Skip to main content
Library homepage
Social Sci LibreTexts

6.4: Contextualizing Intercultural Communication (Summary)

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    From theory to practice...

    Here are some considerations in respect to communication in different environmental and professional contexts:

    • Adjust your language and communication style to the environment in which you are located. In familiar settings, this is likely something you do automatically – speaking informally with friends over lunch, while using a more formal style in responding to a professor in the classroom. However, in unfamiliar settings, this may not come as easily. Heightened cultural sensitivity is especially needed in sites of significant cultural importance – places of worship, monuments. Speaking loud in a hallowed space, like the top of a holy mountain is inappropriate, as is snapping selfies of yourself naked.
    • Beware of pragmatic transfer in speaking in formal settings. In most business and professional situations in many parts of the world, a more formal language register is expected. This means not only using formal modes of address and typical politeness formulas, but also watching out, if you are not speaking your native language, for keeping the formulation of "speech acts" (like greetings or leave-taking) in line with cultural norms. We often will instinctively translate word for word set phrases we use all the time, but that can sometimes cause miscommunication or awkwardness.

    For discussion and reflection...

    Time and speed in cultural contexts

    After watching Honoré's "In praise of slowness" and Zimbardo's "Psychology of time"...

    • What is your assessment of the concepts of time and speed presented in the videos? How does time effect your life (in terms of relationship building, work, school)? What do you make of the "slow" movement? Are you aware of schools or companies "slowing time" or enabling more free time? Comment on experiences you have had related to concepts/traditions of space and time across cultures

    Alternative approaches to built spaces

    After watching the videos on space and architecture by Kéré, Hardy, and Phillips...:

    • Are we victims of "groupthink" and conformity in terms of housing design? How do you assess the importance of using traditional building materials? How does living in the communities discussed in the videos effect the way of life and cultural values and behaviors? How do you think the design of the 2 schools discussed, the "Green School" in Bali and the Gando school in Burkina Faso may effect learning experiences of students? What are your experiences, if any, with cultures having different kinds of living arrangements, housing, bathroom cultures?

    International businesses

    • Comment on experiences you have had related to international business, for example, different kinds of consumer practices, changes that US companies make in selling abroad (i.e., McDonalds, Wal-Mart)

    Key terms

    • Built environment: Adaptations to the terrestrial environment, including architecture, housing, lighting, and landscaping
    • Chuchotage: Form of interpreting in which the interpreter stands or sits alongside a small target audience and whispers a simultaneous interpretation of what’s being said; the term chuchotage is French for whispering
    • Consecutive interpreting: Interpreters wait for the speaker to pause before interpreting; the interpreter may interpret after every sentence, or may take notes and then interpret several minutes of speech at once
    • Environmental context: The geographical and psychological location of communication within some cultural context
    • Fixed-feature space: Space bounded by immovable or permanent fixtures, such as walls
    • Gatekeeping: The process through which information is filtered for transmission or dissemination
    • Guanxi: Chinese for relationship or connection, refers to the importance of personalized networks of influence in the Chinese business community
    • High load: A situation with a high information rate
    • Informal space: Space defined by the movement of the interactants
    • Information rate: The amount of information contained or perceived in the physical environment per some unit of time
    • Low load: A situation with a low information rate
    • Monochronic time orientation: Cultural temporal orientation that stresses the compartmentalization and segmentation of measurable units of time
    • Monochronic time orientation: Time as linear, progressive, and being capable of being compartmentalized
    • Organizational culture: An organized pattern of values, beliefs, behaviors, and communication channels held by the members of an organization
    • Polychronic time orientation: Time as cyclical, people perform multiple tasks simultaneously
    • Pragmatic equivalence: Refers to words in two languages having the same effect on the reader/listener in both languages
    • Semifixed-feature space: Space bounded by movable objects, such as furniture
    • Simultaneous interpreting: Process which allows people to communicate directly across language and cultural boundaries using specialized technology and professional interpreters who are trained to listen to one language while speaking simultaneously in another
    • Taiso: Tai (body) + so (hardening) is a generic Japanese term for conditioning or exercising, a regular part of the daily routine in many Japanese factories


    TED description: "Diébédo Francis Kéré knew exactly what he wanted to do when he got his degree in architecture… He wanted to go home to Gando in Burkina Faso, to help his neighbors reap the benefit of his education. In this charming talk, Kéré shows off some of the beautiful structures he's helped to build in his small village in the years since then, including an award-winning primary school made from clay by the entire community."

    TED description: "You've never seen buildings like this. The stunning bamboo homes built by Elora Hardy and her team in Bali twist, curve and surprise at every turn. They defy convention because the bamboo itself is so enigmatic. No two poles of bamboo are alike, so every home, bridge and bathroom is exquisitely unique. In this beautiful, immersive talk, she shares the potential of bamboo, as both a sustainable resource and a spark for the imagination. 'We have had to invent our own rules,' she says."

    TED description: "In this funny and insightful talk, builder Dan Phillips tours us through a dozen homes he's built in Texas using recycled and reclaimed materials in wildly creative ways. Brilliant, low-tech design details will refresh your own creative drive."

    TED description: "Psychologist Philip Zimbardo says happiness and success are rooted in a trait most of us disregard: the way we orient toward the past, present and future. He suggests we calibrate our outlook on time as a first step to improving our lives."

    TED description: "Journalist Carl Honore believes the Western world's emphasis on speed erodes health, productivity and quality of life. But there's a backlash brewing, as everyday people start putting the brakes on their all-too-modern lives."

    TED description: "Do you like curly fries? Have you Liked them on Facebook? Watch this talk to find out the surprising things Facebook (and others) can guess about you from your random Likes and Shares. Computer scientist Jennifer Golbeck explains how this came about, how some applications of the technology are not so cute — and why she thinks we should return the control of information to its rightful owners."

    TED description: "What if Andy Warhol had it wrong, and instead of being famous for 15 minutes, we’re only anonymous for that long? In this short talk, Juan Enriquez looks at the surprisingly permanent effects of digital sharing on our personal privacy. He shares insight from the ancient Greeks to help us deal with our new 'digital tattoos.'

    TED description: "Can you distinguish language translation from language interpretation? In what may be the first ever tri-lingual TEDx talk, Laura Burian, Barry Olsen, and Miguel Garcia demonstrate the power of human cognition as they explain the subtle but important differences between professional translators and interpreters"

    TED description: "Organizations are often run according to “the superchicken model,” where the value is placed on star employees who outperform others. And yet, this isn’t what drives the most high-achieving teams. Business leader Margaret Heffernan observes that it is social cohesion — built every coffee break, every time one team member asks another for help — that leads over time to great results. It's a radical rethink of what drives us to do our best work, and what it means to be a leader. Because as Heffernan points out: 'Companies don’t have ideas. Only people do.'"

    TED description: "What if your job didn’t control your life? Brazilian CEO Ricardo Semler practices a radical form of corporate democracy, rethinking everything from board meetings to how workers report their vacation days (they don’t have to). It’s a vision that rewards the wisdom of workers, promotes work-life balance — and leads to some deep insight on what work, and life, is really all about."

    TED description: "When most well-intentioned aid workers hear of a problem they think they can fix, they go to work. This, Ernesto Sirolli suggests, is naïve. In this funny and impassioned talk, he proposes that the first step is to listen to the people you're trying to help, and tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. His advice on what works will help any entrepreneur."


    Baldwin, J. (2008). "Intercultural Blog". Retrieved from:

    Carbaugh, D. (1999). “Just listen”:“Listening” and landscape among the Blackfeet. Western Journal of Communication (includes Communication Reports), 63(3), 250-270.

    Gregor, T. (1980). The Mehinaku: The Drama of Daily Life in a Brazilian Indian Village. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

    Günthner, S. (2007). Intercultural communication and the relevance of cultural specific repertoires of communicative genres. In H. Kotthoff & H. Spencer-Oatey (Eds.), Handbook of intercultural communication (pp. 127-151). Amsterdam: Walter de Gruyter.

    Hall, E. (1959). The Silent Language. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday

    Hall, E. (1966). The Hidden Dimension. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

    Hua, Z. (2013). Exploring intercultural communication: Language in action. Routledge.

    Itoh, T. (1981). Space and illusion in the Japanese garden. New York, NY: Weatherhill/Tankosha.

    Kaplan, R. B. (1966). Cultural thought patterns in inter‐cultural education. Language learning, 16(1‐2), 1-20.

    Kotthoff, H. (1999). Affect and meta-affect in Georgian mourning rituals. In J. Schläger & G. Stedman (Eds.), Representations of Emotion (pp. 149–172). Tübingen: Narr.

    Kubota, R. & Lehner, A. (2004). Toward critical contrastive rhetoric. Journal of Second Language Writing 13, 7–27.

    Lang, J. (1987). Creating Architectural Theory: The Role of the Behavioral Sciences in Environmental Design. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold

    Li, X. (1999). Chinese–Dutch Business Negotiations. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

    Luthans, F. & Doh, J. (2012). International management: culture, strategy, and behavior (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 126–127

    Martin, J. N., Nakayama, T. K. (2010). Intercultural Communication in Contexts. 5th Ed. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill

    Mehrabian, A. (1977). Public Places and Private Spaces. New York: Basic Books.

    Nee, V. G., & Nee, B. (1974). Longtime Californ’: A documentary study of an American Chinatown. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Nees, G. (2000). Germany: Unraveling an Enigma. Yarmouth, Maine: Intercultural Press

    Pennycook, A. (1998). English and the discourses of colonialism. New York/London: Routledge.

    Piller, I. (2017). Intercultural communication: A critical introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

    Remland, M. S., Jones, T. S., Foeman, A., & Arévalo, D. R. (2014). Intercultural communication: A peacebuilding perspective. Waveland Press.

    Rogers, E. & Steinfatt, T. (1998). Intercultural Communication. Waveland Press

    Scollon, R. & Scollon, S. (1981). Narrative Literacy and Face in Interethnic Communication. Norwood: Ablex.

    Trompenaars, F. & Hampden-Turner, C. (1997) Riding the Waves of Culture.

    Ueda, A. (1998). The Inner Harmony of the Japanese House. New York: Kodansha USA

    Photo credits

    Exchanging business cards by Naoto Anazawa,

    Walmart Germany: Clemens Franz,

    Zurich airport: Siqbal,

    Japanese garden: Berichard,

    US backyard: Dave Herholz,

    Japanese house and garden: Frederikto,

    Traditional Japanese home: Jay Walsh,,_Huntington_Library,_Art_Collections_and_Botanical_Gardens.jpg

    Hedge around house in Germany, Steffen Heinz,

    Tokyo subway: Tim Adams,

    Japanese toilet: Chris 73,

    Xavante village: Priscila Gervasio Teixeira,

    Business Interaction Group on Mexico: Suiza Davos-Klosters,

    Chuchotage: Raimond Spekking,

    Medical interpreting: Brian D. Jones,

    Women in leadership: ThinkIT

    Multicultural school group: Eurobas,_24_September_2009.jpg

    Traffic in India: Yann,,_Gwalior.jpg

    This page titled 6.4: Contextualizing Intercultural Communication (Summary) is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Robert Godwin-Jones.

    • Was this article helpful?