Holliday, Kullman and Hyde (2004) assert that the term `culture’ refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such an activity some significance. “It includes technology, art, science, as well as moral systems and the characteristic behaviors and habits of the society. Different human societies have different cultures, and the personal culture of one individual can be different than another one”. Intercultural is the philosophy of exchanges between cultural groups within a society. Intercultural communication is about how people from different countries and different cultures interact with each others; and how they behave, communicate and perceive the world around them. And effective intercultural communication involves understanding both one’s own linguistic and cultural identity and that of the people with whom one is communicating. In that, cultural identity has a very important role. The following is a discussion about how issues of identity affect communication between people from different languages and cultures.
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Nationality identity can greatly affect the effectiveness of communication. Different nationality means different in cultures and in most cases languages. People from different countries tend to have different ways of understanding the world around them. It affects the way people think and behave in different situations. People who have different nationalities are likely to have different ways to exchange information and perform various activities that are unique to their countries (Lyerly 1997). This may lead to misunderstanding when people from different countries trying to communicate with each others. Regional differences create even more cultural gaps between human. Thus its effect on communication is even significant than that of nationality. The differences in geography, environment and culture are often too large that people tend to suffer from severe cultural shocks when they travel from one region to another. And that is the main force that affects the efficient communication between people from different nations and/or region.
Ethnicity identity is another major force that may contribute to the effectiveness of communication. Due to the different of the ability to understand and gain information of people, there are gaps in how different person understands the same piece of information. And that created the two groups of people: the haves and the have-nots. As for that, it is important to take the issue of ethnicity into account in order to improve the effectiveness of communication between these two groups of people. Holley (2008) stated that ethnic groups are identified by common culture, language, religion, and/or ancestral origins. He also argued that “there are no internationally agreed upon ethnic categorizations because history often plays a role in what aspects are considered most important for ethnic identity”. That is, history is usually the major factor that defines ethnic identity.
Language is arguably the most important element of communication. Language is mean, in which the content of the communication is transferred and received. Or as Samovar, Porter & McDaniel (2008) put it: “Language is the medium through which a culture expresses its world view”. Language is also considered as a communication tool that needs to be learned and used effectively in order to achieve successful intercultural communication. And if language is a tool then culture may be considered as the environment that has all the effects on language. Because of that, culture is, in many circumstances, what defines the meaning of language. That is why, in some situations, the same word can bring different meanings due to the differences of cultures. The matter is even worse when two cultures talk in different languages. In this case, a translation tool is needed, however the potential of misunderstanding is also raised as a word translated between two different languages between two different cultures may result in totally different meaning. For that, language and culture must be thoughtfully considered in intercultural communication. Or as Sarbaugh (1988) concluded the most important element in effective intercultural communication concerns language.
Community is the starting point of identity. Every community has its unique traditions, values, and norms. Communities provide a wealth of organized and deep rooted information, which builds from countless interactions of various socio-political, socio-economic, and socio-cultural attributes that occur over time (Kriesberg 2003). This understanding becomes the property of that particular community and plays an important role in shaping the identity structures of its members. The emergence of various communities, such as professional, academic, and virtual has provided the opportunity for individuals to acquire diverse knowledge by assuming membership in these communities. The interaction of various sub-identities of an individual through his/her membership in different communities continuously shapes the learning, thinking, and perceptual environment, which forms the nature of experiences, value preferences, and knowledge arrangements. This intricate and complex system of socialization shapes the identity of a person. The role of communities in shaping the personalities of its members depends on the nature of the knowledge that is organized in its socio-cultural traditions. Analysis of an individual’s community affiliations can enable the researchers to comprehend the role that community specific knowledge plays in forming the identity. Consequently study of community memberships of an individual can help us to understand the identity dynamics of a person; furthermore examination of community knowledge can shed more light on social interaction process. According to Kriesberg (2003) community knowledge, individual knowledge, and identity are the three constructs that need considerable attention in order to broaden and deepen our understanding of the relationship between a person and the community.
Social class has been one of the key elements that directly affect communication since the dawn of time. Social class is to some extend still creating boundaries between human, thus creating obstacles in effective communication (Holliday, Kullman & Hyde 2004). The conflicts between the rich and the poor, management and working class were often created by those misunderstanding in communication. People in different social class used to be significantly affected so much that they naturally create a barrier to prevent communication with other social class. It is perhaps in many ways shared the same properties with religion differences. Religion identity is sometimes improving communication where it shares a similar interest. It is also the main cause of conflict when its interest is not satisfied by those of different religion. Throughout history, people always keep trying to solve these significant differences; however, the conflicts with the core causes still remain intractable for many societies until even now. This issue may only be solved if we can change the core of how human perceive and understand the world.
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In current society, men and women have the chance to work together more regularly and more personally than before. “As traditional male-dominated societies diminish, a dynamic communication emerges where women and men have the same goals and equal chances to pursue and archive their goals” (Pinto 2000). While the communication between men and women benefits from this fairness, there are still many information and signal of behavior have to think about, and it is important not to let sexual category identity issues hold up with effective communication. Many research have been devoted to the idea that women and men communicate very differently – in fact, it is sometimes stated that women and men communicate so differently from one another that they must have perceived the world from absolute different perspectives (Pinto 2000). The communication between men and women seems to be stable and equal day by day. For example, both men and women can be positive, outgoing, task-focused, or sentimental. The important point to think about, conversely, is that men and women sometimes identify the same messages to have different senses.
Age is of course one of the most important matters that affects intercultural communication. Its role is somewhat similar to gender. People tend to think differently when they are getting older. The more time they spend living, the more experiences they have and the clearer they see through conflicts. This is even true when it comes to multi-cultures. The young generations always have different ideas and the ability to take risks. The older generations see things more thoughtfully and are more cautious when facing new problems. That is why, in my opinion, even come from totally different cultures, the old people’s ways of thinking is, to a great extend, similar. However, it is required the flexibility of the young to cope with cultural differences. To sum it up, the balance between the old and young are need to be balanced out in order to achieve an effective intercultural communication.
Identities can greatly affect the communication between people from different languages and cultures. How people think about who they are and who and what others are profoundly influences the effectiveness of their communication. Their sense of identity and conceptions of each other contribute to their understanding of the world around them. Whether and how identities affects the communication depends on their particular qualities. There are different sources of identity which lead to unique understandings of the people and how they think and behave in their world. Thus the communication between people is often suffered by these differences of understanding. To know, understand and use the uniqueness of different groups of people will greatly improve how people communicate with each others.
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