According to many
studies, cross-cultural problems have been some of the most very important and
constant issues that have influenced communications between different cultures.
Due to the differences in culture of
people, communication is usually proving to be difficult and so not effective.
Communication barriers therefore, are shown to make communication between people
from two cultures very difficult. Culture is the way we view the world and the
set of beliefs by certain people (Varner & Beamer, 1995).
Different barriers impede
communication between the two cultures-Ghana and Chinese. This paper tries to
carefully study three examples of the barriers from the point of view of
cross-cultural communication theory. If ineffective communication happens
between different cultures, it is based on the fact that the communicators fail
to recognize the values of the different cultures.
2.0 Literature Review
2.1 Cross-Cultural Communication theory
This theory basically suggests an understanding of how
different people from different cultural backgrounds speak, bring across
information and perceive everything in their surrounding area (Balsmeier &
Heck, 1994). Cross-Cultural Communication in this setting refers to the communication
between Chinese and Ghana (Varner & Beamer, 1995). This theory is based on
the value differences among cultures.
The examples of communication barriers between Ghana and
Chinese culture are including but not limited to Language differences, non-verbal
misinterpretation, prejudices and misunderstandings, high anxiety, assumptions
of the similarities, discrimination, ethnocentrism, tone differences (Balsmeier
& Heck, 1994).
2.2 Language Barrier
First and foremost, language is one of the
obvious interferences to intercultural communications yet maybe not the most
very important. People who don’t share a language or who feel that they have a
poor command of someone else’s language might have some difficulty in
communicating there is also the chance of false impressions happening between
people when they don’t share a typical language. However, sharing a common
language does not secure/make sure of understanding. In fact, even speakers of
the same language don’t have the very same understanding of the effects and
meanings of words (Patel, Li & Sooknanan, 2011).
Moreover, a Chinese and a Ghanaian would
have difficulties in communicating. The two people speak completely different
languages. Different ways in which language can be a barrier to intercultural communications
is also the problems of vocabulary, common, experimental and idea-based
uniformities. The absence of vocabulary uniformity happens at the point when
there are not words in one language that relate exactly to the meaning and
importance of words in another language. It happens mainly with particular or
very descriptive words. Take for instance when a letter written in by a
Ghanaian in English to be translated into Chinese with a sentence that reads ‘I
wonder if you will set an agenda and a meeting date for our meeting’. In this
case the word ‘wonder’ is used as a polite method of requesting for information
from the Chinese on the list of things to cover in a meeting of the meeting and
meeting date, when translated into Chinese it means a different thing. It means
‘doubt’. When translated, it waters down the politeness (Patel, Li &
Sooknanan, 2011). The sentence would this way read ‘ I doubt if you will set a
schedule and meeting date for our meeting’. For this situation, a sentence that
means well can result in a great conflict due to the offensive meaning (Phipps,
In numerous cases, when a Ghanaian speaker
communicates in English to a Chinese and uses common expressions it causes
confusion. Even though English is not a native language for both, one
individual may be well informed with the common expressions like a native
speaker. Take, for instance, when one says kick the bucket, it means to die.
Sometimes, it may cause confusion when one of the people who understand its
meaning uses it to express death to the other person who doesn’t understand its
meaning (Phipps, 2013).
Another issue is that of experiential
equivalence as talked about earlier. There are experiences that exist in
Chinese culture that do not exist in one Ghanaian culture. This makes them hard
to understand or explain into the language of Ghana. For example, the Chinese
idea of guanxi has no exact English equal in spite of the fact that it has
meanings that can be communicated in English words, for example, relationship,
association, commitment and reliance (Large, 1983).
Conceptual equivalence, on the other hand,
becomes a setback for communication if notions or concepts are not well
comprehended in similar ways in various cultures. Ghanaians have different
concepts of some fundamental and contemporary issues in a way that may appear
to be quite divergent as compared to how the Chinese understand the same
2.2 Nonverbal Communication
This involves communication without the use of the word by mouth, and it
sometimes goes hand in hand with verbal communications to reinforce the meaning
of the spoken word. Nonverbal communication can be an impediment to
intercultural communication between a Chinese and a Ghanaian (Olshin, 2006). It
mostly involves communicating without words. Messages are sent through
movements, gestures, eye contact, and ideas (you think are true) relating to
time among others. These types of communications can be misinterpreted in most
Similarly, there is a close
similarity of their uses in the two cultures in an interrogative way. In the
Ghana context of use, most of the non-verbal styles are used to send messages
that may be uncomfortable to speak. On the other
side, it may be disrespectful to do the same in the Chinese culture. It,
therefore, presents the state of confusion for the two to speak in non-verbal
skills (Kelley, 1975).
Gestures actions and eye contact have powerful meanings in both cultures.
Also, there are differences in the understanding or explanation of deep
kindness in eye contact by the two cultures. In Ghana, it is a sign of respect
while in Chinese context it may make one restless as it may not be a sign of
politeness. This is a major setback for the two cultures as far as
communication is concerned.
Silence also has a difference in meaning in the two cultures, and this is
a setback for cross-cultural communications (Kelley, 1975). For the Chinese,
silence in a conversation means a lot of respect especially if it is from a
younger person to an old while in Ghana it means shyness and maybe not enough
interest in the conversation. It is another element of cross-cultural
communication barrier as the theory specifically specifies.
Another aspect of non-verbal in cross-cultural communication barrier is
the touch element. In Chinese culture, it is believed that strangers are not to
be greeted and touched, while it is pointless in Ghana.
It is very common for one brought up in Ghana to have the values of the
community he or she is brought up in. Same can be said for an individual
brought up in China. It is because of the way the two people were brought up in
these cultures interact and learn from them. Ethnocentrism is the belief that
one’s race or culture is best It is the sense of focusing on one’s own culture
in everything one pursues. It is clearly a setback in cross-cultural
communications since it offers the basis of one judging other cultures,
creating and displaying them to be inferior (Bi et al., 2012).
would have difficulty and challenges in communicating with a Ghanaian if both
parties do not have a sense of cross-cultural tolerance towards each other. For
example, a Chinese working in Ghana would feel inferior if a Ghanaian looks
down upon him (Olshin, 2006). Ethnocentrism, in this case, shows quality of
being better than everything else in the Ghanaian who believes that his culture
is superior to the Chinese culture. This kind of point of view or way of
behaving of the Ghanaian affects cross-cultural communication between the
Ghanaian and the Chinese (Bi et al., 2012).
3.0 Communication Differences between the two Cultures
in the Chinese culture does not differ much based on my interaction with my friends.
Apart from the issue of language, the difference between our cultures in terms
of communication is not that marked. In communication, the Chinese can be very
animated and they are also passionate. These are qualities that Ga people in
Ghana demonstrate a lot in communication to the extent that other tribes have
described Gas as violent based on their impassioned communications and gestures
as well as vocal levels when communicating. A marked difference between our
cultures is the premium they place on formality in terms of greetings and
exchanging cards which is done in a near ritualistic fashion. The Chinese
has holidays such as May Day, National Day (October 1), Spring Festival which
falls between January and February. Other holidays celebrated in China include
Tomb Sweeping Day, Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival. Christmas is
gaining momentum there and is becoming a period of increasing celebrations.
4.0 My Experience as an International Student
In engaging with Chinese
students, I was cognizant of the six barriers to intercultural communication
identified by Barna (1997) referred to by Jandt (2004). These are anxiety,
assuming similarity instead of difference, ethnocentrism, stereotypes and
prejudice, non-verbal misinterpretations and language. In this regard, I try to
remain calm despite my reservations on whether I could have a meaningful
interaction with Chinese student who had a strong accent. I was also clear in
my mind not to assume similarities but rather expect marked differences. I also
tried to overlook the stereotypical impression one has that Chinese are racist
and do not like black men because their women prefer us and finally I was careful
not to misinterpret any non-verbal signals I picked up during the interaction.
5.0 Strategies on How to Overcome Barriers to
5.1 Overcoming Language Barrier
Speaking slowly and clearly is a way to
overcome the language barrier. It involves pronouncing words clearly and
profoundly to a party whose first language is not necessarily English. It is
advisable to limit point loudness in speaking as this merely implies rudeness
in most of the acculturations like the above mentioned. Speaking in plain
language without the use of idiomatic expressions would also help a great deal
in devising communications clear and precise. Using simpleton words and
avoiding unnecessary information: In this situation, one should use short,
simple sentences to give information. Using lengthy explanation usually make
intercultural communication difficult. It even makes it more complicated to use
hard, and unnecessary difficult words to explain things. It is also a good way
to check the meaning of words before using them. It is not prudent to assume
the meaning of certain words without considering the context of the other
5.2 Practicing Active listening
This is a proven effective way for improving
cross-cultural communication. It is a way of doing things that involves
repeating the other speakers feelings to make sure that one grabs and
understand their meaning and also, asking regular questions. This method helps
cross-cultural communication by making sure that necessary information is
5.3 Paying attention to Cultural assumptions
If a person travels to a foreign nation, it is quite
challenging to successfully deal with the differences that exist in the
non-verbal and verbal communications. It is, therefore, advisable when talking
with someone from another culture; one should avoid informal and casual
language, jokes and or references that could be confusing and being dishonest
to a non-local speaker.
5.4 Exercising Patience
More than often, Cross-cultural communication takes more
time. It is the fact that communicating with a person from the same culture
takes less time as compared to communicating with someone from a different
culture. It is, therefore, of great help to each other when patience is
employed while trying to have communication with a person from a different
5.5 Choosing Polite Formality when in doubt
This is the way of putting into use a polite language
when not sure or confident of what to tell a foreigner. Take, for instance, The
North American English speakers usually employ an unusual strategy to talks,
especially when they are in talks with a total stranger or dealing with new
casual friend/knowledge. The technique may be unpleasant to a person who is
from some other cultural setting. To assure the other person that you’re
passing on a proper level of respect, use a more formal method of talking and
slowly downsize the degree of a convention as the relationship develops.
5.5 Avoiding Stereotyping
In order to have successful cross-cultural communication,
one needs to look beyond ones background
mistake in thinking and prejudiced mentality or stereotyping. Stereotypes are
usually common among different cultures; they have no grounds and no categorical
basis in truth. Making ideas you think are true and general stereotypes only
serve to create suspicion and create disbelief and barrier between the people
from different cultural backgrounds, thus affecting communication. It is noble
to treat each and every person with self-respect or built-in worth and in equal
measure rather than just mere statements based on very little information.
Understanding of other people’s values, normal behaviors, beliefs free from a pre-decided
ideas or point of view is basic in this essence.
Ghana and China have
different cultural backgrounds. It is these differences in cultural backgrounds
that make the two cultures quite different ad unique. Communication between two
people from these two cultures as showed in this paper points the fact that
there exist different barriers that interfere with effective communication.
These barriers, as seen, are due to the differences as perceived by each from a
However, several ways
exist that can be put in place to reduce these barriers to manageable levels as
discussed in this paper above. Cross-cultural communication barriers are this
way tackled successfully to achieve a back and forth and equal benefit between
people from different cultural backgrounds.