Cross-Cultural Communication and Barriers

When collaborating with the representatives of other cultures, modern people can use a variety of aids ranging from professional interpreters’ services to applications for online translation. However, it can be difficult to achieve success without knowing the peculiarities of the interlocutor’s culture. This post is devoted to barriers to effective cross-cultural communication since being able to identify them prevents numerous failures in intercultural collaboration.

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Speaking about the most obvious barriers to intercultural communication, many people emphasise the role of the native language. However, people can have difficulties even speaking the same language; for instance, people in the U.S. and UK can sometimes misunderstand each other due to different attitudes to humour (Murphy, 2016). According to Giovannoni and Xiong (2019), there are three types of language barriers that can manifest themselves in cross-cultural communication. Among them are the cases when the sender does not know “the receiver’s language type”, the receiver does not know the same about the sender, or there is a lack of common messages helping to transmit information in an effective way (Giovannoni & Xiong, 2019, p. 282).

Even if individuals speak the same language fluently, difficulties may occur if their native cultures’ views on explicitness in communication vary. For instance, in some countries such as Saudi Arabia or China, high-context communication is valued, which means that a large amount of information cannot be retrieved only from verbal messages, and “looking beyond the words” is required (Hall, Covarrubias, & Kirschbaum, 2018, p. 45). At the same time, in low-context cultures such as the U.S., directness and clarity are often preferred over complexity, which can contribute to a misunderstanding between business partners (Hall et al., 2018). Thus, for successful cross-cultural communication, both linguistic competence and cultural awareness are required.

Non-verbal barriers can also affect communication between people from different cultures, and studying the culture-based meanings of gestures is important in this regard. For instance, greeting an American, one can stand up to demonstrate respect, but when communicating with a person from Samoan culture, it is necessary to keep sitting to convey the same message (Thomas & Peterson, 2018). More than that, close attention should be paid to the meanings of hand gestures since their improper use can cause a variety of consequences, including open conflicts (Rodríguez, Moreno-Núñez, Basilio, & Sosa, 2015). As an example, the gesture used in Northern America to encourage a person to come closer can be regarded as offensive in other cultures (Thomas & Peterson, 2018). Based on that, in intercultural communication, all non-verbal signs should be used intentionally and thoughtfully.

To sum up, communication can be quite a difficult process when the parties that want to cooperate have drastically dissimilar cultural backgrounds and different native languages. Apart from the barriers related to the ability to express thoughts in a certain language, individuals collaborating with foreigners should pay attention to the links between culture and context. Another measure helping to reduce barriers is being aware of the way that the interlocutor understands all non-verbal signs.


Giovannoni, F., & Xiong, S. (2019). Communication under language barriers. Journal of Economic Theory, 180, 274-303.

Hall, B. J., Covarrubias, P. O., & Kirschbaum, K. A. (2018). Among cultures: The challenge of communication (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

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Murphy, M. L. (2016). (Un) separated by a common language? Are American/British differences unimportant? English Today, 32(1), 56-59.

Rodríguez, C., Moreno-Núñez, A., Basilio, M., & Sosa, N. (2015). Ostensive gestures come first: Their role in the beginning of shared reference. Cognitive Development, 36, 142-149.

Thomas, D. C., & Peterson, M. F. (2018). Cross-cultural management: Essential concepts (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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