Introduction to our country-specific articles

The learning curve for intercultural communication competence begins with an awareness of something more basic than even vocabulary and grammar. In reality we do more than speak a foreign language; we communicate with another culture. Common technical lingo in our various fields may create an illusion of intercultural cultural communication taking place on neutral ground; the tone, however, in which we communicate the common vocabulary is very much coloured by our individual cultural backgrounds. Intercultural communication competency is both the ability to register other cultural voices, assess how similar or different it is from one's own, and then modulate one's own for a more effective communication.

Much of the lethargy and casual scepticism towards intercultural communication stems from many fundamental misunderstandings of what it is actually about. The commercial demand is huge for lists and tips that nutshell the secrets to intercultural interactions. We aim to show that acquiring intercultural communication skills and competence does not require knowing every detail about every culture inside out. It would be an unrealistic goal, and no one can claim to teach it. A more solid basis for intercultural communication competence derives from recognising and understanding the "why" of a few very distinct patterns of behaviour, not just cataloguing the "what". In other words, rather concentrate first on understanding the different values system behind a behaviour or communication style than on memorising exhaustive lists detailing one culture.

While this series of articles are in a way country-specific, in that we highlight behaviour and communication patterns typical of one country, our approach is to highlight first the core concepts of intercultural communication. In this way, not only do the "checklists" that follow derive credibility from a solid framework, but reveal a wider, general applicability to other countries or cultural regions that share the same "root" of a behaviour. Intercultural communication competency takes you beyond merely identifying cultural differences. For one thing, it recognises that a common geographic region does not automatically share cultural values, and is ultimately measured by an ability to bridge communication gaps especially where they are not expected.

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2005/03/12
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