Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Culture comes from someplace

Whenever you travel a foreign country, there is the challenge of language. For some, this is so intimidating that they will never travel someplace too far off the beaten path. It does not seem to bother others.

While on a 3 country operations program review (including about 15 city stops) the importance of having a healthy curiosity cultures occurred to me. During one of my many flights, I debated which was more important – the language skills of the country visited or a healthy curiosity of the culture and history associated with the country. While the language helps you directly communicate, learning the culture helps you understand everyone. I concluded that language is a skill and culture is an attitude. A leader can hire or teach and skill, but it is more difficult to develop a curious nature. For this reason I chose cultural curiosity as most important.

Which do you believe is more improve for an international business person – language or cultural curiosity?


Albert McGovern said...

I would say both have great importance and feed off of one another. Having cultural curiosity can lead to a desire to learn the language and more fully engage the people about their culture. Conversely, learning the language can lead to an expanded curiosity about the culture, since most language classes incorporate culture in their programs (I'm presently learning Mandarin Chinese, and there is much cultural content).
I think the most important element, though, is a desire by anyone traveling to a foreign country to learn more about the culture and the language, as this can greatly enhance their experience.

Avi Deul said...

Cultural curiosity is by far much more important. Greeting foreigners with their local "good day" or "happy new year", and of course knowing and respecting their tradition. All these to my opinions are much better than talking the "right" language with no grammar mistakes.
I don't understand those who don't travel because they don't know the language!! there are so many ways to communicate, especially today with so many international words.

Rick Vernon said...

I would agree with Deul. I have only a very rudimentary understanding of French, German and Russian but endless curiosity. I've never had an issue making myself understood and in the countries I've been to. They try to help if you make the effort. Often they give up and say lets just speek in English:)

Suman said...

Communication and hence language is a very powerful communication medium, in fact thats what make human higher up in the food chain. Certainly when you speak the language of a person there is closer bonding and acceptance.

However, the truth is for an international business person who potentially travels many countries, it may not practically be possible to speak all the languages. Body language is also a powerful commnication medium and shows respect and can achieve comaraderie and acceptance. For example the chinese/ Indian cultures have very distinct greetings gesture. When someone takes a lot of trouble to pronounce my name with care, that is good enough for me to accept that person as a friend.

Most people speak english or have a local language translator too , some simple local language words and a smiling attitude, the 'foreigner' can win over anyone, and language will be no barrier!

Anonymous said...

You're almost preaching to the choir. Anyone who's travelled, especially for business, would say cultural curiosity. If you can say please, thank you, beer, where's the bathroom and sorry for stepping on your foot, you can enjoy a trip almost anywhere. However, even if fluent, cultural elitists are usually disappointed.

Unknown said...

I'll go with both. My mother was a travel agent and traveled the whole world. She only spoke English. She loved her job and was very friendly and polite. She was fascinated by all cultures and countries. She met people all around the world and made lasting friendships. I learned a lot from my mother. On the other hand, I learned German starting in high school. I continued in college and spent my junior year at the University of Heidelberg. I was a math major with a German minor. I love to travel, but I am most comfortable in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. My family heritage is German and Swiss.

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