You don’t have to look at the 2000 US Census results to see how diverse our population is becoming. Just look around you. The complexion of your workplace, your market, and the street where you live is changing, and for most industries, a target audience will include non-native English speakers. As more people from other countries move and settle in the United States, the greater the need for all of us to broaden our definition and understanding of culture.
According to the American Immigration Law Foundation, the United States census results show that immigration has become a “growth engine” in metropolitan areas in the United States. “[Policymakers] we must bear in mind a simple truth adopted by officials in states from Iowa to Utah and in cities from Albuquerque to Boston: Immigration is a key source of long-term economic vitality … “
So what does this mean for you and your business? It means that communicating with your audience will likely require a greater understanding of different cultures and their respective languages. The English language is one of the most difficult to learn, and when native English speakers write it, they naturally use idioms specific to their language. This works well in many circumstances, but when your audience includes members of other cultures, understanding is easy to miss.
Write for a diverse audience
When writing for a diverse audience, write your first draft quickly and unedited so you can get your ideas or teaching points down on paper. Don’t worry too much about the appearance or sound of your writing. Once you have your ideas on paper, start massaging the language. Look at what you are saying and ask yourself the following about each sentence: If you were explaining this to a person who had recently immigrated to this country, would he or she understand what I am saying?
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has little or no knowledge of the subject and, from that point of view, see what you have written. Look at the phrases you have used. Is their meaning translated or would only a native English speaker understand them? (In fact, “put yourself in the shoes of” in the first sentence of this paragraph is a good example of a common but abstract idiom.)
Tell a story. Many cultures use storytelling as a method of teaching and transmitting information. Storytelling appeals to most audiences and we remember best through stories because they provide a concrete image of the abstract.
Tips for intercultural communication
Speaking the same language can improve communication across cultures, but to be most effective, it must also include shared understanding in a shared context. When communicating across cultures, it is important to consider language variations within the cultural group, cultural variation within a language group, and variations in literacy levels. (The variation in literacy levels also applies to native English speakers, as 90 million Americans have low literacy skills.)
When communicating with other cultures, keep the following in mind:
o Identify your own cultural values first. Acknowledge your cultural biases (we all have them) and think about your own attitudes.
o Show respect and listen carefully.
o Ask, don’t assume. Let people show you what they want and need to know.
o Keep in mind that people learn in very different ways: our experiences, education and environment influence the way we perceive and process information.
Effective intercultural communication is an ongoing process. As you learn about the different audiences you serve, look for strengths, obvious and hidden, that exist in their cultures. You may find that what you thought was a communication problem is actually an asset.