What is intercultural communication?

"Communication" par Dailypic (FlickR)

It is no secret that intercultural communication includes two concepts: communication and interculturality. Defining these concepts is not the purpose of this article. The focus here will be on their combination.

Intercultural communication is a subject at the heart of our studies at ISIT. It is also a sine qua none condition for translating. Because translating does not come down to passing from one language to another. It is something completely different! Translators must transfer the whole of a culture to another whole culture. Without taking into consideration the cultural aspect, the result would be meaningless and cannot correctly convey the message to the recipient.

The translators must not only take into account their own linguistic and cultural knowledge but also use their idiosyncrasy in order to make the target text as faithful as possible to the original. The intercultural aspect must enable them to convey the content of the message expressed in the text as well as the emotions revealed by the words chosen by the author.

Interculturality does not consist in listing clichés but in sharing experiences from different cultures and to raise our awareness to the values and habits of these countries in order to move away from our own culture. Confronting difference, interculturality teaches us how not to judge but on the contrary to understand the customs that seems surprising to us. Nowadays, the globalization and the development of technologies, in particular information technology, have stimulated relations between populations that are worlds apart. Goods have gain mobility, people too. We are now used to meeting and working with foreigners, and so to mix with very different cultures. This evolution of the human interactions has put interculturality to the forefront of the economic and human development. The sensibility to languages, body language and to spatiotemporal signs is a guarantee for achieving an effective and harmonious communication in our contemporary world.

Image : Sakurapinguin (FlickR)

We can illustrate this idea with a myriad of anecdotes that we have experienced during our various trips and stays abroad. Let’s first take the example of an age-old culture several thousands kilometres away from us: the Chinese culture. When Chinese people greet one another in the street, they usually say “你吃饱了吗? », that we could translate literally by “have you eaten your fill? » If the translator translated the message like that, the impact on the English-speaking readers would not be the same as the impact of the original text on Chinese readers. And that is just the point of translating: transposing the emotions and impacts of messages from one language to another. Another example: French people would ask their friends out of courtesy whether they have had a good night, meaning, in French culture, « I hope you have had a good rest » or « I hope your sleep was refreshing ». But a translator would not translate it that way in English, because it would have a meaning different from the refreshing sleep.

For further information about intercultural communication and management, we strongly advise you to visit the website « Gestion des Risques Interculturels » (in French), which is a real treasure in this domain!


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