“Cross-cultural Communication to Miscommunication?”

Do you ever have trouble communicating to people of another culture?

Any of us may travel or meet travelers. We may work with members of other cultural groups. We may converse with them from time to time. And even, we may learn a foreign language. To be aware of issues in cross-cultural communication is becoming increasingly important. Thus, such situations inevitably bring us into contact with other ways of speaking, other modes of behavior and other views of life.

Communication across cultures or cross-cultural communication looks at how people from differing cultural backgrounds communicate, in similar and different ways among themselves, and how they endeavor to communicate across cultures. With these, communication across cultures can be affected by participants’ interpretations, assumptions and expectations which largely derive from their own cultural background. Cross-cultural communication also functions at the various levels of words, grammar, and pronunciation and at the less obvious levels of discourse patterns, sociolinguistics uses of language and levels involving cultural presuppositions. Hence, cross-cultural communication often involves difficulties but fundamentally it should be viewed as an opportunity for learning and development.

As stated by Dr. Orlando Taylor (1990), in culturally diverse communities, like educative communities, differences may be expected to exist in the communication styles of students, teachers, parents, administrators and non-instructional staff. Perhaps the most important reason for educators to understand cross cultural communication is to improve their relations with the diverse groups of students and parents they will encounter. If left ignored, communication differences will inevitably lead to various types of miscommunication which may lead, in turn, to conflicts which erode school climate and cause certain groups of to feel unwelcome.

According to Dr. Marin Cortazzi (1996), in situations of cross-cultural communication, it is not only what happens or what is said that is important; it is how participants interpret the interaction which ultimately counts. It is this interpretation which guides our perception of meaning and our memory of other people. Most of us draw conclusions about others from what they say, or rather from what we think they mean. The gap between what we think other mean and what they intend to say can occur in any communication. This gap is often wider in cross-cultural contexts or situations. This is evident when there is lack of knowledge of the common language of communication, say English, which be a second or foreign language to one or both sides. Less obviously, the gap is often wider because in intercultural communication, participants may not realize that they are using language in different ways which go beyond purely linguistic competence. Our consideration of cross-cultural communication needs to include: discourse competence in which conversations or texts may be structured using different principles; sociolinguistic competence in which language users may draw on differing ideas about who may speak to whom, on what sorts of topics, on what kinds of occasion, in what manner and for what purposes; cultural competence in which cultural norms and beliefs are used to interpret actions and language behavior and to attribute values and interpretations to interaction. The problem is that our own perception of these aspects of language use is influenced by our own cultural background. It is all too easy to be unconsciously ethnocentric about such matters and to assume that our way is normal, logical or better than those ways used by speakers who come from other cultural backgrounds.

In many instances of cross-cultural communication it is important to understand the cultural presuppositions which lie behind speakers’ words and their expectations and interpretations. For instance, a Chinese student (C) asks a British person (B) for help.

C:  Can you help me?

B: I would like to help you….but I’m afraid I can’t because….

When C heard the first words, she was very happy, believing she would get help; when she heard the second phrase, she was very disappointed. She thought, ‘Why did you raise my hopes and then let me down?’ She concluded that B was hypocritical. It would help if she understood the cultural presuppositions that B is using: first, to show good will and kindness by saying he would like to help, then moving to the main point that he cannot help before explaining why not. A Chinese speaker would probably give the reasons for not helping first before concluding that it was impossible: this would prepare the hearer for the bad news.

Many Chinese and Latin Americans respond to personal invitations by accepting to come, but when the day arrives they may not turn up. This has left many British and North American hosts puzzled, thinking: why did they promise to come, and then break their promises? Can they be trusted? But this interpretation misses the Chinese or Latin American cultural presupposition behind their reply: it is better to show good will, by accepting and perhaps not go, than to refuse and bring immediate disappointment to the potential host. This shows regard for the hosts face, and for that of the person invited, who does not have to provide an excuse for refusing the invitation. Thus, the Chinese and Latin Americans in this situation base their reply on social values, while the British and North Americans put truth values first. If this is understood, the situation becomes easier on both sides, although there will still be further variation depending on whether the invitation is by telephone, letter, or face to face, on whether it is a group invitation and how well the people know each other.

The abovementioned situations merely involved lack of cultural competence. Fundamentally, relevant cultural presuppositions relate to how members of a culture view the world, how they think about human nature, time, space and society. Also crucial are the balance between individual and social identity, the role of language in social relations and getting things done, and how concepts of politeness and face are realized in interaction. Probably all of these are important in all cultures, but the nature and emphasis of each may vary.

 

References:

Cortazzi, M. (1996).   Cross   cultural   communication   a   foreign   language   perspective.   The Fountain. Retrieved August 12, 2010, from http://www.fountainmagazine.com/article.php?ARTICLEID=353

Taylor, O. L. (1990).  Using   cross  cultural  communication  to  improve  relationships.  Cross-Cultural Communication: An Essential Dimension of Effective Education Revised Edition. Retrieved August 12, 2010, from http://www.maec.org/cross/5.html

 

Personality Enhancement Training and Workshop

Looking at me wearing skirt and a blouse seemed to be awkward for me because I wasn’t used to wear such. I prefer to wear jeans and t-shirt than to be in very casual or even formal attires. However, there was a twist. I just realized it was a different thing by then. The threshold for an innovation of my personality especially in how I look to others and how I handle myself has already begun.

The second part of the training and workshop was held last September 15, 2007 at the UM Main Gym. There were only a few who attended but majority of us, mostly Education students were in their formal attire. Formal in a way that ladies wore blouses, skirts, and high-heeled shoes and gentlemen wore polo – short-sleeved or long-sleeved, slacks, and newly-shined shoes. I really appreciated the way we looked that night and I just said, “We look good!”

When the program started and eventually ran to its course, I was so flattered when Prof. Espie Chinel Aparis gave a compliment about the way I conducted the National Anthem and the UM Hymn. Well, yes, I was the one who did it. It was indeed a very nice thing to hear about such sweet appreciation. Anyways, once again, Prof. Aparis taught us how to walk, sit, and stand while in our formal attires. It was quite unusual at first but I tried my best to be at ease to it. Thankfully, I made it. I also remembered the Three Important Threes in Life, which are the following:

3 Important Things…

  • that make a person:
    • Hard work, Sincerity, Commitment
  • that are most valuable:
    • Love, Faith, Prayers
  • that should never be lost:
    • Peace, Hope, Honesty
  • that never come back:
    • Time, Words, Opportunity
  • that are never certain:
    • Dreams, Success, Fortune
  • that can destroy a person:
    • Lust, Pride, Anger
  • that are truly constant:
    • Change, Death, GOD

With these important things, I just apprehended that there are essentially many things to be taken into consideration. And these things are also indispensable in upbringing enhancement of our personality – whichever aspects personality encompasses.

After a session with Prof. Aparis, another speaker talked about party and table manners, good grooming, and clothes sense (I’m sorry. I forgot the speaker’s name.). This part of the training-workshop was certainly so beneficial for me because I learned a lot from it – from the basics of grooming to the customs to be done before, while and even after eating. Though the table manners that were being discussed were merely applicable in a buffet set-up or in a fancy restaurant, I just love to see myself practicing what I had learned when I eat in any carinderia or even in our own abode!

The physical, intellectual, and ethical aspects of enhancing our personality are not the only things to be focused. We should not also forget spiritual awareness. The last part of the workshop, which was more on the spiritual enhancement, had enlightened the hearts of the populace. However, I just observed that most of the students were quite tired and eventually became oblivious with what was being discussed. For my part, I admit that I was quite bored, but I really appreciated the message that was being rendered to us.

Two days of personality enhancement training and workshop seemed to be very informative. Despite the limited hours, I was able to learn a lot from the speakers and the training-workshop so to speak. With the improvement that happens to me, I just acknowledged the greatness of God. I owe much not only to the personality enhancement training and workshop but also to God and to myself. I am a catalyst that brought a better change in my personality per se and to my whole individuality that will soon face the near tomorrow.

(Nothing’s edited nor added. (^_^) This was one of my CAEd 500 subject requirements way back when I was in 4th yr college in the University of Mindanao. CAEd 500 is a subject on career orientation. This was submitted on September 20, 2007)

Is Language Acquired or Learned?

“Ma-ma!”

When I first heard my nephew babbled this word when he was about 6 or 7 months old, I felt so happy and excited. I was happy because my nephew was slowly developing his talking skills and I was also excited to wait for the time that my nephew would be able to utter “Tita” finally. I may not his mother though, but for me, listening to my first ever nephew is like a gift you have always been wanting for. Nevertheless, my nephew’s gradual development of his utterances is a gratifying experience for him and for us.

Upon recalling those days that my nephew and even my cousins when they were still young had started mumbling some words, I just couldn’t help but ask myself about some things that often confuse me. How were they able to mention or utter some short “words”? Were they taught? Did they learn those from the people in their environment? Were those utterances already naturally acquired by them? Is it really learned or is it acquired?

The abovementioned questions simply open our minds for us to know whether language is really acquired or learned, biologically or environmentally-determined, or natural or nurtured. Several researchers have conducted researches, studies, experimentations and the like to delve on contrasting issues such as stated above. Regardless of numerous studies conducted, people especially students and others who are into the linguistic field are still confused as to which side we should believe to. As a matter of fact, even I was (or maybe ‘am’) quite confused whether language is really “nature or nurture”. Hence, which side am I really into?

Controversy does arise, however, when one tries to examine the extent of genetic influence on human behavior. Just how many of our abilities and shortcomings are innate in nature, and how many are acquired through our interactions with the environment? This debate has been going on for centuries, and popular attitudes have varied greatly throughout this time. At one extreme, we have John Locke’s idea of “tabula rasa,” which proposes that the minds of newborn infants are blank slates that will be differentiated and altered only through sensory experience. Modern biological determinism represents the other extreme. In its strictest form, this ideology suggests that behaviors are inherent and innate, resulting from the expression of genes. Most intellectuals subscribe to a view somewhere between these two extremes, on the gradient of a controversy that is still a hot topic of debate in many intellectual fields.

One particularly interesting field within the nature-nurture debate that has drawn heated testimony from both sides is language acquisition. How much of our ability to produce and comprehend language is programmed into our genes, and how much do we acquire only with environmental stimulus? Obviously, language cannot be completely genetic. Humans speak a wide variety of different languages, and very young children of any race or ethnic background can learn to speak and understand any of these if exposed to appropriate models at the proper time in development. Similarly, children cannot learn to speak a public language without this critical exposure. However, all humans use language in one form or another, and psychologists and linguists have noted many cross-lingual universals both in how children acquire language and in the inherent characteristics of the languages themselves. (Knezek, 1997). Then, which is which?

The first position is called “nativism”, defined as the belief that knowledge originates in human nature. This idea goes back to Plato and Kant, but in modern times, it is most clearly associated with the linguist Noam Chomsky. Chomsky’s views on the innateness of language are very strong indeed, starting with his first book in 1957, and repeated with great consistency for the next 40 years.

Because this theory has been so influential in modern linguistics and psycholinguistics, it is important to understand exactly what Chomsky means by “innate”. Everyone would agree that there is something unique about human brain that makes language possible. But in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that “something” could be nothing other than the fact that our brains are very large, a giant all-purpose computer with trillions of processing elements. Chomsky’s version of the theory of innateness is much stronger than the “big brain” view, and involves two logically and empirically separate claims: that language is innate, and that our brains contain a dedicated special-purpose learning device that has evolved for language alone. The latter claim is the one that is really controversial, a doctrine that goes under various names including “domain specificity”, “autonomy” and “modularity” (Bates, 1999).

To add, Chomsky concluded that children must have an inborn faculty for language acquisition. According to this theory the process is biologically determined – the human species has evolved a brain whose neural circuits contain linguistic information at birth. The child’s natural predisposition to learn language is triggered by hearing speech and the child’s brain is able to interpret what he/she hears according to the underlying principles or structures it already contains. This has become known as the Language Acquisition Device (LAD). He also stated that all human languages share common principles, which is known as Universal Grammar (UG). It is the child’s task then to establish how the specific language he/she hears expresses these underlying principles (Theories of Language Acquisition). As what Chomsky concludes: “It is simply not true that children can learn language only through ‘meticulous care’ on the part of adults who shape their verbal repertoire through careful differential reinforcement.” (Cowie, 2008).

On the other hand, there were these people who believed that language is not acquired, yet it is learned especially when the environment becomes a great contributor of it. “Empiricism”, which is the second position, is defined as the belief that knowledge originates in the environment and comes in through the senses. This approach (also called “behaviorism” and “associationism”) is also an ancient one, going back (at least) to Aristotle, but in modern times it is closely associated with the psychologist B. F. Skinner. According to Skinner, there are no limits to what a human being can become, given time, opportunity and the application of very general laws of learning. Humans are capable of language because we have the time, the opportunity and (perhaps) the computing power that is required to learn 50,000 words and the associations that link those words together (Bates, 1999).

Those who believe that language is learned through intellectual processes common to all learning and who do not believe in an innate “language faculty” explain Chomsky’s view in another way. According to proponents of the “nurture” theory, humans are much more advanced than other animals because they are able to use language, rather than the other way around (Knezek, 1997).

Furthermore, to support, Greenspan and Shanker radically assert that symbols, language, and intelligence are not a direct result of genes, but rather made possible by social and emotional interaction with other humans, namely adults. Taking this idea one step further, they assert that social and emotional mechanisms are not as hard-wired as otherwise thought, but are rather made possible by emotional interactions learned very early (Cyckowski).

Since the two sides were already explained above with its respective views and contentions, then again, “which is which?” Therefore, for me, my answer is: “simply a part and parcel of each”. I believe that neither nature nor nurture per se can really be the main reason of one’s language development. Like my nephew’s utterance that I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, I can then deem that it is neither naturally programmed in his mind nor was only taught by the people around him, but it could be both. Our genes and the environment play hand in hand with their significant roles in cultivating humans in whatever aspect. Akin to what Knezek (1997) believes, language, like so many other aspects of human behavior has proven to be the product of nature and nurture working together. This amazing human ability to communicate through language is both the result and the cause of our uniqueness as human beings. Language is a tool indeed: Simple enough for a child to effortlessly grasp, yet so complex that we may never completely understand just how genetics and experience interact to produce this most integral human trait.

 

References:

Bates, E. (1999). On the nature and nurture of language. San Diego, CA: University of California Press.

Cowie, F. (2008). Innateness and language. Retrieved October 1, 2010 from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/innateness-language/#ChoCasAgaSki

Cyckowski, L. A new spin on nature vs. nurture. Retrieved October 26, 2010 from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro05/web3/lcyckowski.html

Knezek, M. (1997). Nature vs. Nurture: The Miracle of Language. Retrieved October 1, 2010 from http://www.duke.edu/~pk10/language/psych.htm

Theories of Language (from a photocopied article)