Cultural and linguistic differences in communication

Each culture has its own behavior, language, signs, symbols, ideas, norms, traditions. Culture influences how we see and interpret life. The way we communicate is rooted in our culture.

As our guests are coming from diverse countries, we have to be attuned to cultural and linguistic differences.

For good intercultural communication we need to understand the world-view, tradition and history of a culture. However, this is an unreasonable request from people working in hospitality due to the sheer number of different cultures that they have to deal with. What is workable is to understand what not to do.

We should not stereotype our guests. A stereotype is a simple picture of a whole culture, overly generalized and most often negative. Negative stereotypes affect our behavior and communication. The more culturally distant guests are from us, the more readily we tend to describe them in a few traits and then attribute it to all members of that culture.

For example, Japanese tourists are thought of as quiet, polite and spending a lot; Russians as loud and rude; Czechs as low-budget guests; young Britons just drink and party. When you think about it, two or three adjectives are used to define a culture of several million people. Certainly, among thousand Japanese people that visit our country there are those that are polite and patient, rude and loud, good and bad mannered, educated and un-educated, rich and poor. Stereotypes are dangerous as they are likely to influence our behavior towards people from a stereotyped culture.

With all this cultural and linguistic diversity, there are many areas where miscommunication can happen. Some common areas of misunderstanding relate to the:

- Polite form of language
- Compliments
- Dress code
- Social customs
- Responding to good and bad news
- Body language and gestures

  Watch a video about Cross Cultural Communication in Tourism (in English):


  Understanding own and other cultures

Cultural and linguistic barriers create problems in communication, as people of different cultural background have different conceptions of polite/impolite behavior, time, proper manner, hygiene and many more. For example, in most of Europe when asking people to do something, we are used to do it softly, such as “would you mind if I close the window?”, or indirectly. When people have limited knowledge of a language, such as visitors from Asian countries speaking English, they might use an imperative form, what might strike us as rude.

Non-verbal communication is as important as verbal communication. In India, for example, a head shake means yes, while the head nod means no, just the opposite than in our culture. While we are, generally, uncomfortable with silence in communication, the Japanese like to take a moment to understand what has just been said.

It is to be expected that the cultural diversity of our guests will increase. It is important to be aware of dangers of stereotyping. Avoid quick judgments. Instead, take your time to study cultures of your guests. Above all, remember to treat every one of your guests as you would like to be treated.

From which country do you most frequently receive foreign visitors? How can you prepare for interculturally appropriate communication from the moment of booking? Where would you search for reliable information?

How different cultures interpret a simple gesture differently (in English):

05 M1 SU3 SA2a Hand gesture


How different cultures interpret traffic rules (in English):

06 M1 SU3 SA2b Traffic lights

   Principles of effective communication in intercultural settings

Effective communication in intercultural settings needs to eliminate barriers to communication as much as possible.

The language barrier is the most common one. However, miscommunication is frequent even when people speak the same language.

There are ways in which language and cultural barriers can be overcome. Effective strategies in intercultural communication are:

─ Speaking slowly and clearly
─ Using short and simple expressions
─ Speaking in a normal voice/volume
─ Using different words to express the same idea
─ Making instructions simple
─ Allowing time for questions and clarification
─ Being aware that people from some cultures will avoid confrontation – it does not mean that they are satisfied
─ Using communication aids

As an illustration of communication barriers within the same language see how British politeness can lead to misunderstandings (in English).