Communicating across cultures, so nothing is lost in translation

Image“Exactly how many characters are in the Chinese language?” Ming Lee laughed and replied, “Over 50,000. But, only 3,500 characters are used in the everyday Chinese language. So, things can get lost in translation if one doesn’t listen.” This is one of the many fascinating cultural communication lessons I learned in a one-on-one conversation with new friend, Ming Lee, from Hanyang University in South Korea. Ming Lee is a fellow graduate student studying communications at the university.

During a break-out group session, working with the other communication graduate students at Hanyang University, I really learned what it meant to be an authentic communicator in a cultural setting.  In the project, we were assigned to put together a public relations plan for a local Korean business. The challenge set before us was communicating across the langue barriers. For my cohort peers and myself, we knew very little Korean. For the Korean university students, they knew English, but were nervous to communicate in English with us. In order to help break up the barrier of language, throughout the day, we were able to get to know each other and find common interests to assist with overcoming the language barrier, so we could unite and complete the task set before us. Once my group completed the project, having patience, speaking slowly and clearly, actively listening, and keeping an open two-way communication dialogue between all group members were essentially the keys to building and having effective communication.

Visiting the public affairs office of the U.S. Army branch in South Korea, the three-star General Champoux explained that one of the most important aspects of communicating across cultures is cultural sensitivity and awareness. General Champoux explained that cultural sensitivity and awareness are at the foundations of effective communication in the international realm. Also as a communicator, one must understand that culture tends to shape perceptions and reactions. Therefore, having cultural competence will create more meaningful interactions with people from different cultures and being a communicator that resonates with the audience in which they are communicating with. In the same light, visiting with multinational public relations firm Edelman Korea, the managing director and senior director provided practical advice in communicating globally. Stating that global communications takes time, patience, and sensitivity in order to sustain success and effectively deliver the message to a global audience.

Overall, to be effective and successful at communication on an international level, it is integral to keep cultural awareness and sensitivity at the center of communication practices, process, and relationship building.



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