Cultural diversity training is a commonly requested topic, but not often sought after by someone simply learning a new language. However, training in the culture in which you are learning a language can be crucial to truly understanding the language itself. This is especially true if you are intending on translation as a form of employment or public service.
Each culture, even in the most “advanced” countries, have certain taboos. While most of the leading nations attempt to eradicate taboos, sometimes they simply cannot be avoided. As you learn the language of a certain country or culture, learn about their customs, religions, and taboos, as well.
For example, in certain parts of the Middle East, a woman must keep her head covered at all times. This may be as simple as wearing a scarf in public. However, in other countries in the Middle East, women must cover every inch of their bodies. You also should not ever offer to shake hands with a member of the opposite sex if you are in the Middle East. Women should also walk behind the man who is accompanying them. By understanding these customs, you will be able to understand the language better because of references that are made throughout a conversation. It will also help you if you are translating.
“Turns of Phrase”
Regional speech patterns can create “turns of phrase” can wreak havoc with communication, especially with the person for whom the language is not a first language. For example, in the USA, one foreign car executive had its car company name its small, economical car the “Probe”. This was seen by women in the U.S. as obscene, and the car was a very poor seller, considering that it was intended for the female market. Cultural Diversity Training would have clearly been of benefit here.
Some people are so enamored of a country that they learn the language just so they can travel there. The dream is to spend time with the natives, absorbing the culture, food, and scenery for weeks at a time. However, without an understanding of the culture itself, you can make your trip more difficult. You can inadvertently offend an innkeeper, and find yourself with no reservation. You may find yourself dropped off by the cabbie before you reach your destination.
Even the volume at which you speak may be offensive in some cultures. Americans are often accused of being very loud in their speech. Study the customs of the different areas you plan to visit. While some cultures are naturally loud and boisterous, then a big-voiced American may get along just fine. However, find out what the culture prefers, and try to fit in. Simply the volume of your voice can make a difference in how you get along in a culture.
Proximity, or personal space, varies from country to country, too. Some people feel offended if you are too close, while others feel snubbed if you are not close enough.
Learning another language’s culture can make your holiday more enjoyable, and may make your efforts to serve as a translator more useful and profitable.