Communication is a pretty important part of daily life, but what do you do when you need to communicate with someone from another culture? Explore the ideas behind intercultural communication and test your understanding with a brief quiz.
Cultures and Communication
Buongiorno. Salam. Nín hao. Hujambo. Howdy. There are so many ways just to say hello!
No matter where you are in the world, communication is important. But communicating across cultures can be pretty hard. And I don’t just mean that there’s a language barrier, although that can be an issue. No, I mean that cultures actually have some very different ways of communicating. Some cultures are informal, some cultures use a whole series of ritual greetings before having a conversation, and some cultures consider it rude to show up to a meeting on time.
But what do all these cultures have in common? Well, for one, you can offend each of them if you don’t understand their communication practices. And we want to avoid that. So what do we do? Well, to put it simply, we learn to communicate!
So, we need to learn how to communicate all over again, just like when we were children. And just like when we were children, this requires learning language as well as learning behavioral norms for good communication. However, this will be a bit different since we’re adults learning how to communicate in someone else’s culture, not our own.
Intercultural communication is the verbal and nonverbal interaction between people from different cultural backgrounds. Basically, ‘inter-‘ is a prefix that means ‘between’ and cultural means… well, from a culture, so intercultural communication is the communication between cultures. Sometimes, this is used to describe a single person trying to interact in a foreign environment but more often, it is a two-way street, where people from both cultures are trying to improve their communication.
Now, if you want to learn about intercultural communication, it’s important to understand what this is. But it’s also important to understand what it isn’t. Intercultural communication is targeted at allowing for positive and productive interaction. You are not joining this culture, you are not becoming a member of another society, you are not abandoning your own culture. That would be assimilation and that’s not what we’re after.
Intercultural communication is also not simply a language proficiency. Yes, communication requires the ability to understand language, but just think about how much of your communication with even your own friends is nonverbal: our body language, our attitudes, the rituals from hand-shaking to the stink eye. Some researchers estimate that up to 93% of all human communication is nonverbal, although according to recent studies, it’s actually closer to 60%.
Still, that means that more than half of communication is never spoken. So, intercultural communication is going to take a lot more than just learning a language.
Intercultural communication is generally explained through three parts. They overlap a bit with each other but together, give you the tools to communicate with people from another culture. Ready to give them a try?
The first is knowledge, or an understanding of communication rules within a culture. This is just the practical stuff you need to know to communicate, things like language but also greeting rituals, styles of communication, that sort of stuff. Do people of this culture prefer to talk business in morning or night? Are they generally formal or informal? It’s best to try and develop as much knowledge about a culture before going off and trying to master the other two parts of intercultural communication.
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