According to many studies, cross-cultural problems have been some of the most integral and persistent issues that have influenced communications between various cultures. Due to the differences in culture of people, communication is usually proving to be hard and thus not effective. Communication barriers, therefore, are manifest and renders communication between two cultures difficult. Culture is the way we view the world and the set of beliefs by certain people (Varner & Beamer, 1995).
Various barriers hinder communication between the two cultures-Ghana and Chinese. This research paper seeks to analyze three examples of the barriers from the perspective of cross-cultural communication theory. If ineffective communication occurs between different cultures, it is based on the fact that the communicators dont acknowledge the values of the different cultures.
Cross-Cultural Communication theory
This theory essentially posits an understanding of how various people from different cultural backgrounds speak, convey information and perceive everything in their environs (Balsmeier & Heck, 1994). Cross-Cultural Communication in this context refers to the communication between Chinese and Ghana (Varner & Beamer, 1995). This theory is based on the value differences among cultures.
The examples of communication barriers between Ghana and Chinese culture are inclusive of but not limited to Language differences, non-verbal misinterpretation, preconceptions and misunderstandings, high anxiety, assumptions of the similarities, discrimination, ethnocentrism, tone differences (Balsmeier & Heck, 1994).
To begin with, language is one of the obvious hindrances to intercultural communications yet maybe not the most integral. Individuals who don't share a language or who feel that they have a poor command of someone else's dialect might have some troubles communicating and imparting. There is likewise the likelihood of false impressions happening between individuals when they don't share a typical dialect. However sharing a common dialect does not ensure understanding. Indeed, even speakers of the same dialect don't have the very same comprehension of the implications and meanings of words (Patel, Li & Sooknanan, 2011).
Moreover, a Chinese and a Ghanaian would have problems in communicating. The two individuals speak entirely different languages. Various ways in which dialect can be an obstruction to intercultural communications are also the problems of vocabulary, idiomatic, experimental and conceptual equivalences. The absence of vocabulary equivalence happens at the point when there are not words in one dialect that relate precisely to the meaning and importance of words in another language. It happens mainly with particular or extremely illustrative words. Take for instance when a letter written in by a Ghanaian in English to be translated into Chinese with a sentence that reads 'I wonder if you will set an agenda and a meeting date for our meeting'. In this case the word 'wonder' is used as a courteous method of requesting for information from the Chinese on the agenda of the meeting and meeting date, when translated into Chinese it means an entirely different things. It means 'doubt'. When translated it waters down the courtesy (Patel, Li & Sooknanan, 2011). The sentence would thus read ' I doubt if you will set an agenda and meeting date for our meeting'. For this situation, a sentence that means well can result in a great conflict due to the offensive meaning (Phipps, 2013).
In several cases, when a Ghanaian speaker communicates in English to a Chinese and uses idiomatic expressions it causes confusion. Even though English is not a native language for both, one individual may be well informed with the idiomatic expressions like a native speaker. Take, for instance, when one says kick the bucket, it means to die. In some cases, it may cause confusion when one of the individuals who comprehend its meaning uses it to express death to the other person who doesnt understand its meaning (Phipps, 2013).
Another issue is that of experiential equivalence as mentioned earlier. There are experiences that exist in Chinese culture that do not exist in one Ghanaian culture. This makes them hard to interpret into the dialect of Ghana. For example, the Chinese idea of guanxi has no exact English equivalent in spite of the fact that it has connotations that can be communicated in English words, for example, relationship, association, commitment and reliance (Large, 1983).
Conceptual equivalence, on the other hand, becomes a setback for communication if notions or concepts are not well comprehended in similar ways in various cultures. Ghanaians have different concepts of some fundamental and contemporary issues in a way that may appear to be quite divergent as compared to how the Chinese understand the same (Large, 1983).
This entails communication without the use of the word by mouth, and it sometimes goes hand in hand with verbal communications to reinforce the meaning of the spoken word. Nonverbal correspondence can be an obstruction to intercultural correspondence between a Chinese and a Ghanaian (Olshin, 2006). Nonverbal communications mostly entail correspondence without words. Messages are sent through motions, gestures, eye contact, and assumptions in regards to time among others. These types of communications can be misinterpreted in most cases.
Non-verbal is used in various ways in the two cultures to communicate. Similarly, there is a close similarity of their uses in the two cultures in question. In the Ghana context, most of the non-verbal styles are used to send messages that may be uncomfortable to speak. On the other side, it may be disrespectful to do the same in the Chinese culture. It, therefore, presents the state of confusion for the two to speak in nonverbal skills (Kelley, 1975).
Gestures and eye contact have powerful meanings in both cultures. Additionally, there are differences of interpretation of deep indulgence in eye contact by the two cultures. In Ghana, it is a sigh of respect while in Chinese context it may render one restless as it may not be a sign of courtesy. This is a major setback for the two cultures as far as communication is concerned.
Silence also has a difference in meaning in the two cultures, and this is a setback for cross-cultural communications (Kelley, 1975). For the Chinese, silence in a conversation means a lot of respect especially if it is from a younger person to an elderly while in Ghana it means shyness and maybe inadequate interest in the conversation. It is another element of cross-cultural communication barrier as the theory stipulates.
Another aspect of non-verbal in cross-cultural communication barrier is the touch element. In Chinese culture, it is believed that strangers are not to be greeted and touched, while it is pointless in Ghana.
It is very normal for one brought up in Ghana to have the values of the community he or she is brought up in, likewise to one brought up in China. It is because of the way the two individuals brought up in these cultures interact and learn from them. Ethnocentrism is the belief of one in his or her culture. It is the sense of focusing on one's own culture in everything one pursues. It is clearly a setback in cross-cultural communications since it offers the basis of one judging other cultures and rendering them to be inferior (Bi et al., 2012).
Chinese would have difficulty and challenges in communicating with a Ghanaian if both parties do not have a sense of cross-cultural tolerance towards each other. For example, a Chinese working in Ghana would feel inferior if a Ghanaian looks down upon him (Olshin, 2006). Ethnocentrism, in this case, promotes superiority in the Ghanaian who believes that his culture is superior to the Chinese culture. This kind of attitude in the Ghanaian affects cross-cultural communication between the Ghanaian and the Chinese (Bi et al., 2012).
Strategies on How to Overcome Barriers to Intercultural Communication
Today, the world is acknowledged to have become a global village where people communicate from time to time and from place to place irrespective of their location. Also, due to technological advancement, many people from different walks of life have had the opportunity to move from one location to another. The Chinese have been to Ghana due to work related reasons and other reasons. Similar, to Ghanaians, who have found their way to China for one reason or another. As this takes place, the challenges and issues of dealing with cultural differences and utilizing the potential advantages of the diversities become immense. The differences that exist across various cultures have a significant impact on the intercultural communications. It is, therefore, prudent to put strategies that would help reduce and or eliminate the intercultural barriers to communications.
Overcoming Language Barrier
Speaking slowly and clearly is a way to overcome the language barrier. It entails pronouncing words clearly and profoundly to a party whose first language is not necessarily English. It is advisable to limit loudness in speaking as this merely implies rudeness in most of the cultures like the mentioned above. Speaking in plain language without the use of idiomatic expressions would also help a great deal in making communications clear and precise.
Using simple words and avoiding unnecessary information: In this situation, one should use short, simple sentences to disseminate information. Using lengthy explanations usually makes intercultural communication difficult. It even makes it more complicated to use hard, and unnecessary difficult words to explain things.
It is also a good strategy to check the meaning of words before using them. It is not prudent to assume the meaning of certain words without considering the context of the other culture.
Practicing Active listening
This is a proven effective strategy for improving cross-cultural communication. It is a technique that entails restating the other speakers sentiments to ensure that one grasp and understand their meaning and also, asking regular questions. This method facilitates cross-cultural communication by ensuring that necessary information is understood too.
Paying attention to Cultural assumptions
If a person travels to a foreign nation, it is quite challenging to cope with the differences that exist in the nonverbal and verbal communications. It is, therefore, advised that when conversing with someone from another culture, one should avoid slang, jokes and or references that could be confusing and misleading to a non-local speaker.
Quite often than not, Cross-cultural communication takes more time. It is the fact that communicating with a person from the same culture takes less time as compared to communicating with someone from a different culture. It is, therefore, of great help to each other when patience is employed while trying to achieve communication with a person from a different culture.
Opting for Courteous formality when in doubt.
This is the technique and strategy of adopting a polite language when not sure or confident of what to tell a foreigner. Take, for instance, The North American English speakers usually employ an unconventional tactic to talks, especially when they are in talks with a total stranger or addressing new acquaintance. The technique may be off-putting to a person who is from some other cultural setting. To guarantee that you're passing on a proper level of respect, utilize a more formal method of talking and slowly downsize the degree of a convention as the relationship develops.
For a successful cross-cultural communication, one needs to seek beyond ones background misconception and stereotypes. Stereotypes are usually common among various cultures; they have no grounds and no categorical basis in truth. Making assumptions and general stereotypes only serve to create distrust and create a barrier between the individuals from different cultural backgrounds thus affecting communications. It is noble to treat each and every person with dignity and in equal measure rather than just mere generalizations. Understanding of other peoples values, norms, beliefs free from a prejudicial point of view is fundamental in this essence.
Ghana and China have different cultural backgrounds. It is these differences in cultural backgrounds that render the two cultures quite different (Olshin, 2006). Communication between two individuals from these two cultures as depicted in this research indicates that there exist various barriers that hinder effective correspondence. These barriers, as seen, are due to the differences as perceived by each from a particular culture. However, several strategies exist that can be put in place to curb and or reduce these barriers to manageable levels as discussed in this research paper above. Cross-cultural communication barriers are thus tackled successfully to achieve a mutual benefit between individuals from different cultural backgrounds.
Balsmeier, P., & Heck, A. (1994). Crosscultural Communication. Cross Cultural Management, 1(2), 13-21.
Bi, X., Gunessee, S., Hoffmann, R., Hui, W., Larner, J., Ma, Q., & Thompson, F. (2012). Chinese consumer ethnocentrism: A field experiment. Journal Of Consumer Behaviour, 11(3), 252-263.
Kelley, M. (1975). Non-Verbal and Verbal Communication. The English Journal, 64(1), 72.
Large, J. (1983). The foreign-language barrier. London: A. Deutsch.
Olshin, B. (2006). Debating the authentic: an outsider's view of West African culture in Ghana. Journal Of Philosophy And Culture, 1(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/jpc.v1i2.36449
Patel, F., Li, M., & Sooknanan, P. (2011). Intercultural communication. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE.
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Ghanaian Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
Facts and Statistics
Location: Western Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea, between Cote d'Ivoire and Togo
Climate: tropical along coast, becoming cooler inland at higher elevations; tropical in Amazonian jungle lowlands
Population: 25,758,108 (2014 est.)
Ethnic Make-up: Akan 45.3%, Mole-Dagbon 15.2%, Ewe 11.7%, Ga-Dangme 7.3%, Guan 4%, Gurma 3.6%, Grusi 2.6%, Mande-Busanga 1%, other tribes 1.4%, other 7.8% (2000 census)
Religions: Christian 68.8% (Pentecostal/Charismatic 24.1%, Protestant 18.6%, Catholic 15.1%, other 11%), Muslim 15.9%, traditional 8.5%, other 0.7%, none 6.1% (2000 census)
Government: constitutional democracy
Language in Ghana
Different sources give different figures for the number of languages of Ghana. This is because of different classifications of varieties as either languages or dialects.
As with many ex-colonies in Africa, the official language of Ghana is the colonial language, English. Nine languages have the status of government-sponsored languages: Akan, Dagaare/Wale, Dagbane, Dangme, Ewe, Ga, Gonja, Kasem, Nzema. However, two dialects of Akan, Twi and Fante, although not government-sponsored, are also widely-spoken in Ghana.
Hausa is widely used as a lingua franca by Muslims in Ghana.
Society and Culture
There are over 100 ethnic groups living in Ghana. The largest are Akan, Moshi-Dagbani, Ewe, and Ga. The Ashanti tribe of the Akan are the largest tribe and one of the few societies in West Africa where lineage is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors. Once famous for the luxury and wealth of their rulers, they are now more well known for their craft-work such as hand-carved stools, fertility dolls, and ‘kente’ cloth. Kente cloth is made cotton and is woven in bright, narrow strips with complex patterns.
Family is a very strong bond in Ghana and is the primary source of identity, loyalty and responsibility. Family obligations take precedence over pretty much everything else in life. Individuals achieve recognition and social standing through their extended family.
An interesting cultural variation among the Akan, or Ashanti and Fanti people, is that affiliation within the clan is through women. Mothers have a higher status as in their point of view people get their blood from mothers.
It is important for Ghanaians to maintain dignity, honour, and a good reputation. The entire family shares any loss of honour, which makes the culture a collective one. In order to protect this sense of face there is a need to maintain a sense of harmony; people will act with decorum at all times to ensure they do not cause anyone embarrassment.
Ghanaian society is hierarchical. People are respected because of their age, experience, wealth and/or position. Older people are viewed as wise and are granted respect. In a group one can always see preferential treatment for the eldest member present. With respect comes responsibility and people expect the most senior person to make decisions that are in the best interest of the group.
Etiquette and Customs in Ghana
- Traditional or native greetings vary among the various ethnic groups.
- With foreigners the most common greeting is the handshake with a smile.
- When shaking hands between themselves Ghanaians will hold the right hand in the normal manner but will then twist and click each other’s middle finger.
- Unless you are experienced it is best to stick to a normal handshake!
- Christians will generally shake hands between the sexes; practising Muslims often will not shake hands with people of the opposite sex.
- Address Ghanaians by their academic, professional, or honorific title and their surname.
- As a sign of respect, males over the age of 30 may be addressed as "pah-pah" while women of the same age may be called "mah-mee". People over the age of 50 may be referred to as "nah-nah".
Gift Giving Etiquettee
- Gifts need not be expensive; the thought is more important than the value.
- If invited to dinner at a Ghanaian’s home, you are not expected to bring a gift.
- However, a gift for the children is always a nice touch as it shows a concern for family.
- Gifts should be given using the right hand only or both hands. Never use the left hand.
- Gifts should be wrapped, although there are no cultural taboos concerning paper colour.
- Gifts are not always opened when received.
- Ghanaians enjoy entertaining in their homes and you should accept any invitation as a sign of friendship.
- Dress well; Ghanaians place a lot of emphasis on how people dress. You may need to remove your shoes.
- Greet elders of heads of family first.
- Ghanaians table manners are relatively formal.
- Wait to be told where to sit.
- A washing basin will be brought out before the meal is served; use it to wash your hands.
- Food is generally served from a communal bowl.
- Do not begin eating until the eldest male does.
- Eat from the section of the bowl that is in front of you. Never reach across the bowl to get something from the other side.
- If you do not want to eat with your hands then ask for utensils.
- If you use your hands then scoop the food with the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand. Do not use your left hand.
Business Etiquette and Protocol
Meeting and Greeting
- Handshakes are the most common means of greeting.
- It’s generally common to wait for a woman to extend her hand first.
- Take time to inquire about people’s health, family and jobs. To rush a greeting is extremely rude.
- Maintain eye contact during the greeting.
- Titles are important. Use the honorific title plus any academic or professional title and the surname.
- Wait until invited before moving to a first-name basis. The younger generation will tend to do so rapidly.
- Business cards are exchanged without formal ritual.
- Present and receive business cards with two hands or the right hand, never with the left.
Ghanaians are more indirect communicators. This means they take care not to relay information in any way that could cause issues, whether that be giving someone bad news, turning down an invitation, refusing a request or any other such matter. Ghanaians always want to protect their own and others’ face as well as maintain harmonious relationships.
As a result they tend to use proverbs, wise sayings, analogies readily. This allows ideas or messages to be convened in a manner that does not seem so blatant. In fact people who are viewed as wise frequently speak in proverbs.
Silence is a common means of communication. If someone is uncomfortable with a question or do not think the asker will appreciate response, they will say nothing rather than make the other person uncomfortable.
- Initial meetings are really all about finding out about one another and if a personality fit allows for future, more business specific meetings. One should therefore expect to spend quite a good deal of time in relationship and rapport building. Do not be surprised is business is not really discussed much at all.
- First meetings may also tend to be a little more stiff and formal although once a rapport has been built this will soon dissipate. It is important to maintain a polite and somewhat reserved demeanor.
- Hierarchy is respected so the most senior person is greeted first. He/she may be the spokesperson for the group or may deputise key stakeholders to speak.
- Ghanaians have a keen sense of humour and enjoy telling jokes. However until you have understood their sense of humour it is best to refrain from telling jokes yourself. If a
- Ghanaian teases you take it good-naturedly. For the most part, this shows they are becoming more relaxed with you.
How do we know all of this? We are experts in Ghanaian cultural training!