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Intercultural Communications: Australians and Japanese

Updated on December 27, 2011

Effective cultural communication does indeed involve the understanding of both one’s cultural identity as well as the people whom they are communicating with. However, because cultures of people vary amongst our society, we must also be able to compromise our own identity. With the varying cultures of our society, this can be quite complicated for many people but it plays a key role in how communication is affected between people. In this essay, I shall be discussing how issues of identity affect communication between people from different cultures and procedures in order to overcome them.

Identity in this context is a shared likeness and group of qualities, thus cultural identity being a set of customs unique to a group of people. Within each culture, they have shared practices, history, knowledge, core values and social systems which they follow in their societies. Their mannerisms and the way which they communicate are also born from their cultural upbringing and influenced by the society they reside in. For example, a Japanese custom is to bow their heads upon greeting and in a conversation, and often their statements are not direct otherwise it would be considered as rude. This in contrast with Australian culture is quite different. We tend to shake hands or hug the person upon meeting and are used to being direct in our conversations, or else we would assume that the person is hiding something. Taking these aspects in consideration, imagine if we put a person from each culture that followed these customs in a casual conversation face to face, assuming both knew how to speak in English without any background knowledge on each other’s cultural identities, with the assumption that their own cultural customs are autonomous. It is almost certain that there would be many misunderstandings between the two people if they both believe their culture to be superior without compromise, which goes without saying that it would be the result of miscommunication.

Cultural identity become a large part of a person but it is not until when an attempt of communication is made with someone from a different background that these identities become apparent. It is not until we face a barrier in communication that we must consider a procedure that will allow us to communicate effectively with the other party.

If we are to acknowledge that questions of identity and power are closely related to language and are therefore key concerns for critical applied linguistics, it is important to consider research and pedagogical responses to forms of difference. ~Pennycook (2001, p157)

The statement above highlights the fact that in order to respond to differences effectively, we must do a bit of research and teach in such a way that diversity is better understood. We must research about other cultures in order to learn how to understand each other better in order to form a clear passageway of communicating. In order to accomplish this, we must come to an understanding of the person we are trying to communicate with and compromise our identities in order to come to a medium point of understanding.

In order to come to a compromise between two individuals, there are steps which need to be taken. Examples of this would be the later three of the six stages of intercultural sensitivity and the five savoirs which Byram and Zarate consider as essentials in intercultural communication.

Three stages of the six stages of intercultural sensitivity which I believe would assist in intercultural communication and understanding are:

  • Acceptance
  • Adaptation
  • Integration

These three stages as they are referred to are essentials in intercultural sensitivity and communication. Acceptance is when cultural difference is acknowledged and respected. It is when differences are not treated negatively and are accepted as preferable for human conditions, which is very much how Australia is viewed at the present moment as we pride ourselves in our multicultural society. Respect for behavioral difference is a part of this acceptance, with the most obvious being the difference when speaking a different language. Language is a powerful tool and is attached to cultural mannerisms. Along with respect for behavioral difference is respect for value difference. Different cultures will have different values which they honor and the ability to respect that allows us to help understand each other better.

Adaptation allows us to appreciate cultural differences and their integrity. With this, we are able to relate and communicate with people of different backgrounds more effectively as we put in the effort to understand them. Something which we section under “Adaption” is “Empathy”. This is the ability to experience a part of 'reality' differently from their own given culture, which also helps in our understanding. It helps us become more open and ready to experience things from a different perspective.

A new type of person whose orientation and view of the world profoundly transcends his indigenous culture is developing from the complex of social, political, economic and educational interactions of our time ~ Adler (1977, p25)

I find that the quote above is very powerful as it describes that if a person can take on a culture other than their own, then they are able to develop in a variety of ways and help develop the new world. Integration is simply multiculturalism – the ability to live and co-exist with one another in one environment although we are all different in many aspects.

These three stages are necessary in order to to reach a certain level of understanding on how the world does not have a homogenous culture. If people are able to understand and come to an understanding of the three stages listed above, the pathway to intercultural communication becomes clearer and less difficult to grasp.

The 'Five Savoirs' are components of an intercultural competence model revolving around sets of skills, attitudes and knowledge. These five savoirs are what Byram and Zarate consider to be essentials and when applied in intercultural communication, it allows maximum communication between the two parties.

The following are the 'Five Savoirs' and how they are applied.

1. Savoirs 'knowings': knowledge of self and other, of interaction: individual and societal

The first savoir of knowing is applying the knowledge that you have about yourself as an individual and the mannerisms of the culture which you hail from and taking that into consideration along with what you know about the other person and their background. When you communicate with the person from the different social background and you take these elements into thought then apply what you know when you attempt to make contact, it encourages successful communication between two parties of different backgrounds.

2. Savoir comprendre 'knowing how to understand'” skills for interpreting and relatinginformation

The second savoir of knowing how to understand is the receiving end of the information as there a few things in some cultures which may have a different meaning in others. In the first savoir, it demonstrates how to gather the knowledge of yourself and the other party, analysing differences in order to come to a medium in which both grounds can come to an equal level of understanding. This can be seen as the second step in the process of ensuring successful communication as the information taken from the first step is taken in and interpreted by the person.

3. Savoir apprendre/faire 'knowing how to learn/to do': skills for discovering newknowledge and for interacting to gain new knowledge

In addition to the two savoirs, the third is knowing how to learn and to do. With this, we are able to increase our current knowledge on how to interact with others as we learn new facts about them and their cultural background. The ability to learn and to apply the knowledge which we receive in context with the first two savoirs allows us to broaden our understanding of people.

4. Savoir être 'knowing how to be': attitudes involved in relativising the self and valuingthe other

Knowing how to be is the ability of presenting yourself as a person while still respecting the other person whom which you are communicating with. Part of successful communication is being able to portray yourself, and across language and cultural barriers it may prove to me more difficult than usual. In order to accomplish this, the previous three savoirs should be incorporated as you apply what you have learnt of what you know of the other person and try to create a situation in which you are both able to come to a mutual understanding.

5. savoir s'engager 'knowing how to commit oneself': education involving thedevelopment of critical and political awareness.

Knowing how to commit oneself in terms of education involving the development of critical and political awareness is vital. Depending on the situation, language can be used as a power advantage over another while in other circumstances it can be viewed as a weakness. This is where the fifth savoir comes into action: the understanding of these particular conditions.

All of these 'knowledges' combined form a basic module for competence in learning and understanding intercultural competence linguistically, socio linguistically and in discourse. When all of them are applied effectively, a person should be able to find a way to compromise their own identity and come to a social meeting point with the person they are attempting to communicate with. To compromise one's identity does not mean not being able to show one's complete self, but more so presenting their own self in such a manner that the same message can be brought across to the other individual through the cultural barrier.

With the three stages mentioned and the five savoirs combined, they create a powerful but basic understanding of what steps should be taken in order to improve one's communicative abilities. As the three stages are about accepting the culture of the other person, this emphasizes the five savoirs as they are learning processes in how to understand the person as well as the cultural background. If we applied this to the example given earlier in the essay, there would be a large difference.

Once again, we will imagine a person from an Australian background and an individual of Japanese descent in a conversation. If both of these people use the three stages of acceptance and apply the five savoirs as they are communicating, it is most likely that the outcome will be more comfortable for both participants. They have both accepted each other's background and appreciate the difference between them. As they attempt to communicate, they use the five different savoirs and create a situation of mutual understanding. They will keep both the cultural identity of the other person as well as their own in mind while engaged in conversation, therefore being given the opportunity to avoid small misunderstandings.

In conclusion, cultural identity can affect communication between people from different backgrounds but in order to overcome that barrier, we must be willing to learn and accept difference. In order to do that, the latter three of the six stages should be followed: we must accept the difference of other cultures, learn how to 'adapt' to them by appreciating their differences in culture in contrast with out own and also accept multiculturalism within our own society. Furthermore, we should adapt the attitudes, skills and knowledge of the five savoirs to help ourselves become more effective in intercultural communication as they are basic steps which allow us to learn and become more in depth with our ability to correspond with people from different backgrounds.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bennett, Milton, J. 1993, A Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity. In Paige M. (Ed.) Education for the intercultural experience. Pages 29-71. Yarmouth, Me.: Intercultural Press

Liddicoat, A., Papademetre, L. Scarino, A. & Kohler, M. 2003. Report on intercultural language learning. Research Centre for Languages and Cultures Education at the University of South Australia and the School of Languages and Linguistics at Griffith University.

Pennycook, Alistair (2001) Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical Introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Chapter 6: “The politics of difference.”


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