Language is larger than dialect and syntax. Integral to every language is the unspoken, the cultural. If you are traveling to another country whether for business or otherwise, you should understand communication differences before you go so you are not misunderstood. We start by covering a little bit about how language and culture are related and then cover hand gestures, eye contact, bowing, kissing, facial expressions and much more.
The definition of how one learns his or her culture is enculturation. Here you will learn the basics of what enculturation is. It's a great starting place for the beginner.
Now that you have an understanding of the term, enculturation, learn how it affects the way one learns language from a young age. Babies and children are "cultured" from a young age and language is a part of it. Learn how.
Language has deep roots in our culture and like culture, language has evolved over time. Learn about the kinds of languages we have and how they have evolved over time.
Culture is learned through language and sometimes the phrases we learn are unhealthy. Stereotypes are passed culturally through our language and we may not even know it. Become more sensitized to cultural stereotypes you are learning through language and passing on.
Body language when greeting someone varies across the world. Bowing, kissing, nodding and even kissing feet are some of the ways. Learn some of the ways people greet one another around the world.
Here we teach about the body language of using the head. Bowing, kissing and nodding are defined in more detail. You will also learn where they are most practiced.
The amount of physical space you give is interpreted in different ways across cultures. In Latin America it is the norm to stand much closer than European cultures are accustomed to. This can lead to miscommunication when two people from these different cultures meet.
Speaking of greetings, do you know that sticking your tongue out has different meanings in different cultures? Yes, it's true; in some cultures this gesture is even a greeting. Here we learn the many meanings of sticking your tongue out at others, even the latest emoticon (online) type.
Your face is the mirror to the world. Facial communication is also culturally learned and expresses what you are thinking and feeling. Learn some of the acceptable and unacceptable facial expressions and their meanings.
In the United States we are taught to make "good" eye contact. Generally that means long enough to show interest in someone, but not too long as to become a stare. Do you make good eye contact? In some cultures eye-contact can be considered a challenge or even an insult. Find out where and why.
Here we teach about language mix-ups across cultures, in that one culture deems a gesture appropriate, another finds it nearly punishable. Find out the cultural meanings of shaking hands, the A-OK gesture, and thumbs-up to make sure you are communicating what you want to.
One might think the A-OK hand signal is OK, but is it? Get more in-depth about hand signals and the meanings of applause, air quotes, and even the many meanings of the A-OK signal.
Get an even more in-depth picture of hand signals and their meanings. This time we learn about the V-sign, horizontal sign, welcoming hands and more.
Here we cover the gestures of eye contact, kisses, or touching the cheek, which are socially appropriate in some cultures. Other cultures though, consider them to be overt flirting and in some cases, outright adultery. Find out when these gestures are culturally acceptable and when they are not.
Again, we learn that some body language, such as a slap on the back, which is meant to show comradely between friends, signifies aggression in an Asian culture.
Texting is a substitute for vocal communication, which has changed the way people communicate. The question is how will text messages affect the future? Some would argue text messaging is ruining the English language and others say it is becoming the next world language.
Communicating well across cultures is possible if you understand the different norms. Some tips for effective communication are:
- Get educated – learn the differences of the specific culture as soon as you can.
- Listen carefully – do not interrupt when someone is speaking.
- Respect the other person's differences.
- Be patient and forgiving.
- Think before you speak.
- Restate what you thought you heard.
- If you don't understand, ask. Don't pretend that you understand as this could make a misunderstanding worse.
- If possible, seek help from an intermediary.
- Walker, A. Keep It Simple, The New Yorker, 2008.
- University of Kentucky, Cross-Cultural Communication Tips