I wrote most of these articles and conference reports while I was doing my M.Ed.(CI). Originally put up on the website TeachAsiaOnline.com (defunct since 2009), I have decided to archive them here as I think most of the information is still relevant and useful for others. (2012) I'm now picking up where I left off to write about more recent seminars I attended.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Rules for Successful Inter-Cultural Communication

Speaker: Dr. Martin Hyde, Canterbury Christ Church University, UK (mh1@canterbury.ac.uk)
Organised by: British Council, Bangkok
Date: 24 October 2006
Location: British Council, Bangkok

Dr. Hyde is Deputy Director of the International Office of Canterbury Christ Church University, UK. He has taught modern languages and English in secondary schools in Britain, Spain, Morocco and the Dominican Republic. He has also worked on ELT Projects in Poland, Hungary, Morocco, Cyprus, Mexico and Saudi Arabia and has recently completed his PhD on language and culture in ELT. He is co-author of the book "Inter-Cultural Communication: An Advanced Resource Book."

Dr. Hyde's research was inspired by his observation that ex-TEFL teachers had considerably better inter-cultural communication skills than the regular teachers in the Canterbury Christ Church University International Program. They didn't seem to have any
communication problems with the international students, unlike the regular teachers, who had problems all the time.

His research concluded that, "it is a myth" and "not useful" to lump people into groups based on language, culture or country. Different people have different communication styles, and the same people use different communication styles depending on whom they communicate with.
"Inter-cultural communication skills are in fact interpersonal communication skills with a cultural aspect." Therefore, it is important to read the normal personal signs in a communication first, before focussing on the cultural aspects.

He distinguished the different aspects of communication between people and/or groups of people as follows:
  • Choice of topic
  • (In)directness
  • Body language
  • Intonation patterns
  • Use of silence in conversation management
  • Politeness.
A conclusion was that the different communication styles originate from (1) peoples' culture as well as from (2) the group(s) they identify with, like e.g. age, religious and professional groups.

Dr. Hyde identified the rules for successful inter-cultural (and thus interpersonal) communication as:
  1. DON'T ASSUME that people communicate in the same way as you.
  2. WATCH Observe how other people and other groups communicate with each other. Note the differences. Learn about them.
  3. BE POSITIVE Assume best intentions and see miscommunication as a problem to solve.
  4. ASK Don't be scared to ask and to be explicit when you know you've lost it. Stop, check and reformulate when necessary. ("Break the horizontal flow of the conversation and go vertical.")
  5. TELL Explain your intentions when it is clear they are not understood.
  6. BE PERSISTENT Don't get put off straightaway. You need to enjoy and share the journey, but also make sure you know where you’re going.
He stressed that "…it is self-analysis [reflecting on whether and how you follow these rules] what it is all about." There is NO test to determine how good your inter-cultural communication skills are.

Having good inter-cultural communication skills is especially necessary for higher level learners. Being fluent in English does not necessarily make you a good communicator internationally. As you speak the language fluently, people may not realise that you come from another culture and will expect you to behave like them. If you don't, problems may arise. For these students and for teachers, the book "Inter-Cultural Communication: An Advanced Resource Book." can be a useful additional tool. Lower level students don't have this problem, as people they talk to will realise they are foreigners and therefore they are not expected to follow all the rules.

Dr. Hyde's lecture was clear and entertaining thanks to the many real-life examples of situations he used. The rules for inter-cultural communication that he presented were an open door and common sense, BUT it was good to see them all in one list and to become aware of.

When reflecting on myself, I realised that usually more or less follow these rules, although I wasn't aware of the full list until today. However, on a bad day it is difficult to remain cheerful and patient when communication problems occur, and I've definitely broken some of these rules at times (...)

He kindly gave me a copy of his presentation Rules for Successful Inter-Cultural Communcation

Holliday, Adrian, Martin Hyde & John Kullman. Inter-Cultural Communication: An Advanced resource book. UK: Routledge, 2004.

(c) cafavier, 2006-2011

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