Sep. 2007, Volume 4, No.9 (Serial No.45)                                   Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN1539-8072, USA   ...
On the promotion of intercultural communication competenceyou act on these perceptions. Although these three concepts work...
On the promotion of intercultural communication competenceThe figure 13 is not always mentioned in western countries, and ...
On the promotion of intercultural communication competencewith the place where they come from.      2.3 To communicate act...
On the promotion of intercultural communication competence     Openness doesn’ mean you talk to every stranger you encount...
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5



Published on

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this


  1. 1. Sep. 2007, Volume 4, No.9 (Serial No.45) Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN1539-8072, USA On the promotion of intercultural communication competence ZHOU Bin1, CUI Fu-quan2 (1. Foreign Studies Department, Xi’ University of Architecture and Technology, Xi’ 710055, China; an an 2. Foreign Language Teaching and Research Section, Xi’ Military Academy, Xi’ 710108, China) an an Abstract: The paper begins with the importance of intercultural communication in modern society, and thenmainly provides three ways to promote intercultural communication competence; namely, to know both yourselfand the target culture, to be objective, and to communicate actively. The main purpose of this paper is to helppeople achieve effective and efficient communication in the process of intercultural communication. Key words: intercultural communication; mutual comprehension; objectiveness; active communication 1. Introduction Intercultural communication is communication between people whose cultural perceptions and symbolsystems are different enough to alter the communication event (Samovar, Porter £¦Stefani, 2000). It is as truethat the world is shrinking and the contact of people from different cultural backgrounds has been increasing morethan ever before as that in the process of intercultural communication, there are lots of barriers such as languagedifferences, different values, cultural shock, which greatly affect human communication. It is, therefore, essentialfor us to attach more importance to intercultural communication and cultivate sufficient intercultural awarenessand understanding. According to ZHANG Ai-ling (2003), intercultural communication competence means being able tocommunicate effectively and efficiently with people from different cultures to achieve mutual understanding andto gain better cooperation. In this paper, the author would like to offer three ways to overcome the cultural barriersand enhance communicative competence. 2. Main Ways to Enhance Intercultural Communication Competence 2.1 To know both yourself and the target culture Sun Tzu said, “ Know the enemy, know yourself, and you can fight a hundred battles with no danger ofdefeat.” Though intercultural communication is not a battle, it is very essential to know both yourself and thetarget culture because it is favorable for us to achieve a better understanding. 2.1.1 To know yourself Although the idea of knowing yourself is common, it is nevertheless crucial to improve interculturalcommunication because what you bring to the communication event greatly influences the success or failure ofthat event. What’ more, knowing yourself is also an effective way to have insight into other cultures. And the sapplication of introspection should take three directions: know your culture, know your attitude, and know how ZHOU Bin, male, M.A., lecturer of Foreign Studies Department, Xi’ University of Architecture and Technology; research field: anapplied linguistics. CUI Fu-quan, male, M.A., associate professor of Foreign Language Teaching and Research Section, Xi’ Military Academy; anresearch field: applied linguistics. 77
  2. 2. On the promotion of intercultural communication competenceyou act on these perceptions. Although these three concepts work in random, it might be useful to examine themseparately. As is known, we all live in a certain culture with certain languages, symbol systems, and values, and one’ sthought and behaviors are greatly influenced by these factors. So in the first place, you should have a clearunderstanding of your own cultural patterns, not only its surface, such as houses, clothes, foods, etc, but also itsdepth, such as values, beliefs, national characteristics, and so on. In the second place, you are supposed to know your attitude. It goes without saying that a person’ attitude splays an important role in the process of communication. It is, therefore, essential for you to know your likes, yourdislikes, and the degree of your ethnocentrism to avoid these hidden personal premises. In the third place, you should be aware of your communication style. If you perceive yourself in one way,and people with whom you interact perceive you in another way, serious problems can arise. As we all know, ourmost taken-for-granted behaviors are often hidden from consciousness. So you have to clearly know yourcommunication style— the manner in which you represent yourself to others. 2.1.2 To know the target culture Intercultural communication is the communication between people from different cultures. So just knowingyourself is far from enough. We should also know the other party in the communication event. For the first timewe communicate with a foreigner, it is usually rather difficult for us to know his personality, attitude, and hiscommunication style. What’ more, the other parties in our intercultural communication are always changing. So swe can just, in advance, have a general understanding of their cultures which are suitable to most people in mostcases. But in the process of intercultural communication, we must be good at observing and detecting theseconcrete details to know communicators themselves, because every individual is much more than his culture. Firstly, to know the language and nonverbal symbols of the target culture. Language and culture are closely related, each influencing and shaping the other. Language, as an intrinsicpart of culture, reflects culture, and culture also reflects language. So when we communicate with foreigners, we’ dbetter know their language, including both its linguistic usage and its pragmatic one, or some problems may beresulted. For example, when a non-English speaker first hears the English sentence “ Won’ you have some tea?” t ,he or she listens to the literal meaning of the sentence and answers, “ , meaning that he or she wants some. The No”U.S. hostess, on the other hand, ignores the double negative because of common usage, and the guest gets no tea. Nonverbal communication also plays an important role in intercultural communication. For example, in theUnited States, making a circle with one’ thumb and index finger while extending the others is emblematic of the sword “ ; in Japan it signifies “ Ok” money” and among Arabs this gesture is usually accompanied by a baring of ,teeth, and together they signify extreme hostility. This same gesture has a vulgar connotation in Mexico andGermany, and to the Tunisian it means “ ll kill you”(Samovar et al., 2000). I’ Secondly, to know their cultural values and national characteristics. Formally, a value may be defined as an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state ofexistence is personally or socially preferable to another (Rokeach, 1973). Although each of us has a unique set ofindividual values, there are also values that tend to pervade a culture. These are called cultural values. In differentcultures there are different cultural values. Thirdly, to know taboos in the target culture. Taboos are bans or prohibitions on something that are regarded for religious or other reasons as not to bedone, said, touched, and used, etc. Almost every culture has its taboos. For example, the Muslims don’ eat pork. t78
  3. 3. On the promotion of intercultural communication competenceThe figure 13 is not always mentioned in western countries, and figure 4 is not mentioned in some Asian countries,because it has the similar sound with “ (death)”in Chinese. In intercultural communication, we must be careful Siand try to avoid offending people with certain taboos. There are still many other aspects we should get to know in advance, whether of ourselves or of the targetcultures. And we can learn them in our daily life, through mass media, from our social experiences, and so on. 2.2 To be objective In intercultural communication, our observations and conclusions are restricted by our personal and culturalorientations. How, for instance, do we make sense of someone’ loud speaking if we come from a culture that svalues silence? We might make the mistake to think “ How could someone be so noisy and boring?” In order to solve this problem, we must learn to be objective in the process of intercultural communication.To be objective, we must first avoid three subjective inclinations. 2.2.1 To avoid ethnocentrism Sumner, generally credited with introducing the term to the study of culture, defined ethnocentrism as “ thetechnical name for the view of things in which one’ own group is the center of everything, and all others are sscaled and rated with reference to it”(Sumner, 1940). Anthropologists generally agree that ethnocentrism is inevitable and unconscious, and it is found in almostevery culture. It might be the major barrier to intercultural communication. The negative impact of ethnocentrismon intercultural communication is clearly highlighted by Steward and Bennett: First, ethnocentric beliefs aboutone’ own culture shape a social sense of identity which is narrow and defensive. Second, ethnocentrism normally sinvolves the perception of members of other cultures in terms of stereotypes. Third, the dynamic of ethnocentrismis such that comparative judgments are made between one’ own culture and other cultures under the assumption sthat one’ own is normal and natural. As a consequence, ethnocentric judgments usually involve invidious scomparisons that ennoble one’ culture while degrading those of others (Steward & Bennett, 1991). s 2.2.2 To avoid stereotypes Lippmann, who called attention to the concept of stereotype as early as 1922, indicated that “ stereotypeswere a means of organizing our images into fixed and simple categories that we use to stand for the entirecollection of people”(Lippmann, 1957). The reason may be human being’ psychological need to categorize and sclassify our big and complex world. The negative effect on intercultural communication is clearly described byAlder: Stereotypes become counterproductive when we place people in the wrong groups, when we incorrectlydescribe the group norm, when we inappropriately evaluate the group or category, when we confuse the stereotypewith the description of a particular individual, and when we fail to modify the stereotype based on our actualobservations and experience (Alder, 1991). Inevitably, stereotyping is another serious barrier in intercultural communication. We should considerdifferent people and different things from different perspectives, but not always from our personal ones. In otherwords, we must be objective enough so as not to over-generalize or over-simplify something. 2.2.3 To avoid prejudices Psychologist Plotnik and Mollenauer defined prejudices as “ unfair, biased, or intolerant attitude towardsanother group of people” (1986). Prejudiced attitudes include irrational feelings of dislike and even hatred forcertain groups. These attitudes are not always based on direct and firsthand knowledge. For example, a prejudicedemployer might say: “ Workers from rural areas are not as competent as those from cities.” or “ employees fromother cities than Guangzhou are difficult to communicate with.”But in fact, people’ capability has nothing to do s 79
  4. 4. On the promotion of intercultural communication competencewith the place where they come from. 2.3 To communicate actively As we know, theory is something, but practice is everything. The purpose of knowing is to serve as doingsomething. So we should communicate actively to enhance our intercultural communication competence. And inthis process, we should pay attention to the following four items. 2.3.1 To consider the physical and human setting Communication is a systematic process. In addition to communicators themselves in the communicationevent, other elements also greatly influence the results of communication, such as the place, occasion, time, and soon. In different places, people may have different responses. For example, when communication events happenin one’ own country, the host may feel more relaxed. On the contrary, the guest may feel more or less suncomfortable. In terms of occasion, it is self-evident that we may wear different clothes on different occasions, and showdifferent manners. And as for the time, people in different cultures have different time orientations. In America,people value informal and monochronic time and they are future-oriented; whereas Chinese people value formaland polychronic time and they are past-oriented. 2.3.2 To show your respect and be tolerant On the one hand, everyone has the need to be respected. So in intercultural communication, we should acceptand respect others as well as their cultures such as values, customs, and taboos. On the other hand, sometimessome unsuitable words may be used in a communication event, or some of others’behaviors may make us feeluncomfortable. As usual, people always make these mistakes unconsciously because of lacking enoughunderstanding. In these cases, we should be tolerant with others. Meanwhile, we should try our best to avoid thesesimilar mistakes in the process of intercultural communication. The Chinese traditional thought can, in a sense,reflect this point. As Mencius says, “ Benevolence is what makes a human being human being.” 2.3.3 To develop empathy We have mentioned that every culture is ethnocentric. The next suggestion is helpful to overcomeethnocentrism and enhance intercultural communication competence. That is to develop empathy— “ able to see bethings from the point of view of others”(Samovar et al., 2000). As the famous Native American proverb goes,“ should not judge a person until we have walked two moons in his moccasins.”But how to develop empathy? We First, both you and your communication partner should be expressive (unless you are interacting withsomeone from a culture that values silence), and your expressive behavior can also promote others to be moreexpressive. Second, you should constantly remind yourself to pay attention to the spontaneous emotional expressions ofothers. We can’ expect individuals from other cultures to offer us verbal and nonverbal messages about their tinternal state. So we should detect others’emotions through observing their expressions and specific behaviorscarefully. Third, we should put ourselves into others’ shoes. We should consider others from their perspectives. This isgood for us to understand some cultural differences and to promote a smooth intercultural communication. 2.3.4 To be open and flexible We have mentioned that communication is systematic; it is also a dynamic one. It is transitory, ongoing, andirreversible. In other words, there is nothing permanent except change. So we must be open and flexible.80
  5. 5. On the promotion of intercultural communication competence Openness doesn’ mean you talk to every stranger you encounter, rather it implies that you are willing to taccept change and are not closed to new ideas (Samovar et al., 2000). Flexibility means that developing a collection of interpersonal tactics. You need to be flexible and adapt yourcommunication style to various conditions, people and situations. You should be reflective instead of impulsivewhen interacting with a culture that moves at a slower pace. For example, an American teacher can’ sit on the tdesk in the Chinese class, but it is allowed in America. 3. Conclusion We have mentioned three main approaches to enhance intercultural communication competence. Certainly,there are still some other ways to enhance this ability. But anyhow, we should obey some basic principles inintercultural communication. Firstly, we should obey the law and basic ethics. We should not deprive freedom and pleasure of others; weshould not cheat and deceive. Secondly, we should be mindful of the consequences of our words and actions. At the basic core, we should keep in mind that the main purpose of intercultural communication is to achievemutual benefit. We shouldn’ always want to win big, to humiliate the opposition, even to gain all of the tadvantages. Rather, successful intercultural communicators are conducted in a cooperative climate in which bothsides can emerge as winners.References:Adler, N. J. 1991. Intercultural dimensions of organizational behavior (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: PWSKENT.Lippman, W. 1957. Public opinion. New York: Macmillan.Plotnik, R. & Mollenauer, S. 1986. Introduction to psychology. New York: Random House.Roger,E.M.& Steinfatt, T.M. 1999. Intercultural communication. Illionis: Waveland Press Inc.Rokeach, M. 1973. The nature of human values. New York: Free Press.Sumner, W. G. 1940. Folkways. Boston: Ginnand.Stewart, E. C. & Bennett, M. J. 1991. American cultural patterns. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.Samovar, L. A., Porter, R. E. & Stefani L. A. 2000. Communication between cultures (3rd ed.). Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.ZHANG Ai-ling, et al. 2003. Intercultural communication. Chongqing: Chongqing University Press. (Edited by Robert, Jessica and Doris) 81