Intercultural Communication

Intercultural communication is an important factor in today’s globalized world. People travel and they need to communicate, in most cases, it’s out of one’s culture.

Culture is combining with each other gradually. Sharing information with people belonging to different cultures is known as intercultural communication or cross-cultural communication.

This picture shows intercultural communication. People of different races are talking together.

People who have to deal with other cultures, face a problem of intercultural communication. Even though they take language classes and learn to speak local languages fluently, intercultural communication isn’t just that. Its one’s understanding of the culture, the social interactions, and cultural accommodation.

What is Culture?

Culture isn’t only intellectual happenings like arts, festivals, traditional foods, heritages or literature, but refers to the daily lifestyle of the general population or a group of people or an individual. It also describes the family life and social life.

It can be tangible or intangible and are ever-changing. Not every aspect of the cultural pattern is noticeable. As of which it is compared with an iceberg whose 7/8th part cannot be seen and is hidden from view.

Culture is created by humans and can be different from place to place. It creates a human environment with shared meanings within a society through beliefs, values, norms, etc. and are a learned behavior.

Culture defines how a person behaves, interacts and gives meaning to actions. People identify themselves with their culture and tend to behave differently in different cultures. This is due to the different perception of people, on the world, from different cultures.

What is Intercultural communication?

Intercultural communication is the study and application of knowledge on “cultural perceptions and symbol systems” of people belonging to different cultures.

The intended meaning of any message differs when encoded by a person of a certain culture and decoded by someone of the other. The different meanings of symbols in different culture also vary making the interpretation difficult.

While applying inter-cultural communication, it refers to making people aware and able to adopt others’ cultures when they communicate with them and thus have a meaningful communication.

“Intercultural communication,’ can…be defined as the interpersonal interaction between members of different groups, which differ from each other in respect of the knowledge shared by their members and in respect of their linguistic forms of symbolic behaviour.”
Karlfried Knapp

Types of Intercultural Communication

There are basically two types of intercultural communication: Verbal communication and non-verbal communication.

Verbal communication consists of words used to communicate messages whereas non-verbal communication is gestures that give out messages.

Spoken and written language are parts of verbal communication which must be considered highly while in intercultural communication. Cultural factors affect verbal communication as people can sometimes not be able to speak or write in the language of the receiver. Use of words, dialects, accents, slang, etc. can also be different according to their own cultures.

Similarly, non-verbal cues consist of communication that occurs without words like facial expressions, hand and body movements, eye contact, use of objects, clothing, etc. They help in making message clear or can give the different message as well.

Examples of Intercultural Communication

The characters in this picture are confused.

Language difference makes international business companies difficult to adjust to local environment and culture. For instance, Coca-Cola Company once tried to find a phonetic equivalent of their brand to be used in China and thought of using KeKou-KeLa. But the meaning of the terms made them change their decision as the direct translation of those words would be “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”.

Similarly, direct translations of one language to another can cause problems like the ad of General Motors “Body by Fisher” could be translated into “Corpse by Fisher” in Flemish language. Another example is an advertisement of wine translated into Swiss from English which said “Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.”

In non-verbal communication also these kinds of problems might arise. For instance, “thumbs up” sign is taken as a symbol to say okay in most cultures but it has offending meanings in Iran, Latin America, and some other cultures.

Similarly, eating with hands is considered to be an accepted way to eat in Indian culture but is taken as manner-less in many other cultures.

Importance of Intercultural Communication

A board displaying a message written in different languages.

Lacking in intercultural communication can lead to the insult of the culture and people involved. Especially for business people or people providing services in the areas out of their culture. People interpret messages based on their culture, so what you mean might not be what the other person understands. Your intentions might not be met as their attribution towards you might be telling them something else about you.

Intercultural differences also cause lack of trust between people as the meaning of trust itself can be different. Non-verbal communication difference can also increase trust issues between people.

Material culture and its use are also different between cultures like the use of spoons and chopsticks for eating. Other things like architecture, clothing, cosmetics, etc. differ culture-wise and if you do not have knowledge of it, your communication fails or is not effective.

Managing Intercultural Communication

A priest wearing a blue dress is giving a speech.

One needs to manage and prepare oneself with enough information in order to communicate with people from different Some of the ways you can manage intercultural communications are:

  • Be culturally sensitive and aware
  • Gain knowledge of the culture you have to adapt
  • Think of what the other person will interpret before saying
  • Be aware of non-verbal cues you are giving
  • Listen, encode and decode carefully
  • Use pictures if you don’t know words to describe it
  • Avoid slang and local language
  • Get a feedback
  • Be observant
  • Be open-minded and tolerant
  • Respect others culture and people
  • Be resourceful
  • Don’t be ethnocentric and bigotry