Are You Communicating Cross Culturally?

Are You Communicating Cross Culturally?

Most people believe that translating from one language to another is word for word, especially if they have never been actively involved in communicating with people whose native language isn't the same as ours. Cross cultural understanding is complicated and requires greater effort, greater understanding and asking more questions.

One of the main principles of cross cultural communication is dynamic equivalent . This is the concept which recognizes that how an idea is expressed in one language may be expressed very differently in another language. My favorite example of the dynamic equivalent is the Spanish phrase hace frio . It is the Spanish way of saying “It's cold”. However, if translated literally into English, the translation would be “It makes cold”.

The purpose of communication is understanding the other person, based upon true respect for people. Words are descriptive, not constructive. Words have meanings. Feelings may be communicated with words, but are also really understood by facial expressions, body language and actions. So, we cannot translate the feeling of a word into another language if the meaning of the word is different. And, if we do not work at understanding the other person, and being understood , then everything degenerates to superficiality.

Another mistake that novices make in cross cultural communication is failure to recognize that cultures are very different. Often the differences are very subtle. Sometimes the differences are so great that we don't even grasp their significance. But, the culture and social norms of the person we are talking to are just as important in communication as are the meaning of their language.

In reality, in order to learn English one must not only learn the meaning of the words, but must also learn the cultural context of the words. There are several cultural contexts in the USA, not just one. So, how I use words and expressions in English will vary from what the same words might mean in a Latino-American or African-American or Pittsburgese context.

My cultural context is Midwestern anglo. I don't have to apologize for growing up white in Midwest farming communities, speaking English. In the same way, my wife does not have to apologize for growing up speaking Spanish in the affluent part of Tampico, Mexico.

Communication is not about criticizing or diminishing other people for their differences, but it is about understanding other people. If their language and cultural context is different from ours, then we will have to take more than 15 seconds to truly understand other people. Failure to take time to understand demonstrates true disrespect, and reflect on the disrespectful person, not the one disrespected.

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