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1. Intercultural communication failures

Globalization leads to a growing number of intercultural encounters, which is characterized by many communicative failures, misunderstandings, culture shock. These undesired side effects are motivated by the ignorance of partner cultures' communicative peculiarities. Basically, the speakers' communicative insufficiency goes back to the weaknesses of intercultural aspects in foreign language teaching. For future prevention adequate intercultural communication studies must be introduced, including the following topics: comparative studies of lexical meaning, the study of culture-bound lexical units (realia), idioms, communication strategies, meaningful behaviour, national mentality, values, habits, customs, myths, beliefs, stereotypes and body language.

„Intercultural communication sometimes breaks down in real-life conversations, not because of the speaker's errors in syntax, or their inaccurate pronunciation in the target language, but because of their pragmatic incompetence, which leads to pragmatic failure. (...) Pragmatic failure is not the general performance errors in using words or making sentences, but those mistakes which fail to fulfil communication because of infelicitous style, incompatible expressions and improper habit. (...) Although the speaker uses sentences which are grammatically correct, they unconsciously violate the norms of interpersonal relationships and social norms in speech, or take no notice of time, hearer and context. For example, ‘Where are you going?' is cordial greeting form among the Chinese, but if used to show friendliness to native English speakers, it is likely to be regarded as an intrusion of privacy. (...) In interacting with foreigners, native speakers tend to be rather tolerant of errors in pronunciation or syntax. In contrast, violations of rules of speaking are often interpreted as bad manners since the native speaker is unlikely to be aware of sociolinguistic relativity. (...)

Example 1: In China the drug stores in a town are usually open on Sundays. An English visitor didn't know that, so he asked the Chinese guide. Visitor: Are the drug stores open on Sundays? Guide: Of course. (The visitor seemed embarrassed.) In the example it would be abrupt and impolite because it seems to imply that the English native speaker is ignorant or stupid, and only an idiot would ask such a question. (...)

Example 2: A Chinese student was at a native speaker's home. Native speaker: What would you like to drink? Tea or coffee? Chines: No, no, no. No trouble, please. (The host did not serve him anything to drink.). In Chinese culture when the host offers something to drink or eat, the guest will usually refuse at first by saying ‘no' whether s/he would like to take it or not. Then the host must keep on asking the guest to accept the offer until s/he accepts it. In contrast, the native English speaker generally expects that the guest will give a truthful reply, and does not serve any drink or food if the guest says ‘no'. As a result,the Chinese guest's improper reply left him thirsty because the strategy he subconsciously used is not appropriate in the target language. (...). In intercultural communication, being unaware of each other's respective social and cultural tradition, the interlocutors may participate in the communication with their own cultural values and use their own cultural systems to interpret the new situations they experience.

Example 3: An American teacher was talking to a Chinese student. American teacher: Your English is excellent. Chinese: No, no! My English is very poor, and it is far from being perfect. In the example above, the Chinese learner used polite and modest expressions of accepting a compliment in Chinese. S/he had transferred the Chinese appropriate politeness strategy of self-denigration to English as a way of showing modesty. This kind of response may be perceived as embarrassing because it implies that the native English speaker's compliment is questionable. (...)

What is considered an act of politeness in Chinese culture might be regarded as intrusion upon a person's privacy by an English native speaker. To show warmth and concern is regarded as a polite act in Chinese culture. That is why when two Chinese meet each other even for the first time, they might ask about each other's age, marital status, children, income and the price of an item. In contrast, in Western culture it may be regarded as impolite to ask a person such questions which are considered too personal in public. (...) In intercultural communication, some Chinese learners may know the literal meaning of an utterance, but may fail to understand its contextual meaning, or fail to accurately understand the speaker's intended force. (...)

Nowadays in teaching practice the correctness of the language form is the most important thing to students and teachers. Although some course-books are compiled with an introduction to cultural knowledge, some teachers may focus more on the explanation of language points, and seldom integrate cultural knowledge and pragmatic rules with the teaching of linguistic forms. As a result, there may be occurrences of pragmatic failure and a lack of cultural and pragmatic knowledge among the students. The results from this exploratory study indicate that Chinese students seem to lack competence in using English appropriately in a certain social context. Language learners must not only acquire the correct forms and sounds of the target language, but also the knowledge of how language is pragmatically used in the target culture. (...) We have to understand our own and others' cultural values, norms, customs and social systems. English teachers should integrate the target culture into English learning, not only including values, beliefs, customs and behaviours of the English-speaking countries, but also the cultural connotations of words, phrases and idioms." (See: Intercultural failures).

1.1. Etnocentrism: our opinions on others are always based on our own cultural values.


            „Ethnocentrism is judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one's own culture. Ethnocentric individuals judge other groups relative to their own ethnic group or culture, especially with concern for language, behavior, customs, and religion. People born into a particular culture that grow up absorbing the values and behaviors of the culture will develop a worldview that considers their culture to be the norm" (see: Ethnocentrism). Examples of ethnocentrism: „A person of a different culture making jokes about the practice of eating certain foods in another culture. The belief that our religion is better than somebody else's. Criticizing systems of living because they do not match ours. Judging another culture because women do not work outside the home. Thinking another culture is strange because they dress differently than you do. Believing that your ethnicity has no flaws and is completely perfect and any flaws they do have is attributed because of another race/ethnicity (all ethnicities have their stereotypical people and their negative connotations, no one's free of that)" (See: Examples of ethnocentrism).


1.2. Culture Shock


            „Culture shock is the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life. One of the most common causes of culture shock involves individuals in a foreign environment. Culture shock can be described as consisting of at least one of four distinct phases: Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment, and Mastery. The most common problems include: information overload, language barrier, generation gap, technology gap, skill interdependence, formulation dependency, homesickness (cultural), infinite regress (homesickness), boredom (job dependency), response ability (cultural skill set).There is no true way to entirely prevent culture shock, as individuals in any society are personally affected by cultural contrasts differently.

              Honeymoon phase. During this period, the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new food, the pace of life, and the locals' habits. During the first few weeks, most people are fascinated by the new culture. They associate with nationals who speak their language, and who are polite to the foreigners. (...)

             Frustration Phase.  After some time (usually around three months, depending on the individual), differences between the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety. Excitement may eventually give way to unpleasant feelings of frustration and anger as one continues to experience unfavorable events that may be perceived as strange and offensive to one's cultural attitude. Language barriers, stark differences in public hygiene, traffic safety, food accessibility and quality may heighten the sense of disconnection from the surroundings. (...) The most important change in the period is communication: People adjusting to a new culture often feel lonely and homesick because they are not yet used to the new environment and meet people with whom they are not familiar every day. The language barrier may become a major obstacle in creating new relationships: special attention must be paid to one's and others' culture-specific body language signs, linguistic faux pas, conversation tone, linguistic nuances and customs, and false friends. (...)

            Adjustment phase. Again, after some time (usually 6 to 12 months), one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more "normal". One starts to develop problem-solving skills for dealing with the culture and begins to accept the culture's ways with a positive attitude. The culture begins to make sense, and negative reactions and responses to the culture are reduced.

            Mastery phase. In the mastery stage individuals are able to participate fully and comfortably in the host culture. Mastery does not mean total conversion; people often keep many traits from their earlier culture, such as accents and languages. It is often referred to as the bicultural stage.

        Reverse culture shock. Reverse Culture Shock ("Re-entry Shock", or "own culture shock") may take place - returning to one's home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as described above. These are results from the psychosomatic and psychological consequences of the readjustment process to the primary culture. The affected person often finds this more surprising and difficult to deal with than the original culture shock". (See: Culture shock).


1.3. Stereotypes in intercultural communication


„Stereotypes are oversimplifications of people groups widely circulated in certain societies (...)    When one stereotypes, one repeats the cultural mythology already present in a particular society" (See: Stereotypes). When a person thinks of a stereotype about someone else he/she makes a cognitive distortion. He/she believes that the features of the given group of people are true for that individual as well; who is by himself/herself represents the whole group. For example if someone meets a Welsh person and believes in the Welsh stereotypes he/she may think that the Welsh folk is a good singer, drinks a lot, adores rugby fanatically, is a bit dull and difficult to understand (see also: National Stereotypes). In some cases, negative stereotypes have been spread by one country in order to discredit another. Sometimes countries may promote national stereotypes about themselves in order to instill a sense of patriotism, for examples in wars when an us-vs.-them mentality is often favoured.

        „The Europe stereotype towards Britain is as "drunken, semi-clad hooligans or else snobbish, stiff free marketers", their view towards France is "cowardly, arrogant, chauvinistic, erotomaniacs", and they see Germany as "uber-efficient, diligent [and] disciplined". To Europe, Italy is "tax-dodging, Berlusconi-style Latin lovers and mama's boys, incapable of bravery", Poland is "heavy-drinking ultracatholics with a whiff of antisemitism", and Spain is "macho men and fiery woman prone to regular siestas and fiestas". (...) Here are some stereotypes mirrored in Humour. Heaven is where the cooks are French, the police are British, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and everything is organized by the Swiss. Hell is where the cooks are British, the police are German, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and everything is organized by the Italians. Italians are good lovers but bad workers. Canadians are boring. The British are violently mad soccer freaks. Spaniards are lazy. The Irish are drunkards. Americans are very liberal. The Chinese eat anything that moves. The French are arrogant" (see: Top 10 national stereotypes).

            Stereotypes can be positive, negative or neutral ones. For example a positive stereotypes concerning Wales is that they all good singers. A negative stereotype, which is more common when speaking about the Welsh, is that they all shag sheep. Sometimes we can find neutral stereotypes as well, that are neither offensive nor something adoring. These are in connection with the weather that in Wales it is always raining or that Wales is full of daffodils and leeks. Most of the stereotypes are ethnic, racial or national ones. They are most common in multi-ethnic communities or countries. The United Kingdom can be considered as a multi-ethnic union for it has four nations: English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish. Although they are all considered to be British people. Stereotypes are learned through social interactions and we come across them at a very young age. The most lasting effects are caused by the teachers, friends and parents. Social media also have a great effect on spreading stereotypes. Even jokes are rich sources of stereotypes, just think about those jokes about the Scottish or the Székely Hungarians.

            Stereotypes connected with Hungarians: „Magyars are characterized by dissension and lack of perseverance, dreamy, unrealistic optimism, the expectation of miracles. The Hungarians' volatile temper - easily aroused, easily pacified, periodical complacency and smug conservatism, love of freedom and independence often hardening into rugged individualism, rejecting guidance or discipline, military or political. Only leaders with great personal appeal can unite them for any considerable length of time, their resistance finds verbal expression in the form of political satirical humor, excessive Hungarian pride causes them to look down upon those they consider "inferior"" (See: Hungarian Stereotypes).

            As we have seen ethnocentrism and cultural stereotypes play a significant role in the emergence of intercultural communication failures. It follows that in foreign linguaculture teachning learners have to deal with analysing and exercising avoidance techniques for being successful  in future intercultural encounters.