Communication, its cultural context and translators

communication-among-culturesThe book “Communication between cultures” by Samovar, Porter and McDaniel is a deep study in cultural interactions. According to the authors, communication is a set of rules that are governed and vary from culture to culture. According to Sarah Ahmed, a professor of Cultural Studies and French translator with The Marketing Analysts Translation Service:

When a person operates in his own culture and communicates with his own people, he knows the rules of communication already. He knows when to talk in a friendly tone, when to argue, when to be authoritative and when to be respectful. He knows where to communicate formally and on what occasions he could use informal figures of speech or slang.

Universality of Rules Depend on Context

cross-cultural-communicationThere is a proper way to behave and communicate in different surroundings. In our workplace, we communicate with people according to their rank and stature. Our communication with our manager is different from our interaction with the colleagues of our own rank. We remain solemn during a religious ceremony in a church or temple. Similarly we behave differently in school, in a hospital, during a wedding ceremony or in a funeral. This proves that context is everything. One would not feel a stark difference in the rules of communication adopted by different cultures in the same context. In a hospital, communication would be to-the-point and in hushed tones whether we go to Japan, United States or Malaysia. This means that there are some universal rules of communication which every culture follows depending upon the context.

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Cross-cultural interaction and rules of communication

Though to some extent, rules of communication in a social setting may be the same, not all rules overlap from culture to culture. This creates confusion and misunderstanding when interacting with people belonging to a foreign culture. Especially, in business dealings with other cultures, it is important to have knowledge about their rules of communication. For example, Americans usually have a very informal way of conducting business meetings and they like to get down to business as soon as possible without indulging in unnecessary conversation.  It is quite different in African or Arab countries, where people expect a polite exchange of niceties before they get down to the actual purpose for which the meeting is being conducted. Similarly, while conducting business with people from a different culture, one needs to take into consideration their preference for dress, time, non-verbal behavior and other mannerisms. Not taking into account their rules of communication might offend them or portray you as an uncouth and uncultured person. In western countries, men and women would shake hands without any discretion in gender. In many Asian and Arab countries, men and women greet each other only with a nod. In some cultures, there is no extraordinary level of formality between junior and senior officers or teachers and students. In other cultures, it is disrespectful to address senior officers or teachers informally.

Translators and intercultural communication

It is the job of translation services workers that puts them in contact with foreigners all the time. Only knowing a certain language and being fluent in it does not proven that a person is knowledgeable of the rules of communication. Rules of communication in a certain culture can be learned by either living in that culture for some time or by studying them. Taking into account the rules of communication in a certain culture isn’t only beneficial in business dealings. It shows one’s respect and acceptance for the other culture and thus helps creating an atmosphere of love and peace throughout the world.

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