Intercultural communication: a teaching and learning framework
Author: Donna Humphrey
© Donna Humphrey, Nottingham Trent University
The objectives of this paper are to; present a teaching and learning framework which provides the foundation for the effective acquisition and mediation of intercultural communication skills in the modern language classroom; balance the theory with practical examples of teaching methodology, materials and activities. The framework presented here merges theories of learning from the fields of intercultural education, intercultural communication studies and educational psychology.
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Table of contents
This paper was originally presented at the Setting the Agenda: Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies in Higher Education conference, 24-26 June 2002.
The starting point for this paper is that the acquisition and mediation of effective intercultural communication skills as a new objective in modern language learning and teaching requires new methodological approaches. These methodological approaches need to offer a guide to curriculum development and structure, a means for students to progress through the material, and a way of checking to see if both the students and the course are achieving what is intended.
The aim of this paper is to consider a range of complementary approaches that could be combined to bring about a concept of learning which is:
- compatible with current approaches to language learning methodology;
- tailored to the development of effective intercultural communication skills.
To address the above needs, it was necessary to research the literature for methodological approaches that could inform practice from within the fields of intercultural educational practice, cross-cultural and intercultural research methodology, intercultural communication studies and educational psychology (see bibliography). As a result of that research, four diverse but complimentary approaches were selected and integrated into a teaching and learning framework.
The criteria for selection were based on the following assumptions and beliefs about culture and intercultural learning:
- culture should be seen as a dynamic, changing and developing process;
- culture is a complex entity and this complexity should be represented;
- educational approaches to the development of interpersonal communication skills should include personal and social development;
- educational approaches should equip learners with the means of accessing and analysing a broad range of cultural practices and meanings, whatever their status;
- educational approaches should assist learners in developing an understanding of the processes involved when those from different cultural backgrounds interact and produce or build a communicative event;
- educational approaches should afford learners opportunities to analyse and reflect on their encounters, identify any conflict areas, describe them, and in the light of their experience recognise opportunities for building relationships, and/or changed future actions or behaviour.
- Based on the above criteria four approaches were selected. They are:
- the cultural criticality approach;
- the dynamic, process approach;
- the 'emic' and 'etic' approach;
- the experiential learning cycle approach.
An explanation of what each approach has to offer pedagogically is given in the following section. Concrete examples of how these theories may be translated into practical teaching material is available in appendix 1.
The cultural criticality approach
There are two basic points of view concerning intercultural communication theory, research and practice. Supporters of these two perspectives have been called respectively: cultural critics and cultural dialogists. This dichotomy represents two approaches associated with intercultural communication and the choice of methods to serve educational goals.
Adherents of the cultural critical point of view regard cultural differences as potential barriers; they advocate understanding these barriers and respecting the differences. They promote training to bridge the inevitable cultural gap. The term 'critic' as used here refers to the emphasis upon critical or vital differences that might be sources of communication break down. The importance of difference have been made in classic statements by Whorf (1956), Hall (1973), and Singer (1975). Methods suited to such an approach are those that explain, illustrate, or exemplify culture-specific differences. Cultural criticism seeks to find points of conflict and isolate them as researchable issues in transcultural interaction. The activities of the critics are aimed at sensitising the researcher and/or learner to differences. The approach is culture-specific and focuses on a particular group.
Some authors in the field stress the importance of perceiving cultural similarity, e.g. Brislin observes that:
perceiving similarities leads to a basis for interaction; perceiving differences leads to a basis for out-group rejection.
Brislin (1981: 60)
Or, as Samovar, Porter, and Jain (1981) put it:
It is our likenesses that enable us to find common ground and establish rapport.
Bennett strongly opposes this approach. He argues:
I observe in most classrooms and workshop environments that difficulties in learning the concepts and skills of intercultural communication are nearly always attributable to a disavowal of cultural differences, not a lack of appreciating similarity.
(Bennett 1993: 25)
Whilst I agree to some extent with Bennett. It is unproductive to dismiss the similarities approach for the following reasons.
First, my position is that there is benefit from understanding the failures of human communication interactions and the differences that bring about that failure. However, if the successes and the reasons for positive outcomes are ignored it will, at best, leave us half informed about the nature of intercultural communication. Second, investigating cultural similarities may provide teachers with another useful tool for investigating culture on a wide variety of levels. It may also help some learners, especially those from cultures which teach the notion of cultural exclusivity, recognise that individuals from different cultures may hold personal and individual values and perceptions which are similar to their own. It is what we have in common which may transcend national, group and individual cultural boundaries.
Another approach is offered by the cultural dialogists. Cultural dialogists are those whose research and educational efforts are directed towards the investigation of cross-cultural communication. Their concerns are with the honing of intercultural communicative skills, fostering higher levels of both self-awareness and cross-cultural awareness, and the development of personality characteristics to enhance cross-cultural communication. The cultural dialogist emphasises internationalism, world-wide communication and humanism. The activity of the dialogists is primarily concerned with overcoming differences and the approach is culture-general.
Today, few practitioners within the field of intercultural education use exclusively one approach over another. The perspectives of the cultural critic and cultural dialogists and other intercultural educators believe that the approaches should not represent an either/or proposition but rather provide a range of methodological choices, each appropriate and productive under given circumstances in given contexts for given learners.
The 'emic' and 'etic' approach
Another approach to the study of culture is the 'emic' and 'etic' perspectives. In short, the 'emic' approach focuses on studying cultures from the inside. This perspective attempts to understand cultures as the members of the cultures understand them. In contrast, the 'etic' approach focuses on understanding cultures from the outside by comparing cultures using pre-determined characteristics. The two approaches are based on anthropological, sociolinguistic, and ethnographic research models. Brislin (1983) argues that in its current usage the distinction is employed basically as a metaphor for differences between the culture specific approach (emic, single culture) and cultural-general (etic, universal) approaches to research. The table below sets out the main differences between the emic and etic approaches.
The Emic and Etic approaches
|Emic Approach||Etic Approach|
|Studies the behaviour from within the system||Studies the behaviour from outside the system|
|Examines only one culture||Examines many cultures, comparing them|
|Structure discovered by the analyst||Structure created by the analyst|
|Criteria are relative to internal characteristics||Criteria considered absolute or universal|
Source: Berry, J. (1980). 'Introduction to methodology'. In: H. C. Triandis & J. Berry (eds.). (1980) Handbook of cross-cultural psychology (Vol. 2: 1-28). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
To summarise, an 'etic' approach is culture-general and assumes that cross-cultural comparisons can generate observational categories that are a useful way of comparing a wide variety of cultures, whilst the 'emic' approach provides a way of understanding how reality is organised within a particular cultural perspective.
Although the 'emic' and 'etic' approaches are viewed as opposites, there are arguments for their integration (Triandis 1972). Both are viable approaches to the study of culture and the impact that culture has on intercultural communication in and of themselves. In order to develop a good understanding of communication in intercultural communication, a combination of both 'emic' and 'etic' approaches is required.
The dynamic, process approach
The third approach involves learners investigating culture and communication from a perspective that sees culture and communication as dynamic, ever changing, multi-layed and complex. The implication of this view of culture and communication is that language teachers would concentrate on equipping learners with the means of accessing and analysing a broad range of cultural practices and meanings, whatever their status. This would mean a complete reversal of current approaches which tends towards providing learners with information about a country's institutional society and their history, backed up by a selection of representations of 'everyday life'. In order to replace this approach teachers would have to provide learners with the critical tools to analyse social processes and their outcomes by developing their critical understanding of their own and other societies at three levels of analysis: national, group and individual (Humphrey 1993). Culture, in this approach, is not seen as a monolithic entity, determining the behaviour of an individual or a group. Instead it is seen as a melange of what each individual brings of their social, educational, ethnic, national and even international experiences to the communicative event. Brookes points out, teachers of intercultural communication should:
never lose sight of the individual. If we do we may be in danger of repressing the expression of the individual in the encounter.
(Brookes 1968: 11).
This approach to culture represents a different world to that of large cultures. In this approach 'cultures' are dynamic and ever changing, multi-layed and complex. Using this approach to address intercultural issues and to study intercultural communication, it is possible to avoid simplistic, ethnic, national and international culture explanations which can provide only one possible layer in an extremely complex, multi-layed scenario.
The experiential learning approach
Intercultural learning implies experiential learning. It is not sufficient to read books about culture, to listen to lectures about other cultures, or to deal with the subject on a purely cognitive and intellectual level. It is necessary for an individual to experience being confronted with new and unknown situations, to experience insecurity, fear, rejection as well as security, trust, sympathy and empathy. It is also necessary to learn from and with people from other cultures. This concept is based on Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle (1984). It means moving in circles from concrete experience to observation and reflection on that experience. These observations and reflections are assimilated into a theory from which new implications for action are deduced. These implications or hypotheses are then used to indicate new experiences.
Kolb's description of the learning cycle (Kolb and Fry 1975)
Kolb (1984) argues that if the cycle is to be effective, learning activities need to engage the cognitive, the affective and the behavioural dimensions of the learning process. In the process, cognitive learning allows an understanding of the experience through reflection. Reflection engages the affective dimensions of the learning process (e.g. perception, appreciation, re-evaluation) and may result in the implementation of what has been learnt in future actions and behaviours (the behavioural dimension).
One caveat is that experiential teaching is primarily based on a particular set of values such as learner-centredness, the teacher as facilitator, learning by doing, verbalisation, peer interaction, self disclosure, and small group work. Although notions similar to these are spreading, many of them are not a part of many primary, secondary or higher educational experiences and this maybe problematic as the language educator may encounter resistance.
In conclusion, I propose that the four approaches be combined and integrated into a learning and teaching framework. A framework that could provide the foundations for planning an effective programme of study. This framework is important as it can act as a guide to the language educator through a maze of information, materials and activities. It can assist in the development of a coherent curriculum which is consistent and complementary and where the learning outcomes reflect curricular aims. In addition, the framework provides the teacher with a wide choice of methods which could be used in the classroom. The framework ensures that there is a balance of perspectives in the programme e.g. 'emic' and 'etic', nation, group and individual. Thus highlighting the acknowledgement of different perspectives, the 'uncertainty' of knowledge and the multiple interpretations of existing information. Finally, it provides what may be the most effective educational means of ensuring that learning takes place.
Appendix 1: Module materials
Issues in Intercultural Communication
Level 1: FEL 103/104
Module Leader: Donna Humphrey
Introduction to the module
The real voyage of discovery is not in seeing new lands but in seeing with new eyes.
The module targets non-native English language speakers who use English as a second, foreign or international language. It examines current theories on verbal and non-verbal communication across cultural boundaries and the impact this has on effective intercultural communication. The module explores how speakers of English can be involved in developing the awareness, knowledge, skills and strategies for effective intercultural communication.
The course will involve lectures, seminars based on guided reading, case studies, simulations, personal diaries/journals, critical dialogue, peer tutoring, practical research assignments, language study and student-led presentations
In this module you will:
- explore the key concepts of culture, communication, and intercultural communication and discuses the inter-relationship between them;
- explore other concepts including enculturation, cultural relativity, ethnocentrism, stereotyping, culture shock, culture learning, culture awareness, insiders and outsider perceptions, ethnography;
- explore culture-general & culture specific descriptions;
- explore self-identity, the psychology of intercultural interaction, facework, cultural identity, group dynamics and interpersonal communication across cultures;
- explore the theories and practice of critical ethnography and its application to specific contexts;
- evaluate current intercultural communication theory in the light of the your own lived experience.
The course will engage you in developing greater self-awareness and self-reflectiveness. It may test your ability to be flexible, open, tolerant and accepting. It is important, therefore, that the classroom climate encourages self-discovery and provides a supportive atmosphere. You have the following rights at all times:
- You have the right to a personal level of disclosure. You can say as little or as much as you wish about yourself.
- There is no right or wrong, no level of success or failure and therefore no level of embarrassment. All answers are valid for each individual but can not be prescribed for a group.
- There should be no risk to your cultural identify. Pride in one's own identity is essential, as long as this pride does not exclude or deny others their differences.
- Self-awareness is a wonderful gift albeit a sometimes painful one.
The purpose of intercultural education is not to overwhelm you. The purpose is to motivate and heighten your enthusiasm for the intercultural adventures ahead.
Areas of Study
Phase 1. This involves a reflection about one's own values, attitudes and cultural identity. These reflections are combined with a positive and confident attitude towards one's self-image and identity. These reflections lead to an awareness that what you may take as obvious is not universally true for others.
Phase 2. This involves moving from the personal study of cultural identity towards a study of interpersonal communication across cultures; you are taught to examine, challenge or verify intercultural communication theory as part of your experience.
Phase 3. This involves the teaching of specific research tools and techniques in order to facilitate the process of discovery, to explore the unknown, and discover patterns of thinking. This is coupled with the development of strategies and skills such as active listening skills, ethnographic research methods to support the learning experience.
These phases are recycled throughout the programme. With each new cycle you are given new challenges. Each new challenge builds on what has been taught previously and prepares you for the next learning phase.
- Unit 1 Cultural identity
- Unit 2 Culture, communication and intercultural communication
- Unit 3 Communication and the communication process
- Unit 4 The effective intercultural communicator
- Unit 5 Values, beliefs and assumptions
- Unit 6 Ethnography
- Unit 7 Language and communication
- Unit 8 The way forward
The following texts are sample extracts from teaching material demonstrating the four approaches in action
Study the following four incidents and select from the four possible answers given the most likely reason as to what may have happened. The discussions of the alternative explanation can be found in the answer key. All of the alternatives should be considered, for two reasons. First, in many cases, two (or even more) of the alternative explanations may be considered correct or appropriate. After all in everyday life people do not find only one exact explanation for every incident they encounter. Second, successful intercultural adjustments depends on the individual's ability to reject incorrect explanations as well as find correct ones. Before checking your answer, explain how you arrived at this answer.
Whilst doing the exercise can you think of any similar incidents that you may have encountered?
Critical Incident 1. The Assessment of His Efforts
Tal was an African student from Gambia who recently began a postgraduate business administration course at a British university. It was the first time he had been to a foreign country, but having won a Gambian scholarship to attend university he was confident of his ability to do well. He applied himself enthusiastically to his studies and felt he had few difficulties with the material presented. However, when he received the first assessment of his papers and contributions to tutorials, he was disconcerted to find they were not very favourable. he was told that although his ideas were ' interesting' he did not keep to the topic, brought in too many irrelevancies and did not present his arguments in a logical manner. Tal was puzzled by this, as his work seemed logical and relevant to him, so he sought advice from Tony, one of his British classmates. Tony showed him some of his papers that had been given good grades, but this only increased Tal's confusion, because Tony's work seemed to Tal to be insubstantial and dull.
How would you explain to Tal's professors the origins of his confusion as to what is expected of him?
- Gambian and British modes of thinking and communicating are very different.
- Tal probably did not have the intellectual capacity to tackle postgraduate course
- Tal's Gambian education did not prepare him for the more rigorous British educational system
- Tal was probably going through a confusing settling-in period, and with time would produce more organised work.
How did you arrive at your answer?
Movement of the body (head, arms, legs, etc.).
The initial example from the health centre in Ethiopia was a problem caused by a kinesic sign being used which had different meaning cross culturally. Another example, the British gesture of slitting one's throat implying 'I've had it' or 'I'm in trouble,' conveys quite a different message in Swaziland. It means 'I love you.'
- What does slitting your throat in your culture mean?
- How do you say 'I love you'?
British people make no distinction between gesturing for silence to an adult or to a child. A British person will put one finger to the lips for both, while an Ethiopian will use only one finger to a child and four fingers for an adult. To use only one finger for an adult is disrespectful. On the other hand, Ethiopians make no distinction in gesturing to indicate emphatic negation. They shake their index finger from side to side to an adult as well as to a child, whereas this gesture is used only for children by the British.
- How do you gesture for silence in your culture?
- How do you gesture and emphatic no? Is it the same for adults and for children?
Drawing in the cheeks and holding the arms rigidly by the side of the body means 'thin' in Amharic. Diet-conscious US Americans and British people feel complimented if they are told that they are slim and so may naturally assume that to tell an Ethiopian friend this is also complimentary. Yet in Ethiopia and a number of other countries, this is taken pejoratively, as it is thought better to be heavy-set, indicating health and status and enough wealth to ensure the two.
'Emic' and 'Etic' Approach
Task 6 - Differing Values
Read the selection 'Anglo versus Chicano: Why?' In this selection Arthur L. Campa examines cross-cultural differences in Hispanic American and Anglo-American cultures. Whilst you are reading the selection reflect on your cultural values. Identify those differences and complete the following chart. Do your personal values differ from those held by Hispanic Americans and Anglo-Americans? Do you agree with the cultural differences identified by Campa for both groups?
|Cross-cultural difference||Anglo American values||Hispanic American values||Your values|
|Notions of individualism|
|Conceptions of polite behaviour|
Before reading the selection, ask yourself and/or discuss with your class-mates the following questions.
- What do you know about the history of Spanish and English colonists in the Americas?
- What other two groups of people have shared the same geographic area over a long period of time?
- What might characterize the relations between two groups of people who share the same geographic area?
- How might sharing the same geographic area influence each group?
The cultural differences between Hispanic and Anglo-American people have been dwelt upon by so many writers that we should all be well informed about the values of both. But audiences are usually of the same persuasion as the speakers, and those who consult published works are for the most part specialists looking for affirmation of what they believe. So, let us consider the same subject, exploring briefly some of the basic cultural differences that cause conflict in the Southwest, where Hispanic and Anglo-American cultures meet. Cultural differences are implicit in the conceptual content of the lan-guages of these two civilizations, and their value systems stem from a long series of historical circumstances. Therefore, it may be well to consider some of the English and Spanish cultural configurations before these Europeans set foot on American soil. English culture was basically insular, geo-graphically and ideologically; was more integrated on the whole, except for some strong theological differences; and was particularly zealous of its racial purity. Spanish culture was peninsular, a geographical circumstance that made it a catchall of Mediterranean, central European and North African peoples. The composite nature of the population produced a marked regionalisin that prevented close integration, except for religion, and led to a strong sense of individualism. These differences were reflected in the colo-nizing enterprise of the two cultures. The English isolated themselves from the Indians physically and culturally; the Spanish, who had strong notions about pureza de sangre [purity of blood] among the nobility, were not collectively averse to adding one more strain to their racial cocktail. Cortez led the way by siring the first mestizo in North America, and the rest of the conquistadores followed suit. The ultimate products of these two orientations meet today in the Southwest.
Anglo-American culture was absolutist at the onset; that is, all the dominant values were considered identical for all regardless of time and place. Such values as justice, charity, and honesty were considered the superior social order for all men and were later embodied in the American Constitution. The Spaniard brought with him a relativistic viewpoint and saw fewer moral implications in man's actions. Values were looked upon as the result of social and economic conditions.
The Ethnographic Interview
In its simplest term, ethnography is a method of describing a culture or situation within a culture from the 'emic' or 'insider's' point of view, i.e. from the point of view of the cultural actor.
The ethnographic interview is used in both anthropology and psychology to elicit the feelings and experiences of the interviewee. The techniques are not difficult. Unlike the typical news reporter's interview, which often has pre-planned questions and an 'agenda', the questions in an ethnographic interview are deliberately open. The interviewer's goal is to discover the natural categories of meaning within the interviewee rather than answers to pre-conceived questions.
After beginning with a question, called the 'bull's eye question' (e.g., 'How does it feel to study at this university?'), each subsequent question builds directly upon the interviewee's response wherever it may lead. The ethnographer probes a particular category in depth until it (or the informant) appears to have exhausted the topic. These questions, built upon the utterances of the interviewee, require active listening skills on the part of the interviewer. In the ethnographic interview, the interviewer must continuously listen to and interact with what the speaker has said. The interviewer has no 'agenda' of his or her own. After the interviewee responds, the ethnographic interviewer is continuously probing 'what do you mean by...?'
The ethnographic method requires:
- commitment of time on the part of both the ethnographic and informant(s);
- in-depth discussion or observation related to a particular topic area or category;
- active listening skills;
- self-awareness of one's own communication style and one's own culture;
- the interviewer to act as a participant as well as an observer, and thereby sharing;
- part of the target cultural experience.
The benefits of the ethnographic interview
Ethnography provides a method of obtaining information about different cultures, from the cultural actor's point of view. But, it is by no means a one-way experience. Taking the time to listen to other people go into depth about their ideas, experiences and feelings is an invaluable process which provides a remarkable experience of self-awareness; awareness of one's own ability to communicate and awareness of one's own culture.
The Dynamic, process Approach
Text - All cultures are complex
There is a widespread tendency to ignore or reduce diversity when we look at other cultures. It is often easy to talk about 'French' culture, 'Arab' culture, 'Japanese' culture or 'African' culture but such cultures, if it is truly possible to identify them, are so complex and vast that it is easy to use stereotypes to describe those culture. So although there is something recognisably 'British' about the British and 'Japanese' about the Japanese, it is extremely important to recognise diversity within those cultures or we risk saying:
- absolutely everyone in a particular culture is the same; and
- this culture can be described with only a small set of characteristics.
Have you heard or made the following statements? Guilty or not?
- The British are cold and unsmiling
- The British don't care about their parents, they always put their mothers and fathers in nursing homes
- Americans are loud and noisy and ask stupid questions about our country
- Americans are friendly. I met a nice couple once and they asked me to visit them
- Indian people always lie, they never tell the truth
- The Germans are so efficient and organised
- The Spanish are so friendly and relaxed but they never get any work done
- The Chinese are so nosy, they're always asking personal questions
- Western women have no morals
- Muslim women have no freedom
How should we react to such statements? Do we react with anger? with explanation? with understanding? Should we ignore such half truths, stereotypic judgements and over simplifications? Before taking any of the above actions let us consider what can be learned from each of those statements. The speaker appears to be concerned about families and the workplace. He or she is apt to form opinions on limited data (friendliness), given to forming harsh and unwarranted generalisations (Muslim women and freedom), has a low opinion of the British culture and a high opinion of the German culture, and is angered by the ignorance of others.
It is impossible to remove all forms of stereotypes but if we are aware of what we do when we stereotype it will help us expand our interpretation of an individual and help us recognise the diversity and complexity of what we see.
Answer the following questions.
- Can you think of some stereotypical images people have of your cultural or ethnic group? Write a list.
- Are they generally positive or negative images?
- Which cultural group has this image of your cultural group, e.g. British, French or Japanese people?
- Do you feel that some of the images are true for everyone in your cultural group? If they are not which group would be exempt from these stereotypes?
Culture as a noun, Culture as a verb, National culture or Individual culture, which Approach?, Donna Humphrey
(This article was published in Killick, D. & M. Parry (eds.). (1993) Languages for Cross-cultural Capability, Promoting the Discipline: Marking Boundaries Crossing Borders, Leeds Metropolitan University, December 1993.)
This paper explores current approaches to the teaching of cross-cultural and intercultural communication by investigating notions of culture from three perspectives:
- Culture as a national phenomenon;
- Culture as a social phenomenon;
- Culture as an individual phenomenon.
The three perspective will be presented in turn and the notions inherent in each of them explored. The purpose of these explorations is to raise awareness of how our notions of culture affect not only our attitude and views of others but subsequently the methods and approaches we adopt to teach cross-cultural and intercultural communication.
Culture as a national phenomenon
It is important to explore our notions of culture in order to clarify what exactly we mean by 'culture' when we use the term. In its most common usage 'culture' often refers to national culture and is related to notions of national, ethnic and international entities and the differences that are inherent in them. The term is often used by academics and non-academics to refer to 'large' entities such as British, French, Asian and European, Western or Eastern.
However, I see the term 'culture' in this sense as problematic as it conjures up vague notions about nations, races and sometimes whole continents, which, I feel, are overgeneralised and therefore too distorted to be useful. As Holliday argues:
although there is something recognisably 'British' about the British and 'Japanese' about the Japanese, this is more akin to the stereotyping all nations do about each other than the more scientific distinctions we need to make for professional purposes. Its subjectivity is evident in the disdain people often hold for the stereotypes held by others of themselves, which are associated with prejudice'
(Holliday 1994: 126)
It is often easy to talk about 'Arab' culture, 'Japanese' culture or 'African' culture but such cultures, if they are truly identifiable, are so complex and vast that one needs to ask the question to what degree this is a useful device for investigating the interaction between people at the level of communication.
Culture as an ethnic, national or international phenomenon, in its pure sense, sees cultures as fixed, stable, homogeneous entities. Whilst the term culture may also refer to the social and subcultural variations within a culture, these variations are still essentially a part of the national culture concept as they imply something both within and subservient to a particular ethnic, national and international culture...
The Experiential Learning Cycle - Culture Bump and Beyond
Describe a personal encounter that was less than satisfactory. This encounter could be with someone from your own culture or with someone from another culture (remember the model of the 'communication process' and the possible causes for 'communication breakdown' could describe both interpersonal and intercultural communication). Use the examples given below to guide you.
I remember once I was in a post office once and there was a queue of people. The next person to be served in the queue was a young woman with blond hair. The young women went up to the counter an in a loud voice said 'give me three stamps.
I can remember the situation so clearly. There was a gasp of horror from the people in the queue and suddenly you could almost feel the hostility in the atmosphere. As we say in England you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. People in the queue were so angry.
List the behaviour of the other person
- The person loudly demanded her stamps using the imperative voice and intonation. There was no please or thank you.
- appreciated they will continue to do a good job A person who treats another badly is a bully and is not well regarded.
What were the causes of the unsatisfactory result? Is it possible that the communication breakdown was due to factors other than language?
Based on C A Archer (1986). 'Culture Bump and Beyond in culture Bound: Bridging the cultural gap in language teaching'. J Merril Valdes (ed.), 170 -178, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Active Listening Skills
- to introduce participants to the skills of effective listening;
- to prepare participants for a programme of study in which active listening skills will play an important role;
- to allow participants to reflect on their experiences and learning.
Developing Active Listening Skills
An important element of intercultural communication is listening. Listening is an essential skill for making and keeping relationships. Listening is a commitment and a compliment. It is a commitment to understanding how other people feel, how they see their world. It means putting aside your own prejudices and beliefs, your anxieties and self-interest, so that you can step behind the other person's eyes. You try to look at things from his or her perspective.
Real versus Pseudo Listening
Being quiet while someone talks does not constitute real listening. Real listening is based on the intention to do one of four things:
- to understand someone;
- to enjoy the company of someone;
- to learn something;
- to give help or solace to someone.
Pseudo-listening on the other hand often hides as the real thing. The intention in pseudo-listening is not to listen, but to meet some other need. The need maybe to:
- make people think you are interested so they will like you;
- listening to one specific piece of information and ignoring everything else, because you want to hear what you want to hear;
- looking for weak points in an argument so you can always be right;
- half-listening because that is what a good, kind or nice person would do.
Everyone is a pseudo-listener at times. Problems develop when real listening happens a lot less than pseudo-listening.
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Intercultural communication is a discipline that studies communication across different cultures and social groups, or how culture affects communication. It is used to describe the wide range of communication processes and problems that naturally appear within an organization or social context made up of individuals from different religious, social, ethnic, and educational backgrounds. Intercultural communication is sometimes used synonymously with cross-cultural communication. In this sense it seeks to understand how people from different countries and cultures act, communicate and perceive the world around them. Many people in intercultural business communication argue that culture determines how individuals encode messages, what medium they choose for transmitting them, and the way messages are interpreted.
With regard to intercultural communication proper, it studies situations where people from different cultural backgrounds interact. Aside from language, intercultural communication focuses on social attributes, thought patterns, and the cultures of different groups of people. It also involves understanding the different cultures, languages and customs of people from other countries. Intercultural communication plays a role in social sciences such as anthropology, cultural studies, linguistics, psychology and communication studies. Intercultural communication is also referred to as the base for international businesses. There are several cross-cultural service providers around who can assist with the development of intercultural communication skills. Research is a major part of the development of intercultural communication skills.
Identity and culture are also studied within the discipline of communication to analyze how globalization influences ways of thinking, beliefs, values, and identity, within and between cultural environments. Intercultural communication scholars approach theory with a dynamic outlook and do not believe culture can be measured nor that cultures share universal attributes. Scholars acknowledge that culture and communication shift along with societal changes and theories should consider the constant shifting and nuances of society.
The study of intercultural communication requires intercultural understanding, which is defined as an ability to understand and value cultural differences. Language is and example of an important cultural component that is linked to intercultural understanding.
Areas of Interest
Cross-cultural business communication
Cross-cultural business communication is very helpful in building cultural intelligence through coaching and training in cross-cultural communication management and facilitation, cross-cultural negotiation, multicultural conflict resolution, customer service, business and organizational communication. Cross-cultural understanding is not just for incoming expats. Cross-cultural understanding begins with those responsible for the project and reaches those delivering the service or content. The ability to communicate, negotiate and effectively work with people from other cultures is vital to international business.
Important points to consider:
- Develop cultural sensitivity
- Anticipate the meaning the receiver will get.
- Careful encoding
- Use words, pictures, and gestures.
- Avoid slang, idioms, regional sayings.
- Selective transmission
- Build relationships, face-to-face if possible.
- Careful decoding of feedback
- Get feedback from multiple parties.
- Improve listening and observation skills.
- Follow-up actions
There is a connection between a person's personality traits and the ability to adapt to the host-country's environment—including the ability to communicate within that environment.
Two key personality traits are openness and resilience. Openness includes traits such as tolerance for ambiguity, extrovertedness, and open-mindedness. Resilience includes having an internal locus of control, persistence, tolerance for ambiguity, and resourcefulness.
These factors, combined with the person's cultural and racial identity and level of preparedness for change, comprise that person's potential for adaptation.
There are common conceptualizations of attributes that define collectivistic and individualistic cultures. Operationalizing the perceptions of cultural identities works under the guise that cultures are static and homogeneous, when in fact cultures within nations are multi-ethnic and individuals show high variation in how cultural differences are internalized and expressed.
Globalization plays a central role in theorizing for mass communication, media, and cultural communication studies. Intercultural communication scholars emphasize that globalization emerged from the increasing diversity of cultures throughout the world and thrives with the removal of cultural barriers. The notion of nationality, or the construction of national space, is understood to emerge dialectically through communication and globalization.
The problems in intercultural communication usually come from problems in message transmission. In communication between people of the same culture, the person who receives the message interprets it based on values, beliefs, and expectations for behavior similar to those of the person who sent the message. When this happens, the way the message is interpreted by the receiver is likely to be fairly similar to what the speaker intended. However, when the receiver of the message is a person from a different culture, the receiver uses information from his or her culture to interpret the message. The message that the receiver interprets may be very different from what the speaker intended.
Nonverbal communication has been shown to account for between 65% and 93% of interpreted communication. Minor variations in body language, speech rhythms, and punctuality often cause mistrust and misperception of the situation among cross-cultural parties. This is where nonverbal communication can cause problems with intercultural communication. Misunderstandings with nonverbal communication can lead to miscommunication and insults with cultural differences. For example, a handshake in one culture may be recognized as appropriate, whereas another culture may recognize it as rude or inappropriate.
Effective communication depends on the informal understandings among the parties involved that are based on the trust developed between them. When trust exists, there is implicit understanding within communication, cultural differences may be overlooked, and problems can be dealt with more easily. The meaning of trust and how it is developed and communicated vary across societies. Similarly, some cultures have a greater propensity to be trusting than others.
The following types of theories can be distinguished in different strands: focus on effective outcomes, on accommodation or adaption, on identity negotiation and management, on communication networks, on acculturation and adjustment.
Social engineering effective outcomes
- Cultural convergence
- In a relatively closed social system in which communication among members is unrestricted, the system as a whole will tend to converge over time toward a state of greater cultural uniformity. The system will tend to diverge toward diversity when communication is restricted.
- Communication accommodation theory
- This theory focuses on linguistic strategies to decrease or increase communicative distances.
- Intercultural adaption
- Intercultural adaptation involves learned communicative competence. Communicative competence is defined as thinking, feeling, and pragmatically behaving in ways defined as appropriate by the dominant mainstream culture. Communication competence is an outcomes based measure conceptualized as functional/operational conformity to environmental criteria such as working conditions. Beyond this, adaptation means "the need to conform" to mainstream "objective reality" and "accepted modes of experience".
- Co-cultural theory
- In its most general form, co-cultural communication refers to interactions among underrepresented and dominant group members. Co-cultures include but are not limited to people of color, women, people with disabilities, gay men and lesbians, and those in the lower social classes. Co-cultural theory, as developed by Mark P. Orbe, looks at the strategic ways in which co-cultural group members communicate with others. In addition, a co-cultural framework provides an explanation for how different persons communicate based on six factors.
Identity negotiation or management
- Networks and outgroup communication competence
- Intracultural versus intercultural networks
- Networks and acculturation
Acculturation and adjustment
- Communication acculturation
- This theory attempts to portray "cross-cultural adaptation as a collaborative effort in which a stranger and the receiving environment are engaged in a joint effort."
- Anxiety/Uncertainty management
- When strangers communicate with hosts, they experience uncertainty and anxiety. Strangers need to manage their uncertainty as well as their anxiety in order to be able to communicate effectively with hosts and then to try to develop accurate predictions and explanations for hosts' behaviors.
- Assimilation, deviance, and alienation states
- Assimilation and adaption are not permanent outcomes of the adaption process; rather, they are temporary outcomes of the communication process between hosts and immigrants. "Alienation or assimilation, therefore, of a group or an individual, is an outcome of the relationship between deviant behavior and neglectful communication."
- Meaning of meanings theory – "A misunderstanding takes place when people assume a word has a direct connection with its referent. A common past reduces misunderstanding. Definition, metaphor, feedforward, and Basic English are partial linguistic remedies for a lack of shared experience."
- Face negotiation theory – "Members of collectivistic, high-context cultures have concerns for mutual face and inclusion that lead them to manage conflict with another person by avoiding, obliging, or compromising. Because of concerns for self-face and autonomy, people from individualistic, low-context cultures manage conflict by dominating or through problem solving"
- Standpoint theory – An individual's experiences, knowledge, and communication behaviors are shaped in large part by the social groups to which they belong. Individuals sometimes view things similarly, but other times have very different views in which they see the world. The ways in which they view the world are shaped by the experiences they have and through the social group they identify themselves to be a part of. "Feminist standpoint theory claims that the social groups to which we belong shape what we know and how we communicate. The theory is derived from the Marxist position that economically oppressed classes can access knowledge unavailable to the socially privileged and can generate distinctive accounts, particularly knowledge about social relations."
- Stranger theory – At least one of the persons in an intercultural encounter is a stranger. Strangers are a 'hyperaware' of cultural differences and tend to overestimate the effect of cultural identity on the behavior of people in an alien society, while blurring individual distinctions.
- Feminist genre theory – Evaluates communication by identifying feminist speakers and reframing their speaking qualities as models for women's liberation.
- Genderlect theory – "Male-female conversation is cross-cultural communication. Masculine and feminine styles of discourse are best viewed as two distinct cultural dialects rather than as inferior or superior ways of speaking. Men's report talk focuses on status and independence. Women's support talk seeks human connection."
- Cultural critical studies theory – The theory states that the mass media impose the dominant ideology on the rest of society, and the connotations of words and images are fragments of ideology that perform an unwitting service for the ruling elite.
- Marxism – aims to explain class struggle and the basis of social relations through economics.
Intercultural communication is competent when it accomplishes the objectives in a manner that is appropriate to the context and relationship. Intercultural communication thus needs to bridge the dichotomy between appropriateness and effectiveness: Proper means of intercultural communication leads to a 15% decrease in miscommunication.
- Appropriateness: Valued rules, norms, and expectations of the relationship are not violated significantly.
- Effectiveness: Valued goals or rewards (relative to costs and alternatives) are accomplished.
Competent communication is an interaction that is seen as effective in achieving certain rewarding objectives in a way that is also related to the context in which the situation occurs. In other words, it is a conversation with an achievable goal that is used at an appropriate time/location.
Intercultural communication can be linked with identity, which means the competent communicator is the person who can affirm others' avowed identities. As well as goal attainment is also a focus within intercultural competence and it involves the communicator to convey a sense of communication appropriateness and effectiveness in diverse cultural contexts.
Ethnocentrism plays a role in intercultural communication. The capacity to avoid ethnocentrism is the foundation of intercultural communication competence. Ethnocentrism is the inclination to view one's own group as natural and correct, and all others as aberrant.
People must be aware that to engage and fix intercultural communication there is no easy solution and there is not only one way to do so. Listed below are some of the components of intercultural competence.
- Context: A judgment that a person is competent is made in both a relational and situational context.This means that competence is not defined as a single attribute, meaning someone could be very strong in one section and only moderately good in another. Situationally speaking competence can be defined differently for different cultures. For example, eye contact shows competence in western cultures whereas, Asian cultures find too much eye contact disrespectful.
- Appropriateness: This means that your behaviours are acceptable and proper for the expectations of any given culture.
- Effectiveness: The behaviours that lead to the desired outcome being achieved.
- Knowledge: This has to do with the vast information you have to have on the person's culture that you are interacting with. This is important so you can interpret meanings and understand culture-general and culture-specific knowledge.
- Motivations:This has to do with emotional associations as they communicate interculturally. Feelings which are your reactions to thoughts and experiences have to do with motivation. Intentions are thoughts that guide your choices, it is a goal or plan that directs your behaviour. These two things play a part in motivation.
Basic tools for improvement
The following are ways to improve communication competence:
- Display of interest: showing respect and positive regard for the other person.
- Orientation to knowledge: Terms people use to explain themselves and their perception of the world.
- Empathy: Behaving in ways that shows you understand the world as others do.
- interaction management: A skill in which you regulate conversations.
- Task role behaviour: initiate ideas that encourage problem solving activities.
- Relational role behaviour: interpersonal harmony and mediation.
- Tolerance for ambiguity: The ability to react to new situations with little discomfort.
- Interaction posture: Responding to others in descriptive, non-judgmental ways.
- Proficiency in the host culture language: understanding the grammar and vocabulary.
- Understanding language pragmatics: how to use politeness strategies in making requests and how to avoid giving out too much information.
- Being sensitive and aware to nonverbal communication patterns in other cultures.
- Being aware of gestures that may be offensive or mean something different in a host culture rather than your own home culture.
- Understanding a culture's proximity in physical space and paralinguistic sounds to convey their intended meaning.
- Tolerating high levels of uncertainty.
- Engaging in divergent and systems-level thinking.
Verbal communication consist of messages being sent and received continuously with the speaker and the listener, it is focused on the way messages are portrayed. Verbal communication is based on language and use of expression, the tone in which the sender of the message relays the communication can determine how the message is received and in what context.
Factors that affect verbal communication:
- Tone of voice
- Use of descriptive words
- Emphasis on certain phrases
- Volume of voice
The way a message is received is dependent on these factors as they give a greater interpretation for the receiver as to what is meant by the message. By emphasizing a certain phrase with the tone of voice, this indicates that it is important and should be focused more on.
Along with these attributes, verbal communication is also accompanied with non-verbal cues. These cues make the message clearer and give the listener an indication of what way the information should be received.
Example of non-verbal cues
- Facial expressions
- Hand gestures
- Use of objects
- Body movement
In terms of intercultural communication there are language barriers which are effected by verbal forms of communication. In this instance there is opportunity for miscommunication between two or more parties. Other barriers that contribute to miscommunication would be the type of words chosen in conversation. Due to different cultures there are different meaning in vocabulary chosen, this allows for a message between the sender and receiver to be misconstrued.
Nonverbal communication is behavior that communicates without words—though it often may be accompanied by words. Minor variations in body language, speech rhythms, and punctuality often cause differing interpretations of the situation among cross-cultural parties.
Kinesic behavior is communication through body movement—e.g., posture, gestures, facial expressions and eye contact. The meaning of such behavior varies across countries.
Occulesics are a form of kinesics that includes eye contact and the use of the eyes to convey messages.
Proxemics concern the influence of proximity and space on communication (e.g., in terms of personal space and in terms of office layout). For example, space communicates power in the US and Germany.
Paralanguage refers to how something is said, rather than the content of what is said—e.g., rate of speech, tone and inflection of voice, other noises, laughing, yawning, and silence.
Object language or material culture refers to how we communicate through material artifacts—e.g., architecture, office design and furniture, clothing, cars, cosmetics, and time. In monochronic cultures, time is experienced linearly and as something to be spent, saved, made up, or wasted. Time orders life, and people tend to concentrate on one thing at a time. In polychronic cultures, people tolerate many things happening simultaneously and emphasize involvement with people. In these cultures, people may be highly distractible, focus on several things at once, and change plans often.
Clothing and the way people dress is used as a form of nonverbal communication.
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