Helping international audiences understand a message is the central purpose of cross-cultural communication. In order to do this effectively, technical communicators need to prepare documents with their audience in mind. Typically, when preparing documents for international audiences, communicators either globalize their message, or they localize it.
As Ugur Akinci wrote in an article about globalization and localization, the difference between these two methods is as follows:
- GLOBALIZATION requires Cultural Sanitation.
- LOCALIZATION requires Cultural Adaptation.
To globalize a document, a communicator must “sanitize” the document by removing cultural references, idioms, metaphors, and language that won’t translate well into another language. Typically this is a cheaper option, but the downside is that this method can create a document that is boring to read.
Localization requires communicators to translate documents in such a way that cultural references are understandable and specific to the target audience. This can be a difficult and expensive process since a document can have audiences that speak dozens of languages. However, this method will create more readable documents
Which one should I use?
When choosing between these two methods, it’s important to consider the audience and situation. How important is your document? Is it just a brief set of instructions? Or is it a manual that will be referenced repeatedly? If it is a very important document, perhaps it will be worth the time, effort, and resources to localize the document, especially if your target audience speaks one language (e.g., an operation manual for a product that is exclusively sold in Germany).
Meanwhile, if you have a simple set of instructions for a cheap watch to be sold worldwide, expending resources on localizing the document is not worth it. It would be better to globalize it so translators will have an easy time preparing it for the target audiences.
I wasn’t able to post on Tuesday night because I’ve been very bogged down with the end of the semester. I’ve had to write several papers and complete several projects, all of which have taken up most of my time. I was exhausted last night, but fortunately I’m all done now! That’s a great feeling.
I think stress is a normal thing for students to feel during finals week; it’s practically a universal struggle for all of us, no matter where we’re from. I don’t think stress is any respecter of persons.
Although stress is common throughout the world, it isn’t necessarily evenly dispersed. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) releases life satisfaction indexes for entire countries, which indicate the level of happiness reflected by a the populace of a country. The results are based on surveys in each country. It’s hard to know how accurate these results really are, or how to interpret them. Nevertheless, they provide interesting insights into how certain people view themselves.
You can view some of the life satisfaction indexes by clicking here.
Apparently European nations are very satisfied with their lives. Countries such as Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland top the list. The United States? We have an life satisfaction rating of 7.6, which makes us 12th on the list.
The report is very thorough, analyzing satisfaction in context with health, education, the environment, income, and other factors.
Of course, this study doesn’t necessarily indicate which country is the best in the world; it’s more of an indicator of who is the happiest in their home country. This rating can reflect much more on the culture and general attitude of a people than the actual living conditions. Some people may be completely content with a modest income and a simple lifestyle. Other cultures might be more demanding of the populace, leading people to be perpetually dissatisfied with their current situations.
No matter what the study, it’s always important to analyze what we can actually safely conclude from the data. Also, it’s always important to remember that this kind of information does not necessarily allow us to make generalizations about people from certain countries. If we see that Estonia has a life satisfaction of 1.9, we shouldn’t assume that all Estonians are depressed all the time.
So why are these numbers even useful at all? These statistics can provide us with a lens with with which to interpret our own data we’ve collected on a country. Say a company is trying to sell a smart phone in a country like Spain, where work-life balance is very high. It’s apparent that the people in Spain value a good work-life balance, and therefore a smart phone company can say that its device will increase work efficiency and give and individual more free time.
This is something you’d want to verify with a cross-cultural analyst since there are so many idiosyncratic faux-pas we can commit in each country. However, these statistics can certainly give us a place to start.
The terms high and low context cultures, according to an article from Communicaid, refer to how people communicate in different cultures. A high-context culture (such as cultures in Africa, the Middle-East, China, and India) relies more on long-term relationships, cultural associations, and mutual experiences. In a high-context culture, being part of a family or tribe can communicate a lot more than just words can. Word choice is more important in high-context cultures, since a few words can have a deeper cultural and historical meaning. Meanwhile, low-context cultures the verbalization of ideas is much more important.
When interacting with people from other cultures, it is very important to know whether they come from high- or low-context cultures, because you will be able to adapt your communication style and make better friendships. While there are entire books and studies dedicated to this subject, a brief introduction can be beneficial!
Here is a list comparing and contrasting the differences between the two:
|High Context||Low Context|
|Indirect and implicit messages||Direct, simple and clear messages|
|High use of non-verbal communication||Low use of non-verbal communication|
|Low reliance on written communication||High reliance on written communication|
|Use intuition and feelings to make decisions||Rely on facts and evidence for decisions|
|Long-term relationships||Short-term relationships|
|Relationships are more important than schedules||Schedules are more important than relationships|
|Strong distinction between in-group and out-group||Flexible and open|
This information will only become more important as we seek to understand people from all different kinds of cultures. Here in the United States, we are considered a low-context culture. However, many of the cultures found in Cache Valley (Filipino, Indian, Mexican, Japanese) are high-context, so it is important to understand their style of communication.
At first it may seem very difficult to try and develop relationships with people from high-context cultures, since they are a little cliquish, but after time, experience, and a little know-how, it becomes very possible! What are some of your experiences with people from high-context cultures?
The International Business program here at USU is very popular. I have met many individuals who are excited about their business classes that emphasize international relationships. This is a great indicator for our future, because different countries have natural resources, products, services, and ideas that can benefit our own. Likewise, the United States has much that can benefit the world. We have already exported our culture and our philosophies all around the globe, but is there more that can be done to develop successful and profitable relationships with other countries? I’d like to know what some of the students in the international business program think about that question.
In my time here at USU, I have spoken with a few international business students who are unsure of what they want to do exactly with their degree. I would be open for anything overseas, or in South America, but they don’t have a real game plan for their future. I can relate to that, because I also have difficulty trying to specialize or focus on just one area in the field of technical communication. Well, while I work on that, I figure I would share a few ideas for some of the students who are considering international business, or even thinking about dealing with people from other countries in the workplace.
Cindy King, an international relations guru, recently wrote an article that offered tips for people interested in the field. In it, she offered the following advice:
# 1 Don’t be vague. She advises that students ought to be explicit about what they want to do in the future, and should let their passion show
#2 Don’t make everything about you. She says that developing relationships with potential employers is more important than asking for a job.
#3 Don’t show disrespect. This is obvious, and an easy way to avoid this is to do your research, and find out what might offend others.
#4 Don’t waste time going after the wrong people.
#5 Don’t use boring tactics. Many companies that work internationally are looking for creativity, so instead of just sending an email, think about making a video.
#6 Don’t stay stuck. Don’t be afraid to study abroad or move to a different country in order to show your interest in international business!
#7 Change your focus. Cindy believes that many students think too much about their studies, and they don’t take action.
These tips are good to think about now, and while they are general enough to apply to many field, I think they specifically apply to students interested in the future of international business and relations. USU has a great study abroad program, and there are several clubs that can provide us with exposure to cultural diversity. The Access and Diversity center is a great place to start. These kinds of experiences can help students develop a concrete plan for the future that they can explicitly communicate to future employers. They will be able to develop relationships with people from other countries. Who knows, maybe their parents own a business there? Most of all, it will help students develop cross-cultural communication skills that will be valuable in any workplace.
Can a communication medium that is as fragmented as a 140-character idea really help with bridging the cultural divides that exist in our world? Jessica Faye Carter seems to think so. As a columnist who writes about social media technologies in multicultural communities, she has a few things to say about the benefits of Twitter in cross-cultural engagement. In an article that appeared on Mashable.com, she says people all over the world are using the open architecture of Twitter to discuss just about anything, including culture. Since people from a variety of cultural backgrounds use Twitter to talk about their lives, there now exists a massive amount of information that allows us to engage in cultural exploration. According to her, there are a few main reasons why people who are interested in cross-cultural communication should be interested in Twitter.
# 1 It facilitates cross-cultural engagement. It can be easier to understand people when you remove body language, accents, and tone. There are also several programs that allow people to tweet in their native language or translate foreign languages into their own.
#2 Open design. With Twitter you can contact just about anyone from anywhere. All you have to do is search by interest or location, and you can find some people in Japan in order to chat with them openly about cultural taboos that you should avoid in your next business trip. With Twitter, most people are pretty comfortable with tweeting and messaging back and forth, as long as they don’t have to share any private information.
#3 There isn’t any predominant culture. Twitter isn’t a community, it’s a conglomeration of tens of thousands of communities that are chatting back and forth. Any culture can form its own community and attract like-minded folks to join the conversation.
#4 Anyone can receive attention on Twitter. Attention is an important part of our lives. It helps us feel important! By giving your attention to others (especially those of other cultures) you can help others feel important and develop friendships.
The bottom line is Twitter is a great place to network. Here in Logan (despite our decent level of diversity) it can be very difficult to find representatives from the many cultures in our world. Twitter becomes the perfect terminal for exploring other cultures by conversing with other people! What are your opinions about Twitter? Have you had any good/bad experiences?
I realize that every time I use the phrase “cross-cultural communication,” I am making the subject sound much more difficult and boring than it actually is. In reality, this concept that I am obsessed with is just about making friends with people from different cultures! That doesn’t sound so boring now, right? Maybe I need to change some of my jargon in order to form more palatable posts. However, in one of the articles I read this week, the author uses the phrase and makes it sound fun. Heather Farr spent a month in Zambia and shared a few of her keys to cross-cultural communication in an article she recently wrote. Here are 5 of them:
#1 Do you research. This is a perfect #1, because it should always be one of the first priorities. One common mistake is assuming that your techniques and experience can apply in every situation. Sometimes even the best have to adapt.
#2 Take an interest. People will open up their souls to you if you just take a little interest. Especially in Logan, where it can be easy to assume as a minority, that no one really cares about your culture.
#3 Be an active listener. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and clarify. It can be very frustrating for non-native English speakers when they try to communicate what is on their mind, but they can’t get the point across. Be willing to help them out.
#4 Stay flexible. Sometimes you just can’t use certain analogies or techniques, because they won’t translate well. Be willing to sacrifice these for the benefit of clear communication.
#5 Keep an open mind. What’s religion to one man might just be superstition to another. Some cultures have very different customs and beliefs, and we need to try to understand them and learn to work with them, rather than throwing them away as something inferior.
If you are reading this blog, chances are you are already either consciously or subconsciously aware of these keys, but it’s good to have them written down and fleshed out. It’s also important to try and work them into the collective consciousness of the community. How is that done? Well, maybe that will have to wait for another post.
While USU and Logan may not be a place commonly associated with ethnic diversity, we still have people from many places around the world and from many different cultures. While on campus, it is possible to run into students from Germany, Japan, China, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Libya, and the list can go on. While working at some of the factories, like Icon Fitness or Yesco, employees might encounter other employees from Central America or the Philippines. Just a few years ago, Cache Valley took in over 100 Burmese refugees who were fleeing from their war-torn country. This diversity is great, these people bring a rich culture and heritage with them and can influence others in remarkable ways.
With this growing diversity, we also need to be conscious of the challenges they might be facing. According to the website diversitydata.sph.harvad.edu, about 10% of our population is Hispanic, 2% Pacific islander, 0.5% African American, and 0.4% American Indian. That demographic report is pretty shocking, I imagine it could be difficult to live in a city where the dominant race makes up 86% of the population. And it doesn’t make it any easier that there is also an overwhelmingly dominant religion in the valley, that heavily influences the culture.
In being conscious of the challenges that minorities might face, we need to know how to communicate clearly. Whether we work together on a project or are employees in the same place, it is always important to have patience and understanding when it comes to communication.
The other day I found a great article on the website “6 minutes,” which is a speaking and presentation skills website. The article discussed 5 ways that speakers can communicate more effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. They are:
- Don’t assume they can understand you.
- Be cautious of cultural jargon.
- Be adaptable to local style.
- Slow down.
- Watch your body language.
It’s a great article, and I highly recommend it. It is geared more towards the subject of professional speaking, but I find the insights to be useful in everyday communication as well. One tip that I think is so important is #4: slow down. That doesn’t mean dumbing down speech, but I do believe that speaking in a slow, calm, clear manner makes everything more easy to understand. Speaking slowly also allows the speaker to think about what he/she is saying, and helps in avoiding idioms and colloquialisms.
My big challenge is body language, I use my hands and facial expressions to communicate, and I know that can be difficult for people from other cultures to understand. What do you think you need to work on?
My name is Keaton, and I am a white middle-class American, which are pretty common here in the state of Utah. Living in a state that is well-known for its lack of diversity provides an interesting challenge for someone like me, who is interested in topics like globalization, localization, and cross-cultural communication. Where can I go to find diversity? Where can I go to develop skills in order to help myself and others bridge cultural gaps? That is the goal of this blog, to educate myself and others around me in Logan on how to be more sensitive to cultural gaps, and discuss ways we can bridge those gaps effectively. Even if you don’t live in Logan, keep reading, these tips can be very helpful!
To begin with, I would like to discuss the concept of cultural awareness, I’ll be drawing from some of the ideas presented on the Cultural and Language (CAL) Learning blog, which is moderated by a company that specializes in cross-cultural communication in the workplace.
In one of their posts last year, they discussed four different stages of cultural awareness that people typically possess, they are:
Stage 1: People are all the same.
While either misinformed or ignorant, these people believe that everyone views the world just about the same way they do.
Stage 2: Cultural differences exist, but my culture is the best.
These people have probably had negative experiences with people from different cultures, or they are just ethnocentric.
Stage 3: Other cultures are of value and I can learn from them.
Hey, this is absolutely true, and kudos to those people that are like this!
Stage 4: More than one cultural frame of reference exists.
These kind of people are brilliant, because they can re-frame their conversation in order to direct it to people of different cultures.
While I am not very good at pigeonholing people into categories, I do find value in being able to define certain levels of cultural awareness, like CAL learning has done. I am certain that further research might indicate that there are numerous other stages in between these four, but I believe these four will suffice for now.
The reason why these are important is because we all have deficiencies in our awareness of culture, and these can cause some serious communication problems in any circumstance, but particularly in business and work environments. We can all benefit from examining how culturally aware we are, and setting goals to improve our level of awareness.
Every time I am around people of different cultures I learn new and amazing things about them that can really benefit me and my perspective on life, and while I am not the most culturally aware person, I do feel like I am making improvements!
Where do you think you fit in?