Group Discussion: Gestures

Hello and thank you for checking out the Start Gate English blog!

Every week on Monday at 3pm and Tuesday at 8pm we have a one-hour group discussion on a different topic.  We will also have a Sunday class in the near future, so please keep an eye out for that!  These classes are open to any and all students, but the Sunday and Monday classes are recommended for intermediate and advanced students.  The Tuesday class is for high beginner to intermediate.  We have 2-4 students in each class. The teacher asks questions and discusses the answers with the students, and students can ask questions to each other (and the teacher, too!). You are welcome to bring a dictionary or ask the teacher if you need help. One lesson is 1500-2500 yen, depending on how many tickets you buy. If you are interested, please check out the website or contact me directly. If you are not available on Monday at 3pm or Tuesday at 8pm, but would like to join, please tell me your available days and times and I will be happy to set up another class for you!

First, here is the lexical set (a group of words and expressions necessary for the discussion):

Gesture Lexical Set


  • Gesture: 身ぶり

– Body movement used to express an idea

Ex: The Indian gesture for “I’m listening” is very different than the Japanese gesture for it.

  • Insult: 侮辱

– Something that gives offense, offend

Ex: In America, raising your middle finger to someone is an insult.

  • Sign Language: 手話

– A language used by making signs with one’s hands

Ex: How do you say your name in sign language?


  • Bow: お辞儀する

– Incline the body or head in greeting

Ex: In Japan, people often bow to each other

  • Count: 数える

– List one by one to determine a total number

Ex: I can’t even count how many CDs he has, he has so many.

  • Gesture: 身ぶりする

– Make a gesture, show by gesture

Ex: Is that woman gesturing at us?

  • Identify: 把握する

– Figure out the nature or character of something or someone.

Ex: Can you identify the person who stole your purse?

  • Point: 指を指す

– Aim or direct one’s finger at someone or something

Ex: You shouldn’t point directly at people, it’s rude.

  • Signal: 合図する

– Make a sound or gesture to someone to communicate

Ex: How do I signal a waiter in the US?


  • Appropriate: ふさわしい

– Suitable, something that fits or makes sense

Ex: Ripped jeans are not very appropriate at a wedding.

  • Confusing: 複雑な

– Causing confusion

Ex: Many people say that English prepositions are very confusing.

  • Distracting: 気を散らす

– Causing to lose focus or attention

Ex: Please turn off the TV while I study, it’s very distracting.

  • Foreign: 外国の

– Away from one’s home country

Ex: Have you ever been to a foreign country?

  • Insulting: 侮辱的な

– Expressing disrespect or rudeness

Ex: “Go to hell” is an insulting expression in English.

  • Unique: 唯一の

– The only one of its kind

Ex: Every country has its own unique culture.

  • Universal: 世間一般の

– Related to or the same everywhere in the world

Ex: Some gestures are universal, like waving at someone to greet them.


  • Make a gesture: 手まね・身ぶりする

– Gesture

Ex: I don’t understand this gesture that you are making.

  • Not… any more: もう。。「では」ない

– Something that was true before but is not true now and will not be true in the future.

Ex: When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards, but I don’t any more.

Okay, now on to the questions and answers!

1. What are some gestures you use in Japan? Are there any good ones or insulting ones?

The students showed me a gesture for drinking and stopping. They showed me the peace sign as well, a very popular gesture in Japan. One student showed me gestures for “I don’t know” (he shrugged his shoulders) and for money (he made a circle with his thumb and forefinger).

2. How do you signal someone in Japan? How do you gesture that someone is crazy? Angry? Bored? How do you signal that you want someone to go away?

The students said they wave their hand facing downwards to signal to someone in Japan. To gesture that someone is crazy, they spin their finger either over their head or ear. To gesture that someone is angry, they put their fingers on their head as though they were horns. To gesture that they themselves are angry they cross their arms. To gesture that they are bored, they pretend to fall asleep! To signal that they want someone to go away, they also wave their hands facing downward, but they wave their fingers in the opposite direction.

3. Is it appropriate to point in Japan?

In most cases, it is. For example, when you’re giving someone directions, it’s appropriate. However, it’s generally rude to point directly at people, but it’s appropriate to point to yourself. However, one student said he sometimes does it when the other person says something he agrees with.

4. Are there any gestures that you used as a child but you don’t use any more? Are there any gestures you learned as an adult that you didn’t know when you were a child?

One student said Japanese children start learning how to bow as children but learn how to do it better as they get older. One student said that when he was a teenager he often used the middle finger because at the time, he and his friends thought it was cool.

5. Do you know any gestures that you can make with your feet?

One student said people sometimes tap their feet rapidly. Another student mentioned that he crosses his legs (which is not exactly the same, but quite close!).

6. Do you know any gestures that people make in other countries?

One of the students displayed the well-known “air quotations”; using two fingers on each hand to make quotation marks in the air. Another student gave me the middle finger! Do you know what these gestures mean?

7. Are there any gestures that are unique to Japan?

The students couldn’t think of any.  Can you?

8. Have you ever made a social mistake by making the wrong gesture in a foreign country?

The students haven’t had much experience abroad, so they haven’t made any social mistakes (that they are aware of!). One of them said they were surprised that a lot of foreigners shake hands very strongly, and he was worried that his weak handshake was insulting!

9. Have you ever seen a gesture that you didn’t understand?

The student brought up the air quotations again. As a gesture, it means “allegedly” or “apparently” or “according to someone else”. We often use it when we hear or read something that we find doubtful. We use it when we don’t want the listener to assume that we think the statement is true.

10. What are some universal gestures?

The students said handshakes are a universal gestures. Waving to someone to greet them is also universal.


That’s it!  So what gestures do you know?  Are there any gestures that you have seen but didn’t understand?  What gestures are unique to Japan?  Let me know on twitter or in the comments section!

There were a couple other interesting challenges that came up during the discussion, so look for those next week!  Take care!


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