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I just presented at a training day yesterday for the editing department of a large international organization which creates both print and media instruction in nearly 50 languages around the world. They asked me to come and present about cultural differences in teaching and learning expectations.

They already create some great material and do quite a bit that is cutting edge. I find it interesting, however, how the idea has persisted as long as it has that if you simply translate something into a different language then that means other people will be able to understand it and use it. Wrong.

In the best case, you should take the time to do a lot more to customize messages so they are more relevant to specific audiences – so the message is more credible and resonates in a way that people can understand it and chose what to do with it from there.

At the very least, there needs to be more done in order to avoid miscommunication – to take out concepts / illustration / logic patterns, etc… which (1) cause confusion, (2) bring unintentional amusement (see the picture of a sign below from a hotel I stayed at my last visit to China), and (3) especially which might be offensive.

funny sign in China

Sure if it is in the right language that helps, but there is so many more assumptions that are made in teaching and learning which are very different in different areas of the world.

Here is a list of a few of the ones I covered:

Credibility of speaker/information

What we notice when we look at images

Logic styles in writing and speaking

Emphasis on written vs. spoken word

Emotional appeals in the overtones of certain values/stories

Shared Knowledge and Schemas

Cause and Effect Reasoning

Each of these areas has relevent research which clearly denotes important cultural differences. Now, which “differences really make a difference” and which “similarities really are significant” – that is what we hope to discover as we continue research along these lines.

As we are continuing with research and development, however, I highly recommend these 5 questions as a guide to dealing with cross-cultural information exchanges:

  1. What message, or experience, do you – or he/she/they – want to communicate or receive?
  2. How important or relevant is the message or experience – to you and the “other” person(s)?
  3. What conditions, customs, concerns, attitudes, and/or values (yours and theirs) hinder or help communication of the message or experience?
  4. What specific interpersonal or media communication methods, or patterns, succeed most and succeed least? Why?
  5. How do you and they determine message effectiveness and the possible need for further communication experience?

(by Lynn Tyler, November 1975, CultureGram Communication Aid)