familiar with many different aspects of social life such as space, interpersonal distance and sense of territoriality. Very important is the correlation between human and spatial arrangement. This aspect is especially important for somebody who must find his or her place in a new workspace and function appropriately, not to cause misunderstandings or conflicts. The understanding of space and proper distance to interlocutors is passed on during the process of socialization. This is why people from different cultures (sometimes even very close ones) might perceive differences in meanings and values, and, as a consequence send and decode communication in the way that is common in their culture.

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  • Have you ever experienced some 'strange feelings' in intercultural communication situations due to different ‘norms’ of distance? Or can you remember a situation that you would maybe judge differently now that you have learnt about different concepts of distance? How would you describe your 'norm' and your cultural background? Do you always position yourself in the same way? Or does it change depending on the place, the context and the situation?
  • What about your colleagues and pairs? An exchange can be very fruitful for the social wellbeing and the relationships inside your enterprise or institution. The activity above can also be used in class. It gives you the opportunity to compare different experiences and different feelings of your students.

Take away

  • Non-verbal communication is important for successful conversation.
  • Similarities and differences exist between countries and border regions regarding non-verbal communication, being aware of them helps to orientate in cross-border living and working contexts.