Intercultural Communication Skills

The current refugee crisis unfolding in Europe, for the past several months, has riveted my attention, as I am sure it has yours. Beyond finding a safe haven and necessary food and shelter, there are a host of other problems these people will have to face in a new country. And one of the major ones will be fitting into a new culture.


As you probably know, there are some cultures where integrating into the host culture is easier than in others. One of these more challenging places might well be Japan, with its notoriously subtle do’s and don’ts. I recently came across an “etiquette manual” for tourists, which explains how to conduct oneself in the Japanese city of Kyoto. The manual, an infographic, informs tourists about appropriate ways to act as they explore the city. It includes such things as cautions about the illegality of cycling while inebriated. (You can view the entire “manual” here.)


A manual that instructs travellers not to cancel restaurant reservations, at the last minute, or not to wear sunglasses in shrines is obviously a far cry from the cultural support a refugee would need in a new country. Yet, it highlights the fact that understanding cultural norms is a big part of our contemporary reality. And this reality extends to many types of businesses. For anyone interested in the cross-cultural skills needed for global business, there are many resources on the Internet. One that I found helpful is Effective Cross-Culture Communication-from


Just as refugees will need to develop their intercultural skills as they adapt to their new homes, so do ESL professionals working in North American business. As well, we, as native English speakers, also need to learn how to bridge cultural differences with our colleagues, both globally and at home. It’s important for anyone working in the world of business today to keep the following tips in mind.


The Language Lab’s Top Tips for Building Effective Cross-Cultural Skills


  1. Start Small: Learn the common phrases people use, not just the more formal syntax of a language. Idioms and colloquialisms reflect a great deal about a culture. They create a bond between newcomers and established residents.
  2. Study Up: You can learn a lot about a culture by researching it. Find out about the customs; learn about festivals, holidays, and foods, not to mention history and politics.
  3. Watch Closely: Non-verbal communication can vary a great deal from culture to culture. In some cultures, for instance, a big smile is considered a sign of openness and friendliness; while in others (for example Korea) frequent smiling indicates shallowness or thoughtlessness.
  4. Open Up: Ask questions about daily life activities such as sports, food, public transit etc. After all, the quickest way to improve intercultural communication is by, no surprise, actually communicating!


Do you need some advice on bridging a cultural or linguistic gap? Contact me at The Language Lab. I’d also like to find out about your ideas for building effective cross-cultural skills.


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