Modern technological advancements have led to the rapid development of transport and communication tools. As a result, the society that we live in today is becoming increasingly globalised and our relationship with one another is no longer simply interconnected, but interdependent. In this vibrant, diversified society, issues caused by language and cultural differences begin to arise, making “cross cultural communication” a crucial skill for all to acquire. Foreign language teachers, as bridge builders between their students and an unfamiliar world, can utilise the methods below to increase their students’ cross cultural abilities.
- Dig below the surface of words to uncover their cultural undertone
Take the word “magpie”for example, in Chinese this bird symbolises happiness and good luck, in some Western countries however, magpies carry a cultural meaning of “someone who steals and talks obnoxiously”. In our past article on “Communicating in Chinese VS Thinking in Chinese”, we used the character “豆“ to illustrate that words do not simply map to objective things, but also to specific thoughts and feelings of a culture.
Tip: Teachers can try using words or conversations that reflect a culture’s values and mode of thinking, to inspire students to compare, discuss and share.
- Utilise open-ended questions to guide students
Every country has its own system of greetings. There are many Japanese expressions associated with seasons, thus in Japan, people like to greet each other by mentioning the weather or the season. On the contrary, Russians perceive weather greetings as mundane and boring. In China on the other hand, you will come across questions such as “Have you eaten?” or “Where are you heading to?” that people often use as a way of greeting a friend or acquaintance.
Tip: When teaching topics such as greetings, teachers could utilise open-ended questions to guide their students. For example, questions like “Is it the same in your country?” or “Why do you think Chinese people like to greet each other in this way?” help to nurture students’ sensitivity towards cultural differences and habits.
- Provide cultural context to nurture interest in cross cultural communication
The conversation above on the topic of gift giving elucidates the fact that culture influences the way people behave and engage in verbal exchanges. When accepting gifts, Chinese people will reject a few times out of courtesy and politeness. For a non-native speaker, conversations like this may confuse them and ultimately, they would not be able to understand the deeper connotations of what is being said.
Tip: Most non-native speakers will not be familiar with Chinese social interactions; we cannot expect them to understand the Chinese way of thinking when they have not acquired a good understanding of Chinese language and culture. During classes, teachers could introduce more background information on Chinese customs, history, habits and way of life, etc. These anecdotal pieces of context help students improve their cultural sensitivity and stimulate their interest to learn.
A teacher’s cultural quotient and understanding of cultural diversity has significant impact on their students ability to effectively carry out cross cultural communication. In the process of teaching, we should view cultural differences objectively. In order to foster respect and inclusivity, allow students to familiarise with both the similarities and differences between their own culture and foreign cultures.
Learning Chinese as a second language goes hand in hand with the learning of Chinese culture, teachers can use the three methods suggested in this article to develop students’ ability to communicate and interact with a Chinese person. If you have any suggestions on the topic of cross cultural communication, share with us via firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.