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Getting your Message Across

From a smile and a wave to a message on the Internet, communication keeps us in touch with each other and the rest of the world.

Communication is the sending of messages from one living thing to another. It is part of the process of staying alive and of surviving. In the animal kingdom, most communication is connected with survival. Animals use scents, sounds and actions to show their young how to behave, or to protect themselves against predators*. For example, when an angry cat arches its back and opens its claws it means 'keep your distance'!

Like animals, human beings also use non-verbal methods of communication. Sometimes we do this more than we realise. When your parents read your school report, they may not need to say anything to show you how they feel. The way they hold the report and the look on their faces immediately tells you if they are delighted, surprised, disappointed or angry.

In fact facial expressions and gestures have always been a powerful way of communicating and many expressions have the same meaning all over the world. For example, people smile when they are happy or frown when they are sad. Equally, showing your open hands is widely recognised as a sign of peace, while raising a clenched fist can be a sign of anger or aggression. However, some gestures may have different meanings in different places. A friendly sign in one culture might be impolite in another - so take care!

Another way of showing your feelings is through touch or sounds that aren't words. Sighs and groans can show that you are bored, depressed or frustrated; laughter usually tells people that you are amused or delighted; and screams indicate that you are frightened. Handshakes, kisses and hugs are different ways of greeting people. And hugs and kisses can be signs of affection and love.

Many animals have specially adapted body parts which help them to communicate visually. A stag* for example has dangerous antlers* to warn off predators. In contrast, human bodies are not specially developed in this way. However, what we wear can say a lot about us. Business people and politicians usually wear expensive suits in order to appear serious, people in the entertainment industry wear glamorous outfits, and teenagers might wear designer jeans and pierce their noses. So when you meet someone for the first time, remember, it's not just what you say that makes an impression, but also what you wear and what you do!

The Young Oxford Book of The Human Being, David Glover

* predator = an animal that kills and eats other animals
* stag = a male deer
* antlers = horns on the head of the male deer
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