Language and Culture: Two Sides of the Same Coin

4/28/2015

In today’s business world, employees must communicate with people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds on a daily basis. But communicating with someone who has a different mother language isn’t as easy as simply talking to them. Things such as intonation, the use of non-verbal cues and inference play a large role in conveying information, and preferences around these communication methods vary widely by culture. Any cultural gaps in communication preferences could lead to misinterpretations, missed cues and blundered exchanges. This explains why we at Berlitz/TMC are seeing more and more adult learners coming in with a desire to study not only language, but culture too.

Many business leaders who work with partners and colleagues overseas come to Berlitz|TMC searching for training in both language and culture in the business environment. Consider the case of a mid-level manager who is being transferred from his home country of Brazil to work in his company’s United States branch. When planning this manger’s expatriation, company executives should ask if it would it be enough simply to ensure that the manager has a basic ability in English. Would the differences in Brazilian and American communication preferences influence how he handles situations such as motivating his team, dealing with conflict, conducting appraisals and delivering strategy messages? These are difficult situations for any manager, but for expatriates they introduce additional challenges. The medium in which messages are conveyed; the use of particular words, eye contact and non-verbal cues; the atmosphere in which the conversation takes place; and how directly the speaker broaches the subject are all important factors that non-natives need to take into account.

Giving culture and language training to employees who work with people from different backgrounds could make the difference between successful and unsuccessful communication, which impacts the employees, their teams and the company as a whole.

Anne-Marie Salmon