In 1987, with only a few years of experience of teaching English, I went to China to teach a summer enrichment course for native Chinese teachers of English. I used all the best practices that I knew, and worked closely with the other American instructors in my group. Most of what I did in my classroom was well-received, but there were occasions when my English-teacher students were baffled–and frankly so was I!
How do you explain Halloween? As a child, you appreciate the free candy and spend lots of time thinking about what you “are going to be” each year. The origins of Halloween are a bit murky, somewhat controversial, and well-beyond the realm of what I seriously ponder about in my spare time.
No, I did not know why the word half could be both singular and plural. My half of the sandwich has cheese is singular, but half of the sandwiches are missing is plural. So how does half work with compound words like half-baked, half-hearted, and half-dollar?
The phrase “how are you?” is just an American greeting much like the Chinese greeting of “have you eaten?” Both are questions that aren’t answered. In the United States, greetings can be followed by small talk about the weather or your hometown. Do not ask me how much money I make, how old I am, how much I weigh or what something cost. I might have a large wart on my nose, but from a young age, Americans are taught to pretend the wart doesn’t exist. To refer to my warts in conversation would be considered very rude, and you would be considered too ill-mannered for polite society.
Over the years, I would think about my student’s questions and wonder. My wart might be very real, but why can’t we acknowledge it, and move on. If all cultures developed the ability to communicate, why do we see things so very differently? What purpose did communication serve in a culture? How did some cultures develop ways in which to share and negotiate meaning that my culture did not? Can I truly communicate with someone that doesn’t share my dominant culture? What does competent intercultural communication “look” like?
At the Communication Day Convocation, Dr. Rick Olson declared that “communication can be seen as a cornerstone of society” and “that communication is a central daily ritual that helps form and sustain communities” (2008). Even if you have never taken a communication studies class, you have a lifetime of experience communicating. This experiential knowledge provides a useful foundation or starting point from which you can build knowledge and practice the skills necessary to become a more competent and ethical communicator.
In the quest to explore the multiple facets of intercultural communication, this book is divided into three general areas: foundations, elements, and contexts. The foundations cover the basic principles associated with communication studies and culture. The elements move beyond the basics into self, identities, verbal, and nonverbal process associated with communication and culture. Contexts explore all the different environments such as media, business, and education, in which intercultural communication occurs.
Edward T. Hall (1989) writes that for us to understand each other may mean, “reorganizing [our] thinking…and few people are willing to risk such a radical move.” Communication theorists, anthropologists, and others have given us tools to develop an awareness of our own thinking so we can begin the reorganization necessary to truly understand others whose culture may be different from our own. My life journey, along with big questions along the way, has led me to the study of intercultural communication. I hope that this book facilitates your journey towards competent communication with people from other cultures who enrich your life in ways you never anticipate.
Hall, E. T. (1989). The dance of life: the other dimension of time. New York: Anchor.
R. O. (2008). Communication Day Convocation 2008. Retrieved from http://people.uncw.edu/rohlerl/rohler/Spann7.htm