Objective 304: Culture and Communication
In analyzing an audience, one important consideration is the audience’s cultural
background. Many factors shape cultural backgrounds. Some of them are:
Region of the country or world where raised
Region of the country or world where the parents or grandparents were raised
Level of education
Workplace and type of job
An individual’s culture influences most areas of his or her life, including:
Ways of celebrating holidays and other special occasions
Attitudes about work and school
Attitudes about roles of men and women
Reactions to technology
Feelings about personal space
Use of body language
Style of communications
You will likely find yourself working with people from many different cultures. While
your own culture seems right and normal to you, the behavior of people from other
cultures may sometimes seem strange or wrong. People from other cultures may
communicate differently than you do and may respond differently to what you write
Be aware that the words you choose and the communication styles you employ are a
result of cultural conditioning. How you phrase your messages can communicate a
great deal more than just technical information; age, gender, race, and ethnic and
other cultural biases can destroy your attempts to communicate. To learn about other
cultures, try the following:
Read the literature of other cultures
Sample foods at ethnic or international restaurants
Locate and read magazines or newspapers from other countries
Examine your own cultural stereotypes, which are unfair generalizations that
lead to misunderstanding
Keep an open mind when interacting with people from other cultures and make
an effort to learn from them
Every language has idioms, phrases, or sentences that cannot be understood literally.
Even if the audience knows the meaning of all of the words in a phrase or sentence,
the meaning may still be unclear. A phrase or sentence of this type is said to be
Using idioms with audiences with different cultural backgrounds can lead to
misunderstanding. Would a person who is new to the United States know, for
instance, that a road hog has nothing to do with farm animals? Consider how the word
fall changes meaning in the following expressions:
fall apart fall down on the job fall out
fall asleep fall in love fall short
fall back fall off fall through
Explain how a person who learned English from a textbook might interpret the
following idiomatic sentences:
1. Larry dug up a date for the wedding.
2. The convertible cut me off just before the exit.
3. I am crazy abort chocolate.
4. Sean aced the test without cracking a book.
5. The old heap broke down in the middle of the desert.
Now list five common idioms that you use in your conversation. Explain how the same
person might interpret your words.
If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all
the existing percentages remaining the same there would be:
60 Asians 20 people would earn 89% of the entire
12 Europeans world's wealth
15 from the Western Hemisphere 25 would live in substandard housing
13 Africans 17 would be unable to read
50 would be female 13 would suffer from malnutrition
50 would be male 1 would die within the year
80 would be non-white 2 would give birth within the year
20 would be white 2 would have a college education
67 would be non-Christian 4 would own a computer
33 would be Christian
Stewart examines speech edge.ju.cation (ed.u.ca.tion)
patterns of Cache, Utah stastics (statistics)
By George Stewart, guest writer pacific (specific)
An article on Cache Valley Utah speech li.berry (library)
style by George Stewart, (author of last nu.cu.lar (nu.cle.ar)
week's column "Utah Names - Is George excetera (etcetera)
Becoming Generic?") first appeared in The air.a.gation (irrigation)
Statesman about a year ago. exspecially (especially)
This article was prompted more by interest pit.cher (pic.ture)
than expertise. I have always been crell (corral)
interested in language and how particular pam.plit (pam.phlet)
sounds and symbols convey ideas, am.ble.ance (ambulance)
experiences, and feelings. The lists of "in" (ing)--fishin', eatin'
words, phrases, and pronunciation keys maa.nayze (may.o.naise)
that follow were first collected for my own 'post (suppose)
children. The children were taught that drownded (drown)
English usage is not a moral issue, although 'nother (another)
we may murder the language at times! cold slaw (coleslaw)
They learned that individuals were not pome (po.em)
"good, bad, or better" because of their pertnear (nearly)
command of language. Language usage is for (far)
very much the product of opportunity and far (for)
experience. To understand and be ig.nernt (ig.no.rant)
understood provides each of us with a play.sure (pleasure)
wider range of experiences and an clean (clear)
enriched enjoyment of our interactions diff.ernt (dif.fer-ent)
with others. Our personal use of the man'r (manure)
language can restrict or provide pardner (partner)
opportunities for us. Another lesson that matore (mature)
my children learned from this word and
usage study was the value of a sense of Weak or Missing Long Vowel Sounds
humor. We all have struggled with the
language at some time in our lives - I still tell (ta-il, ta-le)
do! English "mis-usage" can be funny! We jell (ja-il)
should not, however, be devastated by our dell, dill (de-al)
own grammatical stumbles, nor should we rilly (re-ally)
disparage others when they miss the mark. for sal (for sa-le, often spelled "for sell" in
The challenge for all of us is to grow and to ads
improve. Not all of the following entries melk (milk)
are necessarily "Utah"; however, many are bell (ba-il)
in common use. mel (me-al, ma-le, ma-il ("mel" very
useful; word refers to food, sex, and
Phrases and Words those, them (These words are often used
interchangeabley and with syntactical
we was (usually pronounced "wuz" meaning absurdity. "Them cars are neat" or "I
"we were") would like one of those ones")
I promise. (Used to mean "I am telling the learn me (teach)
truth!" rather than "I will do something or
will carry through.") borrow me (loan me)
have came (have come) Can I go with? (May I go?)
me and ("me" used as subject instead of take that for granite (take that for
has done good (has done well - good is an in head of (ahead of)
adjective, well is an adverb, good usually
used to refer to a moral act, well often What was your name again? (What is your
used to refer to a skill) name?)
there is (frequently misused when speaking Do you got. . .? (Do you have. . .?
of more than one event, person, place, or
thing where there are is appropriate usage) irregardless (there is no such word and
would be redundant anyway)
bath the baby (ba-the the baby)
Double Negatives-Rather common
we won them (we beat them, we won the grammatical error in Utah. An example
game, we won) would be, "I don't want to hear no more
noise." "We don't have no . . ." is also too
This is her/him. (This is he/she. Usually commonly heard.
used when answering the telephone)
Dominant Subcultural Pronunciations,
gonna, gotta, hav'ta (going to, have to) Words, and Phrases
Oh, for rude! (You are or that was rude.) choice/special (What or who isn't choice or
special in Utah?)
tend (babysitting - to tend a baby is not
incorrect, but not too common outside of con.fernce (con.fer.ence)
elastic (not necessarily wrong, but not as
commonly understood elsewhere as rubber hal.a.lu.le.ah (hall.e.lu.jah)
band would be)
inactive/active (used as a personal
unthaw (thaw) noun to denote ones level of church
attendance or dedication to precepts)
What do you times it by? (What do you
multiply it by?)
Regional Variations of English in the US
afeard-afraid - from New England, upper snake feeder in the midland, a darning
southern U.S. and Ozarks needle in upper northern U.S., a spindle in
costal New Jersey
alamo - a poplar tree, from southwestern
U.S. fireboard - another word for mantle in
upper southern U.S.
allow - to admit or grant "I allowed as
how he was right", to suppose "We allow holler = hollow
he's straight, from upper southern U.S.
horse drama - a form of drama in which
andiron - a metal support for firewood on trained horses are used.
a hearth, also called a dog, dog iron, fire-
jerp - a small quantity, used most often in
reference to sweets.
anymore - has a negative connotation. In
leather-ears - to Cape Cod inhabitants, a
parts of the U.S. (i.e. Oklahoma,
person of slow comprehension.
Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and Iowa)
nowadays, having a positive connotation, left-legged - clumsy in walking
is used in the place of anymore.
mouthprints - spoken words, especially
aparejo - a pack saddle, used in when used as evidence
park the biscuit - to sit down.
basement - a public toilet in New England
possum = for opossum in southern U.S.
battercake - a pancake or johnny cake
tater = potato
from southern U.S.
puncture lady - a Southwestern
bone-orchard - slang for a cemetery in the
expression for a woman who prefers to sit
on the sidelines at a dance and gossip
branchwater - means plain water or water rather than dance, often puncturing
from a stream from southern U.S. somebody's reputation.
bulldog - means to throw by seizing its scone - a small rich biscuit-like pastry. (In
horns and twisting its neck in western Utah it is yeast bread that is deep fried
U.S. and served with honey.)
chawswizzled - confounded; a Nebraska scurryfunge - a hasty tidying of the house
word. "I'll be chawswizzled!" between the time you see a neighbor and
the time she knocks.
chayote - an edible pear-shaped fruit
cooked as a vegetable sight - ability to see, in upper southern
U.S. is a large number or quantity, "A
clever - means affable (pleasant, easy to
sight of people were there"
talk to), not especially smart in New
England, means good natured, amiable winder = window
(friendly, sociable) in southern U.S.
cruller - is a small ring-shaped cake of
sweet dough fried in deep fat in
dogy or doggie - a stray or motherless calf
in western U.S.
dragonfly - an insect with wings. Also
called a snake doctor in southern U.S., a
A dialect is a style of language that is distinctive to a particular region. Many
thousands of differences in words, pronunciations, and phrases characterize the
various dialects of the United States. For example, every region has words that are
peculiar to its dialect. Children learn these words at home rather than at school; the
words are part of the children’s oral rather than written culture. Do you know what
any of the following words means? You probably won’t find them in the dictionary.
neb-nose (inquisitive person)
alamagoozlum (maple syrup)
chizzywink (large mosquito)
Juneteenth (emancipation day)
noshery (snack bar)
faunch (to rant and rave)
Oklahoma rain (sandstorm)
Culture Differences around the World
Signal for ―no‖
U.S. & Canada shake heads back and forth
Bulgaria nod up and down
Japan move their right hand
Sicily raise their chin
U.S. avoiding eye contact is evasive and dishonest
Latin America keeping eyes lowered is a sign of respect
Asia ― ―
Native Americans a child maintaining eye contact with an adult is
Arab man runs hand backward across his hair
Exposing the sole of your shoe is offering a grave insult in Egypt
In Arab countries it’s impolite to take gifts to a man’s wife, but acceptable
to take gifts to his children
In Germany giving a woman a red rose is considered a romantic invitation—
inappropriate if you are trying to establish a business relationship with her.
In India you might be invited to visit someone’s home ―any time.‖ If you’re
not familiar with the culture, you may be reluctant to make an unexpected
visit, and you might therefore wait for a definite invitation. But your failure
to take the invitation literally is an insult, a sign that you do not care to
develop the friendship.
In some countries companies are expected to pay government official extra
fees for approving government contracts. These payments aren’t illegal or
unethical; they are routine. However, the same payments are seen as bribes
in the US, Sweden, and many other countries, where they are both
unethical and illegal.
In the United Kingdom and the US, someone is presumed innocent until
proven guilty, but in Mexico and Turkey, someone is presumed guilty until
In the U.S., one out of every seven people speaks a language other than
English when at home. After English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and
Chinese are commonly spoken.
When U.S. businesspeople deal with individuals speak English as a second
language, misunderstandings involving vocabulary, pronunciation, or usage
are likely. Don’t assume that the other person understands everything you
say. Your message can be mangled by slang, idioms, and local accents.
Business Communications – Objective 304
High Context vs. Low Context Culture
Definition: Culture is the acquired knowledge people use to interpret, experience, and
One of the ways people understand a message is according to its cultural context, the
pattern of physical cues and implied understanding that convey meaning between two
members of the same culture. However, people convey contextual meaning differently
from cultural to culture.
In a high-context culture such as South Korea or Taiwan, people rely less on verbal
communication and more on the context of nonverbal actions and environmental setting
to convey meaning. The rules of everyday life are rarely clear in high-context cultures; as
they grow up, individuals learn how to recognize situational cues (such as gestures and
tone of voice) and how to respond as expected.
In a low-context culture such as the United States or Germany, people rely more on
verbal communication and less on circumstances and cues to convey meaning. An English
speaker feels responsible for transmitting the meaning of the message and often places
sentences in chronological sequence to establish a cause-and-effect pattern.
Furthermore, expectations are usually spelled out in a low-context culture through clear
statements such as ―Please wait until I’m finished‖ or ―You’re welcome to browse.‖ In
this way, a businessperson in a low-context culture not only explains his or her own
actions but also cues the other person about what to do or what to expect next.
Because the written word is highly valued in low-context cultures, agreements are
considered binding. High-context cultures, by contrast, put less emphasis on the written
word and consider personal pledges more important than contracts. They also have a
tendency to view law with flexibility, whereas low-context cultures would adhere to the
Another differentiating factor between the two is the way in which business is conducted.
In a high-context culture, business is conducted in what appears to be a social
atmosphere. That’s because developing trust is critical to the business relationship;
without trust, a deal cannot be consummated. Imagine the confusion and frustration of
someone from a low-context culture trying to sell products to a client from a high-context
culture. The salesperson could get the unintended message that the potential customer
who likes to socialize is not really interested in the product, when the customer’s
intention is exactly the opposite. By misinterpreting this cue, the salesperson would lose
Once you understand that cultural differences exist, the next step is to learn as much as
possible about those cultures with which you plan to do business. You can develop skills
for dealing with cultural diversity in your own and in other countries.
High and Low Context
The general terms "high context" and "low context" (popularized by Edward Hall) are used to
describe broad-brush cultural differences between societies.
High context refers to societies or groups where people have close
connections over a long period of time. Many aspects of cultural behavior
are not made clear because most members know what to do and what to
think from years of interaction with each other. Your family is probably an
example of a high-context environment.
Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many
connections but of shorter duration or for some specific reason. In these
societies, cultural behavior and beliefs may need to be spelled out plainly
so that those coming into the cultural environment know how to behave.
Less verbally clear communication, less written/formal
More internalized understandings of what is communicated
Multiple cross-cutting ties and intersections with others
Long term relationships
Strong boundaries- who is accepted as belonging vs. who is considered an
Knowledge is situational, relational
Decisions and activities focus around personal face-to-face relationships, often
around a central person who has authority
Small religious congregations, a party with friends, family gatherings, expensive
gourmet restaurants and neighborhood restaurants with a regular clientele,
undergraduate on-campus friendships, or hosting a friend in your home overnight.
Rule oriented, people play by external rules
More knowledge is codified, public, external, and accessible
Sequencing, separation—of time, of space, of activities, of relationships
More interpersonal connections of shorter duration
Knowledge is more often transferable
Task-centered; decisions and activities focus around what needs to be done,
division of responsibilities.
Large US airports, a chain supermarket, a cafeteria, a convenience store, sports
where rules are clearly laid out, a motel.
While these terms are sometimes useful in describing some aspects of a culture, one
can never say a culture is "high" or "low" because societies all contain both modes.
"High" and "low" are therefore less relevant as a description of a whole people, and
more useful to describe and understand particular situations and environments.
Entering High and Low Context Situations
High contexts can be difficult to enter if you are an outsider (because you don't carry
the context information internally, and because you can't instantly create close
Low contexts are relatively easy to enter if you are an outsider (because the
environment contains much of the information you need to participate, and because
can you form relationships fairly soon, and because the important thing is
accomplishing a task rather than feeling your way into a relationship).
Remember that every culture and every situation has its high and low aspects. Often
one situation will contain an inner high context core and an outer low context ring for
those who are less involved.
For instance, a PTA is usually a low context situation: any parent can join, the dates
of the meetings, who is president, what will be discussed, etc. are all clearly
available information and it is usually fairly clear how to participate in the meetings.
However, if this is a small town, perhaps the people who run the PTA all know each
other very well and have many overlapping interests. They may "agree" on what
should be discussed or what should happen without ever really talking about it, they
have unconscious, unexpressed values that influence their decisions. Other parents
from outside may not understand how decisions are actually being made. So the PTA
is still low context, but it has a high context subgroup that is in turn part of a high
context small town society.
When you enter a high context situation, it doesn't immediately become a low context
culture just because you came in the door! It is still a high context culture and you
are just (alas), ignorant. Also, even low context cultures can be difficult to learn:
religious dietary laws, medical training, and written language all take years to
understand. The point is that that information has been made conscious, systematic,
and available to those who have the resources to learn it.
Directions: Use the Internet to research high-context and low-context cultures.
Explain the characteristics of a high-context country and list some of the high-
Explain the characteristics of a low-context country and list some of the low-
Explain the difference between high-context and low-context culture in your
own words. Give some examples.
Format your paper as the following MLA example shows.
Title (Title Case)
Double space the body. Use 12-point Times New Roman. Side margins and top
and bottom margins are 1-inch. Spelling, grammar, capitalization and punctuation
Name _____________________________ Score _______________
Business Communications – Objective 304
Directions: Go to www.uen.org Click on the Pioneer Library link in the bottom right-
hand corner. Click on K12 Public School / CultureGrams / World Edition. Pick a
country/region on each continent. Locate information about different customs for the
six continents and fill in the table below with relevant information.
International Cultural Differences in Communications
Continent Greetings Gestures Visiting Eating
International Cultural Differences in Communications
Continent Greetings Gestures Visiting Eating
Be prepared to share what you have learned with the class.
Pretend that you work for a U.S. company and you are going to be taking a business
trip to another country. What will you need to know before traveling to that country?
How is the culture of that country different from U.S. culture?
Working in small groups, research cultural and business etiquette for that country.
Choose a country from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, or South
America. Your group will compile and present this information to the rest of the class
in a 5-10 minutes oral presentation.
Social and professional etiquette consists of written and unwritten rules that reflect
cultural expectations as well as official policies and procedures. Search the Internet
using the following terms:
o business dress
o public behavior
o body language and gestures
o business negotiations
o travel etiquette
o dining etiquette
o gift-giving etiquette
o making proper introductions
Create a list of ―Dos and Don’ts‖ based on the expectations that most people in the
United States have regarding these issues. Compare your findings with those of your
classmates. Each person in your group must contribute to the presentation and
research. You will probably want to use visual aids. Make your presentation excellent