Intercultural Communication

The readings by Barna (1997) bring out the problems that occur in intercultural communication. LaRay Barna highlights the main stumbling blocks to intercultural communication, such  as “language”, “nonverbal signs and symbols”, “preconceptions and stereotypes”, “tendency to evaluate” and “high anxiety”. According to the readings, the five stumbling blocks are the main problems of intercultural communication. The author uses illustrations from immigrant students who were experiencing difficulty communicating while in the United States. The students show difficulty interacting with each other. In my opinion, intercultural communication is the transfer of ideas by people coming from different backgrounds, language and cultures. The conclusion of Barna’s readings talks of being aware of the stumbling blocks. The paper will focus on Barna’s perspective, comparing his ideas to my attitudes in showing the boundaries to the stumbling blocks.

People have a common way of easing discomfort by assuming similarities. All humans have similar biological and social needs. Regrettably, Barna (1997) says that assuming universal similarities can make people ignore the role of culture in developing attitudes, beliefs, and values. Biological similarities do not help with communication. People need to exchange information and ideas for them to interrelate. One may tend to think that human beings have common requirements. As a result, people get frustrated to find that other people are different from what they initially perceived them to be. It takes time for a foreigner to adjust in their reactions to the new environment. People’s perceptions and evaluations take the central part in interpreting the surroundings.


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The most important aspect in intercultural competency is people having the ability to try and understand others through listening and being open-minded. However, LaRay Barna writes “ Tensions exists within nations and between nations that never would have existed were these nations not in such intense cultural communication with one another” (1997) Starting with the language as a stumbling block, Barna explains that it is a major challenge that people struggle due to misinterpretations. Different cultures and backgrounds do not have the same meaning of a phrase or word. Barna’s ideas correspond to my experiences and knowledge. In the African culture, one does not accept the first offer of food or refreshment. It is impolite to accept such offers so quickly; the host has to insist before one agrees to their requests. Many people experience complications when learning a new language because vocabulary, syntax and idioms cannot be mastered easily. I have experienced problems taking into account the alternate meanings and differences of another language. This was limiting my full understanding. More so, clinging to only one meaning of a word or phrase may result in language problems. Many words and phrases imply more than one connotation. According to the author, foreign students perceive the native speakers to comprehend more. However, international students need to learn to speak slowly, increase their confidence and not fear to make mistakes.

The second stumbling block to intercultural communication is nonverbal signs and symbols. Most people do not have the ability to understand another culture’s signs and symbols. Therefore, a barrier to understanding one another is created. Different cultures have different non verbal sensory worlds. Most of the times, people hear, see, smell, or even feel things that are of importance to them. More so, individuals understand whatever seems right in their world of recognition. Most people interpret nonverbal signs in reference to one’s culture. The readings show that people tend to interpret different gestures, body movements, and also postures according to their cultures. As a consequence, people misinterpret another person’s actions. However, it is essential to try and learn what these different symbols and signs could be meanings through observation. Learning the cultural norms of other people and what certain behavior means helps in understanding the nonverbal symbols and signs in the communication.

According to LaRay Barna (1997), the third stumbling block to intercultural communication is stereotypes and preconceptions. People have stereotypes and preconceptions of other cultures in order to make the world predictable. Every person has a world that he is oriented to, and  there are a lot of overgeneralized beliefs that people use to have a conceptual basis of others. The root of stereotyping and preconceptions is the mind that always needs to reduce the unknown threat. One example of stereotypes according to LaRay Barna is that Arabs are “inflammable” causing U.S students to stay away from Libyan students making noise in a cafeteria. Stereotypes prevent people from thinking objectively about others as they reduce cultures by the use of exaggerations and misinterpretations. Most experiences with foreigners show that people have a sense of insecurity, and they cannot tolerate ambiguity or helplessness. Many people stereotype Arabs as terrorists and violent people. However, one can avoid stereotyping by not qualifying a person as a representative of an entire culture. Staying curious and flexible on any new information regarding different cultures can help one to understand complex intercultural situations.

The fourth stumbling block is people’s tendency to evaluate others. Most individuals approve or disapprove the actions and statements of others without comprehending their feelings and thoughts. What is notable is that each person views their culture and way of life as naturally, right and proper. As a consequence,  people are biased and not open-minded as they view the feelings and attitudes of others using  their perspective. In the course of life, every person has judged others from their standpoint. In Arab countries it is a taboo to eat bacon or drink alcohol, so the Arabs judge the person doing this as having a rude behavior. Chinese eat dogs – this is a behavior not acceptable by many people. It is important to view others using different perspectives to broaden the worldview.  Barna (1997) maintains that being open minded is looking emphatically on other people’s values before judging them to have a fair understanding.  To avoid a breakdown of communication, people should not immediately evaluate the behavior of a person, especially in situations that involve emotions and feelings. It is important to pause, listen, try to understand and observe non-judgementally.

The fifth stumbling block according to the readings is high anxiety. Truly, high anxiety or tension is common in cross-cultural experiences due to the uncertainties present. Facing new and challenging people causes stress, anxiety, and tension. High anxiety occurs for both the host nation and the foreigner. It mostly occurs when the two parties experience problems in maintaining  a normal flow of interaction. As evident in the reading where an international student claims, “ During those several months after my arrival in the U.S.A, every day I came back from school exhausted”. (Barna, 1997) International students face too much anxiety in foreign countries when trying to communicate. As a result, they are forced to form a defense mechanisms such as hostility, withdrawal and misconceptions. High anxiety is the culprit behind all the other stumbling blocks as it tends to increase their strength. However, moderate feelings of anxiety can positively provide people with the necessary vitality to deal with challenges.

In conclusion, Barna’s ideas on intercultural communication correspond to what many people know or have experienced. However, his conclusion is inadequate as he tells people to stay at home as it is hard to overcome communication barriers. Being aware of the stumbling blocks to effective intercultural communication increases one’s preparedness in foreign countries. It also advises people to make efforts to improve “intercultural communication competence. People need to have the willingness to understand other cultures. It will help them behave appropriately thus communicate successfully with other people. Every person has different preconceptions on intercultural communication. In order to overcome the stumbling blocks, human beings need to change their attitude towards others no matter what they believe. It is imperative to be open-minded for one to adjust to new cultures and accept the difference.

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