I’m currently reading some very interesting information about language, culture and particularly crosscultural communication. The ability to speak a foreign language fluenty doesn’t necessarily make for smooth and trouble-free communication with native speakers of that language. There are many differences in the way people use language, such as in volume, intonation, pitch and tone, and also in the topics they discuss, the way they take turns in a conversation and whether they express their opinions directly or indirectly. These differences may also occur among speakers of the same language.
Here are a few examples of potential crosscultural misunderstandings:
When you first meet someone in Germany it’s common and appropriate to discuss such topics as politics and religion, however in the UK and USA doing so might be perceived as intrusive and rude.
Among Chinese communities, it’s normal to discuss financial matters, even with people you’ve just met, though this would isn’t necessarily a welcome topic elsewhere.
The British and Americans generally take it turns to speak during a conversation, however Germans may start speaking while others are speaking in order to demonstrate their interest and enthusiasm.
In Japan it’s common to say “hai!” or make other appropriate noises while someone else is speaking to show that you’re listening. If you’re not used to this, it sounds like the listener is trying to hurry the speaker up so that they can have you say.
When an American says to you with “Hi, how are you”, he or she is not usually asking about your health – it’s just a greeting. This is one that often catches me out.