The ability of an individual to communicate meaningfully is considered a critical aspect of social interaction among people of different cultures. This essay explores various issues pertaining to intercultural communication and its application on the classroom setting.
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These include the definition of intercultural communication and an overview of the contents involved in teaching it; it also provides a brief overview of personal experience as a teacher in an intercultural learning institution. With the advent of globalization and enhanced international integration, cross-cultural communication has become inevitable.
Intercultural communication occurs in a situation where distinct cultural communities negotiate shared values and meanings in social interaction. What is understood as intercultural communication depends on individual’s conceptualization of culture.
Intercultural communication can also refer to a communication between people of different nationalities or people of different economic classes; it may be inter-ethnic, inter-regional, or inter-religious. It may also encompass communication among individuals of different sexual orientations or gender.
Communication can be intercultural when the identities of the parties in the interaction are salient in their values, prejudice, language, non-verbal behavior and idiosyncratic characteristics (World Bank, n.d., p. 1).
The move towards a more interconnected world has been aided by rapid technological changes that have led to increased digital communications, good transportation systems and effective movement of people over vast distances. This has resulted in an unexpectedly high level of interaction between individuals of diverse national, ethnic and religious backgrounds (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel, 2009, p. 2).
Intercultural communication may be applied in the context of daily communications between national governments, in learning institutions and business circles. This essay will focus on the aspects of culture and communication that can affect intercultural communication, especially regarding the exchange of information and ideas with another individual of a different culture.
The study of intercultural matters heralds a new beginning. The world has witnessed an unprecedented level of interaction by people of different cultures throughout history in times of wars, religions and transacting commerce. It should also be noted that intercultural communications has its challenges and obstacles.
For people to coexist meaningfully in this multicultural setting, they must be competent and informed in intercultural communication.
Communication is an unavoidable act; it is fundamental to modern daily life, it is an act that we do and enjoy a lot at every moment. Communication is defined as “the management of messages with the objective of creating meaning” (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel, 2009, p. 9).
On the other hand, culture is defined as “historically transmitted pattern of meaning embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge and attitudes towards life” (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel, 2009, p.10).
Intercultural communication is, therefore defined as a set of communication between people of different linguistic and cultural origins. Culture encompasses values, beliefs, norms, behaviors and attitude, which have the ability to define the levels of people’s interaction. People’s awareness of cultural variations can enhance meaningful and effective interaction.
A teacher, for example, can achieve better communication in the classroom if he/she factors in the cultural differences existing between him and the students. Consequently, an international businessman who is informed of the existence of cultural variations communication matters will be in a better position to negotiate contracts successfully.
Cross-cultural problems can be avoided by both parties if they become aware and develop an understanding of the various components of intercultural communication. These cultures should be applied in the immediate context of communication in order to enhance understanding between interacting parties.
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Having the knowledge and understanding of intercultural communications and the ability to effectively use it can assist in bridging cultural differences and facilitates the realization of more harmonious and productive interactions (Martin and Nakayama, 2007, p. 24).
Intercultural communications has been necessitated by the following factors
The development of modern means of information and technology has enhanced the flow of information, beliefs and ideas across boundaries. It has led to faster and efficient communication leading to interdependence among people. Communication technology has transformed human interaction by minimizing social, economic and cultural barriers.
This is an emerging phenomenon that is increasing daily. This has enhanced the ability of the people to speak and try their best to ensure that they understand unfamiliar language especially of the country they are migrating to because language is the principal tool that is used to conduct social relations.
In the modern world, therefore, intercultural communication is a necessity. This is due to the increased intermingling brought about by the recent developments in the field of information and communication technology which has increased the frequency of virtual interactions among people and states.
The changes in environmental conditions and demographics have led to increased migrations due to conflicts, commerce or for education purposes. This increased migration creates a likelihood of cultural conflicts.
There are various components of culture that are necessary in the analysis of intercultural communication; these are: “perception, cognitive patterns, verbal and non-behaviors and contextual influence” (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel, 2009, p.17).
Intercultural communication takes place whenever a message is transmitted by an individual of one culture for consumption by an individual of a different culture, in this event, the message must be effectively understood. Due to cultural differences, there might be a potentiality for misunderstanding or disagreement by the two parties and because of this risk, it is imperative to study intercultural communication.
There has been an urge to relate culture and language, but there is no consensus as to whether there exists direct relationship. According to Sapir-Whorf approach, language defines culture; there is a claim that language transmits and shapes the way we think, belief and our attitudes (Ting-Toomey, 2005, p. 6).
Intercultural communication is aimed at reducing culture shock. Culture shock is the feeling of anxiety when an individual loses grip of familiar symbols and signs of social intercourse due to the fact that it is the signs and the clues which define our communication orientation. Culture shock acknowledges that understanding the cultural symbols and differences are requisites for effective communication.
Case Study- Intercultural Communication in Classroom
There are emerging complex problems that have been brought about by globalization and technological developments. Different cultures bring together diverse attitudes, values, languages and backgrounds into a campus and classroom environment. Communication in an intercultural education setting involves teaching and learning with people of diverse cultural backgrounds.
Cultural variations have both demands and challenges for teachers and students in any learning institution and cultural competence is of essence. Intercultural communication is an essential aspect in school if a teacher is to respond to students from different cultures while taking into consideration cultural differences and similarities of students from diverse individual background, communities and families (Gur, 2010, p. 65).
Education demands better and effective communication between the teacher and the students. Intercultural communication is gaining popularity because learning institutions are becoming culturally diverse due to globalization which has led to students from different countries learning in one institution.
It is argued that a successful educator must effectively communicate and be culturally competent in cross-cultural environments and cross-cultural communication. Teachers should be sensitive to and appreciative of the problems of intercultural communication in a culturally diverse class. Intercultural communication cannot be learned without understanding the intercultural aspect of it that is acquired through learning of culture.
The fundamental step in understanding of culture is having a vivid idea of other people’s culture and factoring in mind our perceptions towards the same culture.
When students, for example, are instructed by the teacher to write an essay about their understanding of marriage, it will be possible that students of different cultures will have varying perceptions of several cultural aspects of marriage, a factor that should be put into consideration by the teacher while assessing and marking the essays.
When students are shown photos of various ways of greeting may be between man and a woman, two men or two women, they will be in position to understand differences in cultures and they may develop a vivid understanding and perceptions about other cultures which will enable them to appreciate cultural differences (Van, Harmsen & Bruijnzeels, 2002, p. 63).
The teaching and learning of second or several languages are considered a perfect way of appreciating another culture and a way to enhance individual’s knowledge of intercultural communication. Culture and language is the core of teaching and learning; language is considered the window to understanding culture (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel, 2009, p. 53).
Having an understanding of intercultural communication will minimize tension associated with interactions in a multicultural setting. Communication is by itself a useful source of intercultural knowledge and mutual enrichment among students from different cultures when it is better managed by the teacher. It can as well be a source of frustration and intercultural conflict if it is ignored by the teacher.
Intercultural communication in classroom setting should strive to achieve two purposes: enjoyment and benefit; it should be pleasant, bring fun and beneficial to the students. Good interpersonal communication between the teacher and the students will facilitate the transfer of knowledge and skills; it will also enhance the transmission of information to the students.
Successful communication is a mode of knowledge transfer in learning institution. A better understanding of both verbal and nonverbal behaviors of students is necessary in an intercultural environment and better capabilities to react with fellow communicators from different cultures is a requirement in transmission of knowledge.
Intercultural communication teaching is the formal efforts that are designed to prepare students for better interpersonal relations when they interact with other people of different cultures. Also, intercultural communication is aimed at encouraging constructive and meaningful relations between people of different cultures.
There are several obstacles to intercultural communication, they are: dispositions, stereotyping and ethnocentrism (Van, Harmsen and Bruijnzeels, 2002, p. 64). In several learning institutions, it is the theoretical approach of intercultural communication that dominates and minimal cases of skill-oriented approach.
Teachers are faced with challenges of teaching in a classroom with students of different cultures, learning styles and abilities. Providing effective learning in such environment is an overwhelming task. Teachers should apply both variety and choice to enable students become independent learners.
With these developments, teachers have been forced to find out what and how learners should learn in order to live to their full potential and fulfilling lives. Teachers have the responsibility to develop learners who are motivated enough in order to meet the challenges of the modern world. In the ancient times, it was not essential or necessary to teach or learn intercultural communication in schools.
This was because students were surrounded by their cultures and their values, which at home, school or churches were constant; their standard of behavior was uniform. Children were secure and dominant with their cultures due to the minimal exposure to different cultures.
In the contemporary world, this situation is different since children are exposed to other cultures throughout their lives due to the presence of media and other modern means of communication. This has, therefore enabled education to enhance intercultural education by gaining knowledge of different cultures.
Intercultural understanding education-wise plays a very important role in ensuring that we benefit from cultural diversity (UNESCO, 2010, p. 7). Teaching in an intercultural environment, one should be motivated by a deeper understanding of cultures and the desire to impart knowledge. A teacher should also explore various personal values and attitudes.
Students undertaking studies at an intercultural institution face alienation and marginalization due to cultural incompatibility, they experience perceived difficulties and deficiencies.
As a teacher it is imperative to avoid the assumptions on how students learn due to their cultural background, this is because there are some cases that teachers take shortcuts while teaching or interacting with students due to the assumptions that all students are homogeneous.
Teachers, for example, can refer students as from South Asia or Africa without putting into consideration their social, political, linguistic or cultural backgrounds since not all students of South Asia are of the same culture. Teachers also assume that students can comprehend the meaning of a particular story or metaphor without explaining its meaning since different cultures have various interpretation of a similar metaphor.
It is understood that teachers can not contextualize past cultural experience or the expectations of international students, but it is critical to have sensitive approach while teaching them. Teachers should design contexts that deem fit for all students to be included and allowed to participate in class discussions.
Classrooms, which are culturally diverse, present a lot of opportunities for intercultural communication skills for international and local students.
Teachers should devise strategies that promote cultural interaction and which can offer a learning environment where students can nurture their skills to communicate in a multicultural setting and widen their appreciation of global understanding of knowledge (Carroll and Ryan, 2005, p. 16).
A successful teacher in an intercultural setting should have a strong understanding of his cultural heritage and be willing to share it with the students, and should also have knowledge of the culture of his/her students. The promotion of intercultural interaction requires various teaching and learning strategies ranging from curriculum content to assessment techniques.
Teachers have a role to create and promote an environment of inclusion among students both local and international; this is critical in encouraging intercultural learning. Culture of inclusion is understood as a mode of teaching that emphasize on interaction and changing ones attitude, it encourages deeper approach to personal transformation (Carroll and Ryan, 2005, p. 14).
An effective teacher should be in a position to address the needs of the students. Teachers should be aware of and sensitive to the realities of divergent backgrounds and needs of the classroom.
The teacher should endeavor to learn new things and they should review existing teaching practices in order to factor in the dynamics of intercultural fusion. The teacher should be sensitive to review his/her teaching tactics and approaches to meet the needs of all students and not only the needs of the students of dominant culture in the classroom (Gur, 2010, p. 65).
Employing variety and choice while teaching in a multicultural setting involves the use of various instructional approaches which may include powerpoint presentations, handouts, problem-based learning and computer-aided instructions. Teachers in an intercultural environment must factor in communication issues and different learning styles of the culturally diverse learners.
The needs of both local and international students should be put into considerations in the lessons. Teachers should understand the cultural background of learners, together with their beliefs and attitude.
Teaching in a multicultural learning institution presents a lot of challenges. First is the unequal treatment of students. This is because some teachers are not at ease in giving instructions using a different language than his/her native one which can be replicated during exams time where they may award international students more marks to avoid conflict arising from teacher’s inability to decipher well their language.
Different language proficiency between the teacher and the students affects instructions in classroom settings. Some students may not effectively contribute or respond to lessons due to lack of or their limited language proficiency (Gao, n.d., p. 1).
Other challenges facing teachers in multicultural environment are: social, economic and gender discrimination due to differences in culture which affect the quality of education.
There is also lack of appropriate resources which can meet the demands of both international and local students that are required in order to achieve educational goals. There are also cases of misrepresentation of learning techniques by the students from different cultures in classroom setting.
There are several problems that are encountered when people of more than one culture interact in educational setting. It is acknowledgeable that the world is becoming interconnected at a faster rate and due to these people of different cultures interact more frequent times which makes intercultural communication paramount.
Intercultural communication regards two main aspects; communication and training or teaching, it analyzes cultural differences that affect communication in all aspects of life (Stein, n.d., p. 4). Language can influence communication because culture is transmitted through language, all values, attitudes and beliefs that are common to culture are also common to a particular extent in language.
The meaning, wordings and interpretation of a particular group are an indication of the culture of that social group and the analysis of the meanings that are attached to those words is tantamount to the study and understanding of that culture. The language that is taught in any learning institution has explicit reference to a particular culture and this makes intercultural communication in a multicultural setting a sensitive issue.
A better knowledge of intercultural communication can be instrumental in solving problems of communication. Intercultural communication is not a new phenomenon, but it gained prominence when people from different cultures encountered each other.
The new aspect of intercultural communication is the study of how cross-culture interactions occur. The intensification of contacts and interactions among people of different cultures has led to enhanced efforts to comprehend which and why some beliefs, values, attitudes of people vary.
In a classroom setting, all stakeholders should develop an integrated and collaborated approach in multicultural communication.
It is important for a teacher to have an open mind when soliciting for an opportunity to teach in a multicultural setting and for teachers to be culturally competent in class; they should infuse culturally relevant interactions among students which may be achieved through language or teaching materials.
Intercultural communication is a natural phenomenon in an organization which is made up of individuals of diverse social, ethnic, economic and religious backgrounds.
It defines how people from different countries and cultures act, perceive or communicate with people of different cultures around them. Intercultural communication also focuses on social characteristics and attributes of different people.
Intercultural communication is necessary to reduce cases of misunderstanding and antagonism in social interaction because people of different cultural backgrounds encode and decipher languages differently.
Teachers, as well as students, should learn to assimilate with people of different cultures as this will make it possible for understanding to be achieved. The learning process will also be effectively carried achieved when the players involved understand each other well.
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