Cross Cultural Communication across Languages

Cross cultural communication is not the sole reserve of the business world. In fact, all of us in one form or another come across situations that require some kind of cross cultural communication and understanding.

One such situation is when communicating with foreigners. We all encounter people at work, on holiday or elsewhere who do not share the same language as us. Although we consider language the main means of communicating, language only represents 7% of what we communicate. There are many ways of overcoming the language barrier to allow for some cross cultural communication.

When faced with a situation in which there is no common language these points may help you to get your message across:

Say it without words: use hands, arms, legs, gestures, facial expressions and everything else your charades experience has taught you.

Use emotions: even in our own language and culture we do not always use language to express fright, frustration, anger or joy. Emotions transcend linguistic barriers.

Try out words: sometimes we share common words and we do not know it. Additionally people from different cultures will have a passive knowledge of English gained through the media. Try saying the word slowly or with a different pronunciation. 
Draw it: if you really cannot explain 'milk' to the Greek shop owner draw the cow, the udders and the milk. Pictures speak louder than words. Most cultures will be able to spot what you are getting at straight away.

Ask for help: if there are others around you do not be shy to ask for their assistance. It is often possible to find a willing translator.

Confirm meanings: if you are unsure whether the message has been understood confirm meanings. When doing so do not ask, 'Do you understand?' as the answer will often be 'yes' even if it is 'no'. Try re-phrasing what you have agreed or discussed.

Be patient: the key to overcoming the language barrier is to exercise patience. It is not your fault or the other person's that you cannot speak each others language.

The above points will help you to overcome cross cultural communication problems and ensure you manage to get your message across in one form or another.

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