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Cross cultural communication

A Guide to Cross Cultural Communication: Speaking to a Global Audience

A significant aspect of translation that needs to be remembered when looking to enter a new market is cross cultural communication. While it is easy to overlook culture when approaching translation from the outside, understanding and integrating with another culture is a significant aspect of the localization process that allows translation services to deliver messages in a meaningful way.


Understanding cross cultural communication for your business

To understand how culture fits into communication, we must first take note of what we refer to when we speak of someone’s culture. Culture is influenced by a number of different things, not limited to:


  • Age
  • Nationality
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation


Cross cultural communication is the way in which a translator seeks to navigate and mediate differences in culture, through the use of language, gestures and body language. While speakers of any language may use different dialects, colloquialisms or inflections, it is vital to take heed of more than just the words they use.


Life is lived in varying cultures

A woman wakes up to her partner and their child. In the morning, she is a mother, and practices the culture she grew up with; she speaks to her family with affection, she experiences the hustle of preparing for the day, and she leaves for work. When she arrives in her office, she enters the corporate culture of her company. She addresses clients using professional language, holds her body more rigidly, and maintains an air of professionalism in everything she does. After work, she heads to her book club. She unwinds with her friends, avoiding talking about the book none of them read; for a couple of hours, none of them have any responsibility to live up to. They relax, they speak in more casual language. Some literally let their hair down.


Everyone experiences multiple cultures throughout the day, and in every country in the world, the same environment – an office, or the family home – can present different cultures to navigate in translation.


Part of the process of cross cultural communication is understanding which culture a person is living in at the time they are receiving your message. If you are attempting to communicate an advert about your productivity tool to a market on the other side of the world, you need to ensure that you’re addressing them while they’re at work – wherever that may be. At the same time, your writing should be cognisant of the cultural norms of the workplace you’re targeting.


Cross cultural communication as part of the interpretation process

Sometimes, we don’t always have the time to communicate a message thoughtfully in writing. When interpretation is necessary – for a business meeting, or a medical emergency abroad, for example – it is important that all parties involved understand the culture the others are coming from.


In Japan, eye contact is considered inappropriate for a business discussion, while the opposite is true for Americans. A firm handshake may seem the best way to greet someone in some parts of the world, whereas a kiss on each cheek is a sign of trust and professional affection in other countries. In order to avoid being put-out by the differences in culture, an interpreter must learn the etiquette and cultural norms that determine which behaviours are suitable, and which are considered an insult.


How do you prepare for cross cultural communication?

While a good translator or interpreter understands cross cultural communication and the ways in which different cultures affect a message, it is important to do some preparation as the initial communicator. Here are some questions to keep in mind when preparing your message:


  • Who are you targeting with your message?
  • Which culture are they living in when you expect them to receive your message?
  • Are you communicating in writing or during a face-to-face meeting?
  • If you are communicating with someone from a different culture, are there rules of social engagement you need to be mindful of?
  • Are there protocols for how to show respect and/or trust that differ from your own culture?


Even with a professional translator or interpreter working with you, being aware of different cultures can help you to avoid a simple faux pas when engaging in conversation or sending a written message. Taking responsibility for cross cultural communications from the offset is in itself a sign of respect to whomever you are speaking.


Final thoughts on cross cultural communication

In the twenty-first century, we work in a global marketplace, and engage in conversation online with people on the opposite side of the plane for both business and pleasure. A basic understanding of one another’s cultural norms is helpful for building long-lasting healthy relationships, which in turn can lead to more business or to more comfortable travel experiences.


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