Five Obstacles to Intercultural Communication and Understanding:
- LANGUAGE – Vocabulary, syntax, idioms, slang and dialects all cause difficulty, but the person struggling with a different language is at least aware when he/she is in difficulty. A more pronounced problem occurs when he/she thinks he/she understands. The person clings to the meaning of a word or phrase in the new language, regardless of connotation or context. The infinite variations are so impossible to cope with that they are brushed aside.
- NON-VERBAL – Every culture has a special “hum and buzz of implication.” People from different cultures inhabit non-verbal sensory world. An individual abstract what is seen, heard, felt or learned into the personal world of recognition and then interprets it through the frame of reference in terms of his or her own culture. Some non-verbal signs and symbols such as gestures, postures and vocalizations can be learned once they are perceived in much the same way as a verbal language is acquired. Other signs and symbols, such as time and spatial relations, or forms of respect, status and formality, however, are more difficult to grasp because they are further way from awareness.
- PRECONCEPTIONS AND STEREOTYPES – In most general terms, the function of culture is to lay out a predictable world in which an individual is firmly grounded and oriented. Stereotypes are over-generalizations which help make sense of what goes on around us, but they often interfere with objectivity because they rely on selective perceptions and portions of information which correspond with already-existing beliefs. In this way, they concretize reality – often incorrectly – and rationalize cultural prejudice.
- TENDENCY TO EVALUATE – Each individual’s culture appears correct, proper and natural, so each individual tends to endorse or reject the statements or actions of others, rather than try to properly understand the thoughts and feelings expressed. Communication is stymied by this kind of evaluation, but it is exacerbated by the presence of feelings and emotions as well.
- HIGH ANXIETY – Unlike the previous obstacles, anxiety is not distinct but underlies and compounds the others. The presence of high anxiety or stress is common in cross-cultural experiences because of the uncertainties involved. The native of one country may be uncomfortable when speaking with a person from another (foreign) country because he or she cannot maintain the normal flow of conversation and non-verbal interaction to sustain communication. The other person may experience a similar discomfort, with the added tension of having to cope with the alien pace, climate and culture he or she in ensconced within.