The cultural aspect plays a significant role in communication among individuals. This fact is especially apparent when people come from different backgrounds and have different value systems and customs of life. Religion is a central component of the issue, as many of the fundamental principles in any society are rooted in the belief systems that are prevalent in the area. Language is another crucial aspect of communication, because it provides a framework for interaction, helping people to understand each other. In addition to that, local traditions, including attitudes towards the romantic relationship between men and women and the institute of marriage, also vary among regions.
As these traditions give individuals a set of norms and standards for successful communication with one another, it is essential to take them into consideration while studying communication. When a person comes from a different culture, these aspects might create additional barriers for successful integration in the community, becoming a source of conflict between cultures and misunderstanding.
To explore this issue with the help of personal examples, I conducted an interview with a person whose cultural group is different from my own. My interview partner is Aida Mifsud, whom I have known personally for a few years. Aida is a twenty-two-year-old woman who moved to the United States from Yemen when she was fourteen. My interview partner agreed to answer a set of detailed questions regarding her communication practices and attitudes. Aida also gave me her permission to record our conversation and make notes. During the interview, we discussed the topics of religion, language, and attitudes towards romantic relationships and marriage.
Comparing and contrasting Aida’s story with my personal situation allowed me to find similarities and differences in our experiences. Generalizing our examples helps find common challenges that people from different cultural backgrounds face when they interact. Studying these issues is essential for improving communication at both personal and societal levels, and it will help to avoid frequent problems and mistakes.
Beliefs of one’s parents make a major impact on the upbringing and formation of a value system. Research suggests that children adopt the religion of their parents before reaching the age when they can consciously question this belief system (Slyke, 2016). Thus, being raised in a religious family might have a substantial effect on a person, determining, to a big extent, his or her future decisions.
Religion is a very important part of life in Yemen, and Aida spent her childhood surrounded by an environment that was heavily influenced by Islamic traditions and worldviews. The parents of the young woman consider themselves devoted Muslims and follow the key principles of their religion. For example, Aida’s father goes to the mosque, and he prays Salah every day. In addition to that, the man often asks his imam and other religious leaders for advice, and he uses their words as guidance, dealing with everyday situations (A. Mifsud, personal communication, December 17, 2019).
All of the friends of the family are also Muslims, and Aida had never met any members of other religions before she moved to the United States (A. Mifsud, personal communication, December 17, 2019). Hence having been raised in a mono-religious environment, Aida had to learn how to live in a multicultural atmosphere on her own when she was already a teenager.
The young woman describes her experience adjusting to life in the United States as quite difficult. The necessity to find a way to reconcile her faith and norms of the community was one of the main challenges she faced during the process. The rules and traditions in Yemen are drastically different from the western world, and at first, Aida was shocked by that (A. Mifsud, personal communication, December 17, 2019).
People in the United States openly discuss religious matters and express different ideas and opinions. During her first years in the country, Aida often felt offended by some of such comments. Later, when she realized that most of these remarks were not aimed at hurting her feelings, it became easier for the girl to handle such situations. The young woman also noticed that some people, especially those who hold more conservative views, are suspicious and unfriendly with the Muslims (A. Mifsud, personal communication, December 17, 2019). The necessity to deal with such forms of prejudice also contributed to the difficulty of integrating into the community.
In addition to that, at home, Aida’s father often criticized cultural norms and traditions in the United States, calling them decadent and focused on consumption. At the same time, living in a new environment, the girl needed to learn how to communicate with the surrounding world, which required an understanding of the moral values and principles of the people around her. Thus, Aida had to learn how to adopt the norms of her new home without abandoning her heritage.
As an adult, the young woman says that she personally does not practice her religion and does not visit places of worship. At the same time, Aida still considers herself a Muslim, believing that it is an important part of her cultural heritage (A. Mifsud, personal communication, December 17, 2019). Hence my interview partner managed to overcome the cultural barrier and successfully integrated into society.
My cultural communication has some similarities with Aida’s experience, as I also come from a traditional country. Adjusting to the western lifestyle and customs of life and reconciling them with personal beliefs might be very challenging. At the same time, our practices have differences, primarily because I find it less difficult to accept values and beliefs that are different from mine. The difference in the religious background might play a role in that, as Hinduism provides more freedom for interpretation and hence more flexibility and acceptance while dealing with other cultures.
The language barrier is a major source of hindrance to communication for people who move to a new country, and it makes it much more difficult to adapt. Lack of adequate language skills also affects the formation of communication cycles, making it less likely immigrants will engage in the life of the community, as they cannot communicate if they do not speak the same language. Moreover, lack of proficiency in the local language might affect access to healthcare and other social services, thus further excluding the person from the community (Ohtani, Suzuki, Takeuchi, & Uchida, 2015). The linguistic barrier also makes it challenging to communicate with other cultures and learn about them.
The story of the family of my interview partner is a good example of such a situation, and it shows the negative consequences of this problem. Aida says that her mother does not speak English and, therefore, can only communicate with people who speak Arabic. As a result, the woman is almost entirely separated from the local community and does not participate in her life, spending most of the time at home.
The young woman’s father can speak English relatively well when it comes to discussing everyday situations. At the same time, when it comes to talking about more complex subjects, his lack of proficiency in the language becomes apparent. As a result, the man mostly speaks English at work and prefers to spend free time around his friends, most of whom also come from Arabic countries. This fact contributes to the cultural separation of the family, creating additional hindrance for their integration into the surrounding community.
Learning a new language was a major challenge for my interview partner, especially during the first years in the United States. It happened because Aida had little knowledge and no practice of the English language before they arrived in the United States. Although the girl studied the language at school, the lack of proper English teachers and the monolingual environment of her home country resulted in inefficient proficiency in the language.
Besides, even having moved to the United States, the family only spoke Arabic at home. Going to a public school, Aida improved her language skills, as she needed English to communicate with her new friends. As a result, she managed to overcome the hindrance of the language barrier. At the same time, Aida’s parents still fail to fully integrate into the community, distancing themselves from other people in their area.
Although now our practices regarding the usage of languages are quite similar, my experience is drastically different from Aida’s. English is relatively well-spoken in Nepal, where I come from. Moreover, the county has over a hundred different languages meaning that most people from a very young age are familiar with languages that are different from their mother tongue. Having encountered other languages makes it easier to learn a new one, and also makes it easier to communicate with people who are different. As a result, the linguistic barrier is not as problematic for me, allowing using English for academic and personal goals.
Romantic Relationships and Marriage
Attitude towards romantic relationships and marriage is hugely determined by culture and religion and therefore are significantly different among countries. As such traditions are another major source of difference between people, it is essential to take into consideration studying communication practices. Social dynamics of recent decades led to the situation when in western cultures, views, and traditions regarding the relationships between sexes became less strict (Perelli-Harris & Bernardi, 2015). At the same, these changes are much less prevalent in emerging countries, especially in the middle east where traditional views on marriage are still dominant (Benedict, 2019). My interview partner’s story illustrates the usual challenges that a person from a traditional culture moves to the United States.
Aida says that it was one of the most difficult things for her when she was a teenager. The problem made it difficult to reconcile the traditions of her family with life at school and relationships with friends. Aida’s parents disapprove of any relationship outside of marriage. They tried to protect their teenage daughter by imposing strict rules and controlling her. Aida says that as a result, she started to hide her personal life from her parents.
Besides, against her parents’ will, Aida does not want to get married in the nearest future. Even when Aida turned twenty, she still felt pushed by her parents, worsening the relationships in the family (A. Mifsud, personal communication, December 17, 2019). Thus, dating and personal life are a cause of disagreement and argument in Aida’s family.
Religion is a critical factor in the process, and it is essential to take it into account to alleviate problems in communication. The linguistic aspect is another central part of successful communication as without speaking the same language, people cannot interact. The language barrier might be a source of difficulty for people who decide to move to a new country. If this problem is not addressed, it leads to the exclusion and isolation of such individuals from the rest of the community, contributing to mutual distrust and suspicion.
This hindrance is especially hard to overcome for people who come from a monolingual environment, without having any encounters with other languages before immigration. Finally, attitude towards marriage and romantic relationships differs among cultures and regions. This situation might result in difficulties in communication between cultural groups and within individual families.
To summarize, the cultural background has a big impact on the communication practices of a person. Differences between individuals might create major barriers to their successful interaction leading to misunderstanding and tension between cultural groups. The example of my interview partner illustrates common problems in communication that individuals experience when they move to a new county. Aida’s story provides multiple examples of such challenges, and learning about her life helps to develop a better understanding of the subject.
Benedict, R. (2019). Patterns of culture. New York, NY: Routledge.
Ohtani, A., Suzuki, T., Takeuchi, H., & Uchida, H. (2015). Language barriers and access to psychiatric care: A systematic review. Psychiatric Services, 66(8), 798-805.
Perelli-Harris, B., & Bernardi, L. (2015). Exploring social norms around cohabitation: The life course, individualization, and culture. Demographic Research, 33, 701-731.
Van Slyke, J. A. (2016). The cognitive science of religion. New York, NY: Routledge.