Friday, June 8, 2012

Intercultural Training; The Options for a BE Trainer

Of course any issue covered by Chia Soun Chong gains immediate attention and debate.  And of course it is great to see some of my mentors like Marjorie Rosenberg and Ed Pegg add their thoughts.  So, I figured it might be time for me to reflect a bit on my approach to intercultural communication and how it applies to my business English training.

I have identified several options for the BE trainer to train the effect of cultural interference on their communication.

Option 0 - Ignore it.

Option 1 - Train 'above the surface' aspects for various cultures (etiquette, dos and don'ts).

Option 2 - Train values, norms, and beliefs for selected countries pertaining to class or likely interactions (often BRIC and US/UK).

Option 3 - Train learners about their own culture (whole iceberg) to raise awareness of differences and perceptions.

Option 4 - Train overarching concepts of inter-cultural communication (e.g high/low context, ethnocentrism, non-verbal message codes, uncertainty avoidance).

Option 5 - Train learners to recognize when culture has affected communication and how to resolve it.  This is often in the form of 'critical incident' training.

In discussion with Carl Dowse, he offered another option, giving learners a skill set (such as that provided in Bob Dignan's book Communicating Internationally in English) for the learners to handle a range of cultures and personalities.

Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages and the choice should depend on the training situation.  For this reason, the trainer should know when to apply various resources in training.  Course books handle this in various ways.  For example, Market Leader has tended to go for option 1, whereas Intelligent Business has gone with a mix of option 3 and 4 with an introduction to inter-cultural communication concepts and a rating scale for the learner to assess their own culture.  Either could be appropriate depending on the learners.

For this reason, we need some kind of assessment criteria for how to introduce this into our training.  I offer several criteria...

Needs - what do they want?
Time - how much time do we have and are we sacraficing language work?
Trainer and learner expertise/experience
ROI - how much will the training impact their communication effectiveness?
Behavior change - how much will the learners change/have to change to meet the goal?
Relavence - how likely are they to experience these concepts?
General to specific - where do we balance dealing with culture and handling personality types?

On this last point, we need to assess which cultures we are talking about here.  Ed Pegg and I were on the verge of a book deal on this one in Glasgow.  Hopefully, he can remember what we talked about.  Are they purely national?  Probably not.  Instead, they most likely include a whole range of cultural influences.


At the end of day, we can look at the materials we have and determine which option is best.  In my case, I most often find that option 3, teaching them their own culture from an outsider point of view, is most effective.  I train monoligual and often monocultural classes.  For them, the greatest benefit comes from seeing that what is normal and understood amongst themselves is often a far cry from what outsiders see, hear, and believe.

To give you an idea of the training, I have included the template presentation I give to my German learners.  Not all slides are used in training and this presentation does not include the discussion or activities which emerge from it.  These slides are generally introduced with the scenario: "This is training for employees in the US.  Your job is to review the presentation and determine if it is accurate and helpful for them."

So with all these options, it really is up to the trainer and learner to decide on what the right course of action is.  Simply training culture merely because it is in the material is not the best plan.  Additionally, not considering it at all is certainly not appropriate.  As business English trainers, our mandate is to improve the communication our clients.  If we stop at the present perfect continuous we are not realzing our value sold.


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