This research project established that Saudi Citizens exhibit a moderate willingness to communicate with international visitors from diverse cultures. Their desire to communicate inter-culturally is shaped by two factors viz. linguistic differences and ethnocentrism. Language provides the means through which people communicate inter-culturally and is a cultural construct (Gudykunst, & Kim, 1992, p. 143). Therefore, linguistic differences arise from inter-cultural differences and often result to either a cross-cultural miscommunication due to misinterpretation of messages, or low inter-cultural communication.
In Saudi Arabia, Arabic is the language of communication used by the local cultures. However, international visitors such as executives or tourists, predominantly use English as the language of communication. This creates a situation where locals experience difficulties communicating with visitors despite their desire to do so. In the Saudi Arabian cities of Jeddah, Dammam, and Riyadh, the citizens acknowledge that language is the greatest barrier to intercultural communication. By contrast, the survey indicated that the citizens possess a moderate inter-cultural willingness to communicate (IWTC). Then, by implication, the linguistic differences act as a barrier to effective cross-cultural communication in Saudi Arabia.
Ethnocentrism among Saudi citizens is another barrier to effective cross-cultural communication in Saudi Arabia. It guides the citizens’ behaviors and organizes their experiences into national or ethnic stereotypes (Matveev, 2004, p. 56). In this research, Saudis primarily displayed ethnocentrism through language where, from the locals’ perspectives, Arabic should be used in public communication. In all the cities of Riyadh, Dammam, and Jeddah, the citizens reported a preference for Arabic to English and even suggested that foreigners should learn Arabic to facilitate intercultural communication. Overall, females were more ethnocentric (as indicated by the GENE mean score) i.e. showed more ethnocentric behavior and cultural stereotypes than males.
The IWTC results in this survey indicate that Saudi citizens have a moderate desire to interact socially with visitors from various cultures. This explains their enthusiasm and hospitality when dealing with visitors (Myers, & Boothe, 2000, p. 231). However, as per the results, the citizens exhibit ethnocentrism and cultural stereotypes, especially the female citizens. Additionally, linguistic differences coupled with the Saudis preference for Arabic leads to low-level intercultural communication between the Saudi citizens and international visitors.
The results of this survey indicate that linguistic differences and ethnocentrism present a considerable barrier to intercultural communication between Saudis and international visitors. This arises from the local’s preference of Arabic as the official language of public communication to the English language, which is widely used by most international visitors. After realizing the importance of cross-cultural communication, the Saudi government is currently implementing initiatives to promote learning and the use of the English language in schools (Penington & Wildermuth, 2005, p.168). While this strategy is bound to achieve positive results in terms of improved inter-cultural communication between young people and international visitors, efforts should be made to promote English use among the adult population (Lee, 1998, p. 104). This can be achieved through adult education programs in social or religious settings such as religious institutions (Mosques) (Neuliep, 2002, p. 211). In addition, exchange programs involving countries that use English as the official language are another strategy the government can use to promote English use in public communication.
To reduce ethnocentrism, the Saudi citizens, cultural topics should be taught to Saudi students, in schools. In particular, teaching the students about world cultures and civilizations, cultural traits and patterns, and multiculturalism (Shelley, 1996, p. 5) will enhance their cultural competency. Additionally, topics on ethnography and world politics, religions, and cultural practices can enlighten students of world cultures and enhance their appreciation of cultural diversity. The Saudi government, through collaboration between the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Education, should undertake to promote inter-cultural learning and interaction through museums and libraries containing cultural resources from other cultures. For instance, artifacts from the UK can elicit interest in UK political system, geography, healthcare system, and socio-economic system among others. This will help enhance cultural competency and dissipate misperceptions and cultural stereotypes.
The internet provides another front for promoting intercultural communication. The students can use online instruction tools such as video conferencing to foster cross-cultural learning and interaction (Osuna, 2000, p.323). In particular, the interaction between students and instructors with different cultural backgrounds can facilitate cultural exchanges with regard to language, politics, and social issues. Singhal (1998, p. 10) study involving online exchanges (Nicenet and Moodle instruction tools) between Saudi students and their Ukrainian counterparts demonstrated that students from diverse cultures hold common views and interests on most global issues including cultural issues. In this study, students reported that their inter-cultural communication and language skills improved following the cross-cultural interaction experience (Singhai, 1998, p. 12). This implies that exposure to foreign cultures can prevent cultural stereotyping and develop a global view on world issues. In this way, ethnocentrism, which affects inter-cultural communication, can be reduced or eliminated from Saudi citizens.
International organizations can also promote intercultural communication in Saudi Arabia through various supportive measures (Canty 2010). International NGOs working in Saudi Arabia should recognize the importance of cross-cultural communication and collaborate with the government in implementing initiatives that promote English language use. This can be in the form of financial support and the provision of exceptional software and hardware to schools. This will enhance collaborative online learning and supplement class instruction. The outcome of such initiatives would be the improved attitude towards foreign cultures, views, and beliefs by the Saudi citizenry.
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