Cross Cultural Communication Requires More Than Simple Translation

This week's readings remind up that effective intercultural communication requires more than simple translation.

This week’s readings remind up that effective intercultural communication requires more than simple translation.

Probably the most interesting reading for me this week was “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures” by Barry Thatcher, though I found all of them pretty interesting. One of the reasons I found Thatcher’s piece so interesting is that at my school we’ve been trying to increase our international student enrollment, and I’ve always wondered (on the periphery of my brain) how our website must appear to people of other cultures and countries.  For example, we have a partner school in Wuhan China, the South Central University for Nationalities, where we recruit students to enroll in our Master of Science in Education with Emphasis in English.  I decided to go to their website to see if and how it might differ from ours―and so much of what Thatcher explained held true!

For example, there were no pictures of people on the SCUN site, and not nearly the sheer number of pictures that we have on our website so this is an example that in studies “more diffuse websites had relatively few pictures” and perhaps the concept that the public space of a website is “not the appropriate medium for something as private as a picture” (of a person) (p.187). Also, there are a few pictures of major icons, historical buildings, a panda, and a few nice views of the campus, so this is an example of research that on Chinese Web sites “drew complexly on icons of Chinese heritage to display the significance of the collective whole (p. 187). Also, take a look at the “Accommodations” page:

It’s a clinical picture of the accommodations, with no indication of people.  Compare it to the main Residence Hall page of my school’s website, where all of the pictures focus on students:

So, in thinking about our own website, we could not probably repurpose it for meeting the needs of our primary recruiting demographic (18.1 year olds who are largely from Wisconsin), but I wonder if we might create an alternative version for international students. In fact, SCUN has such a version.  Both of their websites are in English, but one is clearly meant for Western, native speaking English people and the other would be for a more localized audience. It seems the best way we might do this, according to Ann Blakesdale in “Addressing Audiences in A Digital Age,” is to get “a full, accurate―and contextualized―understanding of their audiences.  One way to acquire this, which was addressed by all writers from my cases, is to interact directly with members of our audiences” (220).  So, I think developing a site and asking our current international students to interact with it would be a great project for us to recruit more students and serve their needs more successfully.

Keitai Culture

Japanese cell phone culture came up in more than one reading this week: in “Going Mobile,” and “Always on,” by Naomi Baron (135, 233) and “Implications of Mobility,” by Kenichi Ishii ( p. 348).  Baron says that the government was pretty effective in “transforming outdoor use of keitai from talking to overwhelming texting instruments” (233), mostly because of collective governance .  This results from the need to negotiate appropriate activities in public space.

However, no culture mentioned this week has been terribly effective in separating the boundaries of home and the outside world (symbolized by the tradition of removing shoes before entering the house in Japan and India, Baron, p. 230) when it comes to mobile devices.

Land Lines?

There was a lot of data to absorb this week, and I’m afraid I got distracted on numerous occasions, stopping to look things up (I suppose this is a good thing!), but nothing disconcerted me so much as the statistic in “Always On” that 51% of American teenagers preferred land line phones.  That just astounded me because I work with so many young people every day, 99% of whom seem to have cell phones, and I hardly ever hear of anyone interacting on a land line.  I thought maybe it was a function of the fact that the article was published in 2008, so I did some research and found this PEW study from cnet. com ( ) that says that the number has indeed gone down.

This PEW study confirmed the trends we saw in this week's reading.

This PEW study confirmed the trends we saw in this week’s reading.

In this study, the number has gone from 30% in 2009 to 14% in 2012, so that seems more in line with what my daily experience tells me.  Fourteen percent still seems high, but I am dealing with a pretty homogenous demographic, so my experience is most certainly skewed.

Examining Our Assumptions

The discussion of intercultural communication this week came shortly after I was in a workshop for intercultural communication in which we were asked to reflect on some of the assumptions we make in our communications with our international students, faculty, and staff on a whole host of issues. The presenters showed this video, which I had seen before, but I still got a good laugh and good reflection out of it, so I thought I’d share:

Posted on November 10, 2013, in mobile, Society, Teaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I think you’re right that the research is outdated with regards to tech-savvy teens actually preferring landline phones. My thought on that was, wait, what? This seems to go against everything we’ve read this semester. Especially after reading Turkle’s book where some of the teens nearly had a panic attack if they couldn’t have their cell phones right next to them.

    However, I am very intrigued as to why some teens might still prefer landlines over cell phones as there obviously are those that do. Better reception? Because that’s the only communication device they’re allowed to use when they’re at home?

    Great observations on the SCUN sites! I think you have a good idea – maybe you need to create different versions of the website because the audiences you’re targeting are just too far apart with regards to cultural background. Of course, it may all depend on what time and resources you have at your disposal, but if you DO have them, why compromise? Create an option for each audience.

  2. I know you’ve already started thinking about the final paper for this course, but down the road, and perhaps after taking User-Centered Design and Communicating in Multilingual Environments, and IF you are involved in the revision of your university’s website, this “wondering” about how the school’s “website must appear to people of other cultures and countries” would make for an excellent field project.

    Whew–that was a long sentence!

  3. I think the problem with the technology research is that technology changes so quickly. Kind of like Qualman, by the time it is published, it is already starting to become outdated.

    Your experience with the SCUN site is unique and interesting, because it is two examples tailored to different cultures. I would be interested to see more examples of similar sites tailored to different audiences.

  4. This post reminds me of a question you brought up at a different time with regards to showing a balance of ethnicities on a website to attract more diversity, even though the University is not very diverse now. Maybe the Chinese site is on to something. If you don’t have images of people, you don’t need to worry about how you are representing your program to potential applicants! They would base their decision on the facts, not what it “looks like”! The accommodations page reminded me of a hotel website’s accommodations page.

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