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Is cultural knowledge more important than language skills?

mheredgemheredge Posts: 39,702 ✭✭✭✭
Learning the local language might seem an obvious goal for anyone moving abroad. But in an increasingly globalised world, whether this is an effective use of time is increasingly up for debate. English is spoken so widely that working abroad, it is potentially easier to socialise with young locals by speaking English than in the past. The British Council estimates that by 2020, two billion people will be using it, well over a quarter of the world’s population.

“You can exist quite easily in many locations globally without speaking any of the local language,” agrees David Livermore, author of Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success.

However, his research spanning over a decade in 30 countries on the concept of cultural intelligence (CQ), highlighs four key areas:

- Having the drive and interest to work in cross-cultural environments

- Knowledge of cultural similarities and differences

- Having a strategy to help monitor, analyse and adjust plans in unfamiliar cultural settings

- Having the ability to act by choosing the right verbal and nonverbal behaviours, depending on the context

http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20180518-is-cultural-knowledge-more-important-than-language-skills

What are your experiences? Do you work abroad and have you learned the local language? Do you think it is important to do so, or can you just get by with English?
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Comments

  • XanthippeXanthippe Posts: 2,013 ✭✭✭✭✭
    @mheredge, ha when I was in Padua, I did meet some locals who didn't speak English. :) I tried to use my elementary Italian. It depends.
    And I like learning languages. :)
    But I agree that the knowledge of customs, etc may be more important, at least sometimes. E.g. in Iraq it happened that locals tried to touch my mum (a blonde European lady) in marketplaces. Being a woman, she could not defend herself directly. She devised a clever tactic: she discreetly hit them with a sandal. They didn't complain because it was demeaning to be a victim of feminine violence. :)
  • mheredgemheredge Posts: 39,702 ✭✭✭✭
    Blonde hair can be a big disadvantage in many countries for this sort of thing @Xanthippe. Being a brunette, I have never had this problem.

    I think customs and culture can be hugely important in countries where tradition plays a large part. In Asia for example, there are many things that you only learn by being with locals. If you step on someone's feet, you should be aware that this is a serious matter and apologise profusely for example, as touching feet is something that is definitely not on.
  • walterwalter Posts: 683 ✭✭✭
    @mheredge @Xanthippe I think that he isn`t right. Why? First and basicly if you don`t know local language we can`t might to speak with other people which only know their own language. Even if you know their cultural, customs and another thing, you don`t might to share with them that, because we don`t know their language. We can with some gesture to show that we understand their cultural, but without knowing their language we will be in their eyes only foreigns.
  • XanthippeXanthippe Posts: 2,013 ✭✭✭✭✭
    @walter, actually I think the knowledge of customs can be only superficial if you don't know local language. People who are bilingual often feel as if they have two different personalities.
  • mheredgemheredge Posts: 39,702 ✭✭✭✭
    This is very true @Xanthippe. However I think it also depends on how interested, how sensitive and how understanding the person is too.

    I have seen people live in a country for a long time, but unless they want to immerse themselves in the country's culture, they are usually able to live in a bubble with their other ex-pat friends. I see this a lot in Nepal with the expat community there, and even here in France, where a lot of people don't speak French and don't even seem to make any effort to learn the language.

    Whilst my command of the Nepali language is not that good, I am often complimented on how much I understand their culture however - sometimes better than the locals as I am interested in all the ethnic groups and most of the local people know very little about their neighbours' traditions if they come from the same group. But maybe I should have studied social anthropology!
  • XanthippeXanthippe Posts: 2,013 ✭✭✭✭✭
    @mheredge, social anthropology is a fascinating subject. A long time ago I read classics like Margaret Mead.

    Believe it or not, the same is true about Poles e.g. in the US. In Chicago, there are Polish enclaves, their inhabitants use their own Polish, e.g. lookning przez window ha ha ha.
    However, they do speak English so they aren't that much isolated.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poles_in_Chicago#Culture
  • mheredgemheredge Posts: 39,702 ✭✭✭✭
    @Xanthippe, there are pockets of Asian communities in the UK where the elderly and women sometimes don't speak English, so they then can be quite isolated from the host country's culture.

    There is a tendency sometimes to hang on to traditions when away from the home country, in an almost exaggerated way. I sometimes found the British community in Nepal were more British than the British.
  • VokVok Posts: 1,381 ✭✭✭
    It's fine if you can get by with speaking a third language different from yours and the country you're currently in. I think it's more important to know what the done things are in this culture. That being said, I believe if you're meaning to live in a country for a long time you have to make an effort to acquire at least passable knowledge of the local language. It's like paying homage to the culture and place that accommodated you.
  • mheredgemheredge Posts: 39,702 ✭✭✭✭
    I totally agree @Vok (which is why I get a bit annoyed with the Anglophones in France who don't learn French). I think it is common courtesy to try to speak the language of the people who you have day to day contact with. And it is important to learn their customs not only to avoid committing any faux pas, but also for your own benefit. The custom here in the south of France I find the hardest to adapt to is how lunch breaks often fall from 12 noon until 2pm or even 3pm and that a lot of shops, museums and restaurants are closed if not Mondays, Tuesdays. But shops normally don't stay open late in the evening to make up for their long lunch break, mostly closing around 5pm.
  • XanthippeXanthippe Posts: 2,013 ✭✭✭✭✭
    @mheredge, if somebody didn't want to learn Polish I would be forbearing though. :) But some native speakers who do want to learn it are suffering because everybody tries to exploit them in order to learn English. :D :D :D
  • Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 1,865 ✭✭✭✭
    edited May 2018
    > @mheredge said:
    But shops normally don't stay open late in the evening to make up for their long lunch break, mostly closing around 5pm.

    I wonder how a common working person manages to buy something? Especially if as I've heard, they aren't open on Sundays. Do they open at 6 a.m. or 7?

    Moscow is a busy city indeed, but most shops are open to 11 p.m if they sell foodstuffs or to 9 p.m. if other goods. Priviously most food chains worked 24/7 until the government banned booze sales after 11 p.m. A DIY supermarket near my place is open 24/7 while a bigger chain works 8-23. The Metro cash and carry is 24/7 too and the missus drives there to 6 a.m for groceries. She's waked up at 5 a.m all her life.
  • mheredgemheredge Posts: 39,702 ✭✭✭✭
    I suppose it depends on their own working hours @Practical_Severard but I think it is a lot harder for French working people to find time to shop. Food shops and a few stores are open Sunday mornings, though not all day like in the UK. Only the very big supermarkets stay open late (10pm) and most close by 8pm or at the latest, 9pm. There is not much of a 24/7 culture here, which I respect and think is much more civilised than in the UK or US where people expect everything to be open all the time.
  • Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 1,865 ✭✭✭✭
    > @mheredge said:
    There is not much of a 24/7 culture here, which I respect and think is much more civilised than in the UK or US where people expect everything to be open all the time.
    I went by the field of the slothful and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding. And lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stonewall thereof had broken down. And I looked upon it and considered it well and received instruction: yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep, so shall thy poverty come as one that traveleth, and thy want as an armed man. (Proverbs 24 30:34)
  • mheredgemheredge Posts: 39,702 ✭✭✭✭
    I am not sure it is laziness @Practical_Severard but more about getting a good balance in life. One thing that I see that is very encouraging here is that on Sunday afternoons, as a lot (not all) is closed, more people seem to enjoy going for walks, sitting in cafes chatting with friends and family and generally relaxing. In the UK, people are still charging around like bats out of hell, shopping all day and not really spending their day off relaxing. Least of all, the armies of sales assistants too, who can't relax with their families and if they get time off, it's not when maybe their friends and family have the time off to share time with them.
  • GemmaRowlandsGemmaRowlands Moderator Posts: 9,991 mod
    I think you need to have both, to be honest. Speaking the language is the simplest way to communicate, but if you want to fit in you have to fit within the culture - or at least be sympathetic to it if you don't want to do certain things yourself.
  • Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 1,865 ✭✭✭✭
    edited May 2018
    > @mheredge said:

    Well, after office hours are best for retail sales and why the French shops close is something mysterious for me. They could open later instead since few people usually shop for clothes or like in the morning. The customers would be only grateful. As for the balance, I agree that relaxing and socialisation are important, but why are the closed shops necessary for that? Why not giving people the choice instead? I don't approve spending all free time on shopping either, like they do in the UK or the USA, but I think the solution is in preaching the right values, not forcefully barring people from shops. As for the sales personnel, if they work 12 hours a day, they usually have a day off after two of work, so they have enough free time too. As for France, I believe that the waiters and chefs are the most disadvantageous people in the social dimension there. In Croatia they even close the petrol stations at 11 p.m., what was horrible to learn.
  • mheredgemheredge Posts: 39,702 ✭✭✭✭
    France maybe has the shortest working hours in Europe @Practical_Severard and it's true, it is a big disadvantage to their economy. The true unions are quite strong here too, so it's almost impossible for the government to make changes. Macron has a real battle on his hands to try to make France more competitive.

    Don't get me wrong, a lot of shops are open Sundays (at least until lunch time and some, like clothes shops and supermarkets are open all day) and I don't think that there's any huge demand that everything stays open 24/7.
  • GemmaRowlandsGemmaRowlands Moderator Posts: 9,991 mod
    mheredge said:

    France maybe has the shortest working hours in Europe @Practical_Severard and it's true, it is a big disadvantage to their economy. The true unions are quite strong here too, so it's almost impossible for the government to make changes. Macron has a real battle on his hands to try to make France more competitive.



    Don't get me wrong, a lot of shops are open Sundays (at least until lunch time and some, like clothes shops and supermarkets are open all day) and I don't think that there's any huge demand that everything stays open 24/7.

    It's all about the balance though. I think it's important to have working hours long enough to support the economy, but without it being at the expense of the workers.
  • mheredgemheredge Posts: 39,702 ✭✭✭✭
    I think that the French seem to have a bit happier work-leisure balance than in the UK @GemmaRowlands.
  • XanthippeXanthippe Posts: 2,013 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited May 2018
    Here Law and Justice has introduced the law banning trade on two Sundays a month. I don't mind it. But I am not sure if this is a good solution. Perhaps yes, perhaps not. We will see.
    harvardpolitics.com/world/poland-bans-sunday-trading-law-and-justice-remembers-the-sabbath/

    https://theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/11/poland-sunday-trading-ban-takes-effect
  • GemmaRowlandsGemmaRowlands Moderator Posts: 9,991 mod
    mheredge said:

    I think that the French seem to have a bit happier work-leisure balance than in the UK @GemmaRowlands.

    Definitely. You can even tell when you're in the country because the whole atmosphere is different and the way people feel.
  • mheredgemheredge Posts: 39,702 ✭✭✭✭
    Do they have a choice when they close @Xanthippe? It must be confusing if any store can close or stay open when it wants.

    I'm not sure if this is such a great idea, but maybe just limiting the time when stores open on Sundays, so it's not as long on other days might be a good compromise.

    The UK government tried to make Sunday trading the same as the rest of the week a couple of years ago, but happily for shop workers, it didn't get passed into law. They weren't at all keen as they said they'd be forced to work Sundays, like it not, regardless of family commitments and choice.
  • XanthippeXanthippe Posts: 2,013 ✭✭✭✭✭
    @mheredge, no, they don't have any choice. And with time there will be no trade on Sundays whatsoever. In 2019 or 2020, I would have to check when exactly.
    Ha ha perhaps the governing party will change until then.

    Well, as I said I don't mind it as long as shop keepers are happy. Perhaps more time is needed to collect reliable data.
  • Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 1,865 ✭✭✭✭
    > @Xanthippe said:
    > Here Law and Justice has introduced the law banning trade on two Sundays a month. I don't mind it. But I am not sure if this is a good solution. Perhaps yes, perhaps not. We will see.

    I wouldn't be happy if religious or any other morally motivated practices were being installed with a police force. Such things should be done by talking people round.
  • mheredgemheredge Posts: 39,702 ✭✭✭✭
    I suppose part of the need to have at least one day of rest is to ensure people are not forced to work beyond what is healthy or be exploited into working around the clock everyday. I don't think it should be motivated by religious reasons however. Buddhists and Hindus don't have particular days of rest - they just have lots of holidays!
  • XanthippeXanthippe Posts: 2,013 ✭✭✭✭✭
    @Practical_Severard, nor would I.
    They say they care for family: free Sundays mean more quality time for families. They are Catholic of course but their Catholicism is rather pragmatic.

    Hm, it is true though that employees in supermarkets are often exploited. As long as free Sundays help them I am OK with the trade ban.

    We will see.

    What is more serious is the demolition of democratic institutions, like Constitutional Tribunal. :(
  • VokVok Posts: 1,381 ✭✭✭
    @Xanthippe Having one Sunday every fortnight as a day-off for retailers may be a good idea after all, considering chemists' are open anyway. It'll probably free up more time for families and friends. People will be using their cars these days less, at least for shopping, which will lead to less gridlock. In my opinion, you'll be perfectly fine as long as you remember to stock up your fridges a day before.
  • Practical_SeverardPractical_Severard Posts: 1,865 ✭✭✭✭
    edited June 2018
    > @Xanthippe said:
    > Hm, it is true though that employees in supermarkets are often exploited. As long as free Sundays help them I am OK with the trade ban.

    The right measure to address this is new labour rules/laws and not a trade ban which hits the customer. Since the modern Catholic Mass is quite short, as well as fasting before it then a forced day off isn't relevant. And quality time isn't necessarily long time.
  • XanthippeXanthippe Posts: 2,013 ✭✭✭✭✭
    @Practical_Severard, some shops open just after midnight now so I am not sure if it helps employees. So I agree with you.
    Yeah, of course, the Catholic Mass is usually short, about an hour or less. And not everybody wants to attend one. ;)

    All in all I have mixed feelings.




  • GemmaRowlandsGemmaRowlands Moderator Posts: 9,991 mod
    mheredge said:

    I suppose part of the need to have at least one day of rest is to ensure people are not forced to work beyond what is healthy or be exploited into working around the clock everyday. I don't think it should be motivated by religious reasons however. Buddhists and Hindus don't have particular days of rest - they just have lots of holidays!

    I agree with this to some extent but at the same time with so many people struggling for work it seems like it would be a better idea to open for longer hours as it would give people more jobs!
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