Problems In Intercultural Communication Essay, Research Paper
Humans have been communicating since four million years. On the other hand, the birth of culture is estimated to have token place about 35,000 years ago. Today, both culture and communication have evolved considerably and have become interdependent of one another, to the point that communication is considered to be a product of culture. Thus, our own culture has a deep impact on our thoughts and behaviors. Since each culture has its distinct aspects, intercultural communication can be the cause of conflict and disorder. There are three main issues which are at the root of the problem of intercultural miscommunication : language as a barrier, cultural diversity and ethnocentrism. I will analyze these three notions in situations in which intercultural communication is frequent such as : the workplace, the classroom and vacation trips.
The way people communicate varies widely between, and even within, cultures. One aspect of communication style is language usage. Language has always been perceived as a link between people but it can also constitute a barrier. Across cultures, some words and phrases are used in different ways. For example, even in countries that share the English language, the meaning of "yes" varies from "maybe, I’ll consider it" to "definitely so," with many shades in between . Furthermore, communication between cultures which do not share the same language is considerably more difficult . Each culture, has its distinct syntax, expressions and structure which causes confusion in intercultural communication. For example , in Asian countries the word ?no? is rarely used, so that ?yea? can mean ?no? or ?perhaps?. Therefore, an American traveling to Japan might be considered impolite if he ignores this rule. Furthermore, individuals who are not comfortable with a certain language may not be taken seriously. Such is the case in the classroom, where a student who has a perfect knowledge of the subject in question may have difficulty expressing his idea due to his inability to write properly and therefore he would not receive the grade he truly deserves. Similarly intercultural communication is dominant in the workplace. In the past, many companies and organizations could operate entirely within their country of origin and conduct their activities exclusively in their own native language. But now, due to an increasingly amount of intercultural business, some American companies require for their employees to have a good knowledge in languages such as Japanese, German, Italian?
Sociolinguists examine social and cultural influences on language behavior. Among the most important concepts to emerge are those relating to dialects and language standards. Sociolinguists have documented the presence of dialects in every language. These dialects, all of which are legitimate, are associated with educational, economic, social and historical conditions. Hence, even if an individual scrupulously studies all the possible dictionaries of a random language, he would still be somewhat of a stranger to that language since he is unaware of all the dialectal changes.
In addition to differences in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammatical structures among cultural groups, variations also exist in the rules for general discourse in oral communication, covering such specific acts as narratives and conversation. In communicating with one another, teachers and students naturally will follow the assumptions and rules governing discourse within their respective cultures. Discourse
rules govern such aspects of communication as: opening or closing conversations; taking turns during conversations; interrupting; using silence as a communicative device; interjecting humor at appropriate times and using nonverbal behavior. Once again, an American student studying in the middle east, who would constantly interrupt the teacher in order to clarify the professor?s opinion, would be considered to be extremely rude since he would be defying his authority.
Besides language other intercultural differences may be the cause of conflict. Hence, in this specific case, diversity is considered to be at the root of miscommunication. In comparison to verbal communication, non verbal communication takes a different form in different cultures. Gestures and facial expressions play a key role in communication. However, each culture incorporates different types of gestures and disregards others. For example, in most western societies , it is customary to shake one?s hand upon introduction. However, in most oriental countries shaking one?s hand is frown upon, since they believe bowing is the only acceptable type of introduction.
Non-verbal communication includes not only facial expressions and gestures; it also involves seating arrangements, personal distance, and sense of time. In addition, different norms regarding the appropriate degree of assertiveness in communicating can add to cultural misunderstandings. For instance, some white Americans typically consider raised voices to be a sign that a fight has begun, while some black, Jewish and Italian Americans often feel that an increase in volume is a sign of an exciting conversation among friends. Thus, some white Americans may react with greater alarm to a loud discussion than would members of some American ethnic or non-white racial groups.
Furthermore, many other diversities between cultures lead to miscommunication. Ideologies, values, traditions, habits, norms, beliefs and social relationships are all considered diverse within different cultures. Since there are an infinite amount of diversities, we will focus on only two : values and social relationships. Values correspond to the general states of affair which are considered which are regarded as desirable. We might perceive that values are regarded equally internationally, but it is simply not the case. Even though each culture condemns killing and embraces love, they do not value them in the same manner. For example, Szalay and Maday found that Americans rated love and friendship as their most important life concerns, health as 5th , while Koreans ranked these respective values as 12th , 14th and 19th . In some cases , values which are accepted in one culture, are totally dismissed in another culture. Similarly, the pattern of social relationships at work, at home and with friends differs between cultures. For example, in China great respect is paid to older generations : regular visits are paid, financial contribution ? Therefore, a second generation Chinese-American visiting his grandfather in China would have trouble communicating with him, if he does not show the proper respect.
In addition to all theses differences, we must take into account three main issues that characterize a culture : religion, politics and economy. These three do not constitute small diversities that can be an obstacle to communication, but actually represent a total barrier to the ladder. For example, poverty-stricken will not interact with representatives of wealthy cultures.
Problems in communication do not only occur because of language differences or cultural diversities, but also because of our attitudes when confronted to these diversities. The notion of ethnocentrism is a sociological concept that states, that our customs, beliefs
and attitudes are of central importance and a basis for judging all other groups. Ethnocentrism derives from patriotism and an overwhelming pride of one?s culture. Basically, we become infatuated with our own culture, we tend to dismiss others without any sensible logic. For example, an American woman would find no reason why an Iranian woman wears a ?tchador?. Ethnocentrism is also linked to cultural exclusion which regroups all the different cultures into one: diversity is unacceptable. Ethnocentrism is quite normal and present in all of us, since we all take some type of pride in our culture.
However, ethnocentrism can lead to a stereotypical view on other cultures. According to sociologists the real issue is not whether the content of stereotypes is true or false, but the causal misperceptions that accompany them. An example is the belief held by many Whites that poverty of Blacks is due to their racial characteristics, ignoring the environmental circumstances that are real cause of their low income. Hence, this type of attitude is harmful to the communication process since one communicator has a premature judgement about the other.
Furthermore, ethnocentrism can also lead to chauvinism and racism. Chauvinism is related to an exaggerated sense of national glory. It can become harmful if a chauvinist believes that he is superior because of his race and culture. This form of behavior can become violent when put into action, as was the case during the Second World War in which nazis, who were convinced of their superiority, sent over six million Jews to their death.
In conclusion, we come to realize that intercultural communication encompasses many problems. Language represents one of the many obstacles, since each culture has its proper expressions, structure and grammar. Moreover, each language is linked to a specific dialect which is associated with educational, economic, social and historical conditions. Moreover, cultural variations also exist in the rules for general discourse in oral communication. Similar to verbal communication, there are also variations in non-verbal communication between cultures. Gestures, facial expressions, sense of time and personal distance take different forms in different cultures. Furthermore, there is an infinite number of cultural diversities which are at the root of intercultural miscommunication. Variations in values , social relationships, religion, economy and politics consist of only a few of these diversities. These differences can be the source of ethnocentrism, if one becomes over patriotic in regards to one?s own culture. Ethnocentrism, is the concept which states that we tend to judge other cultures through our own. Ethnocentric behavior, can cause racism and chauvinism, as in the case of the Second World War. However, intercultural problems can be avoided if we all develop mindfulness, a sense of flexibility and seek information about the other culture.