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Technologies Effects on Intercultural Communication and Education

Vanessas 5 | -   Freelance Writer
Jan 10, 2018 | #1

Globalization and advancing technologies have placed intercultural communication at the forefront of many discussions, some focusing on interaction, culture and cultural identity factors, ethics, training needs, interaction, and linguistic and cultural barriers. Discussions, however, stem from other major themes as information technology now effects intercultural communication in art, business, education, healthcare, and politics, among countless other areas. In this paper, however, discussion focuses on how commonly used technologies effect intercultural communication in business, education, and healthcare. An examination of the benefits and disadvantages will generate an understanding of how the use of technologies in the global community can both improve and hinder progressive intercultural communication. As such, the central focus in this paper stems from this writer's claim that technology, when understood and used properly and ethically, is tool that benefits the individual and national and international communities.

Culture and Cultural Identity in Communication

When one thinks about intercultural communication the first though generally related to language but other factors are involved in the collective scope of intercultural communication. In many countries, particularly the US, language varies among different cultures in both verbal and physical communication traits. Because cultural diversity is such a big issue in today's world, professionals in all industries must be educated on how to handle all types of language and communication issues. At first glance, language and communication barriers appear to relate primarily to those who do not speak English (or other native language), but it encompasses so much more.

According to the University of Southern California, culture is comprehensive. However, what is acceptable for one culture may not be for another. Despite what some may believe, culture is learned and often "manifested within boundaries of acceptable behavior" (par. 3). Some cultural barriers include the limitations of conscious awareness of cultural standards (e.g. what is acceptable in the US might be illegal or embarrassing in another country).

Furthermore, cultures are constantly subject to change, but that does not necessarily mean that change will occur. The most commonly perceived language difference is the context of verbal communication; however, nonverbal communication-specifically through technology-can impact language issues as much as, if not more than, verbal barriers.

Technology Education CommunicationCulture is linked to ideas, beliefs, and customs that can include many factors (e.g. how a person speaks, carries themselves, what they eat, the laws of their culture, et al). Language is an expressive form of thinking that can be a benefit or a barrier when dealing with different cultures. Furthermore, language is important when passing down elements of a culture from generation to generation. When some elements are lost, the culture changes, and as a result, the way one communicates between cultures also changes. The changes also impact learning, whether the learning process takes place in the academic or business setting. For this reason, among others, it is important to learn the differences in the way language is used in different cultures.

Diversity among cultures is common in today's world. Simply because an organization or business is located in the US does not mean its owners or workers are of the American culture. The ability to communicate by verbal language skills and nonverbal communication methods is important to maintain positive and productive cross-cultural relationships. For example, when dining in a Chinese restaurant one will generally adhere to the customs of the Chinese whether that is in how one sits during a meal or by the types of food eaten or the dishes on which the meal is served. In the same sense, cross-cultural business relationships require the understanding of language differences that may be a barrier to effective communication. For example, if it is customary to address someone by his or her full name (e.g. John Doe), addressing them as John may be offensive. If the difference is presumed offensive, the outcome may be a severed business relationship or, if the offense is perceived as extreme, it may cause the individual to refuse to conduct business in a given area or country altogether.

While some may perceive the learning of another culture as a hindrance, especially when the new culture is coming into one's home country (e.g. Hispanic culture doing business in the US), understanding different cultures can be one of the most beneficial tools to strengthening cross-cultural relationships. The diversity among languages and cultures enriches other cultures and gives each party a tool for being more productive whether the efforts are in personal, academic, or business settings.

Choosing the appropriate words and language when engaged in intercultural communication is important at all times. Determining the appropriate language varies by culture. Paying someone a compliment is viewed as positive language use in the US but, again, it may be offensive to other cultures. Silence may be interpreted as respectful or disrespectful or even refusal, depending on the culture. A good practice in cross-cultural communication is to know what to say and how to present it, particularly with regard to language tone. These same traits and efforts apply when using technology in intercultural communication-perhaps even more-as the parties generally cannot see the physical reactions that accompany language through technology.


Among the most common and widely used technologies in today's cultural community are email, the Internet (e.g. websites), and social media (e.g. Facebook, blogs). Globalization has grown so rapidly that people around the world are more connected to each other than ever before. Most industries-including business, education and healthcare-network email, websites and social media services in a centrally located area, the most common area being the organization's website. By providing a central location for users to access these collective features and services, the organization can essentially streamline its communication and collaboration efforts (Bosley, 1993). However, each type of technology has unique-though often combined-functions that, when misused, can present communication barriers and decrease the intended productivity of the technology. Email and social networks (e.g. Facebook), for example, are two predominantly quick methods to communicate with individuals and organizations from virtually any location in the world. However, some users do not understand the intercultural communication disadvantages that might arise. Unlike some websites that offer a translation option (e.g. English, Spanish, French), most email and social networking services are designed according to the initial user's domestic language and preferences, commonly recognized as the default language or setting. As such, the risks for misinterpretation or communication issues increase.

Technology in Business, Education and Healthcare

In regard to the Internet and websites, it is important to understand the use of intranets or networks which are common in business, education, and healthcare industries. Business, for example, use networked services to provide information to clients, to enable instant communication options, and to make is easier to perform global business transactions. At present, only select businesses have global websites (or mirror sites) where users from across the globe can access the organization's information and services in their native language. eBay, for one, does offer mirror sites where users from different countries can use the website's services. Multinational corporations (e.g. Wal-Mart) have similar capabilities. However, general business websites are typically available in English with limited-if any-availability for Spanish speaking users.

In general terms, as the business culture continues to change, many organizations are quickly realizing that diverse groups require diverse policies, particularly in industries where geographical changes are constant such as global businesses. The impact of demographic characteristics and cultural diversity on behavior depends greatly on the organization's leadership structure and individual leader's abilities to manage their team while introducing the unknown. Often times, a group's failure to advance to or thrive as a high-performance team is hindered through a "fault line" that is concerned with the attributes of several team members simultaneously and mirror the structure of diversity within a team" (Molleman). The fault line can be demographic or cultural in nature; however, technology can remedy the fault line if understood and applied in ways that enhance intercultural communication. When these characteristics are not understood and technology is not implemented in a way that fosters a cooperative effort, the strength of the fault line increases, creating similarities and dissimilarities that work against one another.


While the global business world is adapting to the increasing needs for intercultural communication abilities, education tends to lag behind. Sadly, however, education has rapidly evolved to such a degree that many colleges and universities offer online courses and programs for students around the world but few have the technological capabilities of providing a bilingual classroom experience. Similarly, many online education networks are presented in English with some Spanish capabilities, which hinders effective communication among students from other nationalities. While most online colleges and universities teach some form intercultural courses, the ability for non-American students to communicate remains a dilemma. Georgetown University, for one, offers an online Intercultural Communication and Technology (ICCT) Learning Community, designed to explore topics that reflect the faculty and student's "concern and fascination with the state of the world and the significance of intercultural communication in deciphering and contributing to its complexity" (Intercultural Communication).

In an effort to examine the current situation and the possible future avenues of education in Bulgaria and the role of intercultural education in it, one study reveals the development of a Helpdesk designed to recognized the socializing benefits of schooling in "developing knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors in future citizens" (Katsarska, p. 159). Katsarska's study, which can be beneficial to the international education community, introduces an evaluation model that "elaborates on the evaluation criteria and the evaluative zones with which the existing learning materials are reviewed" (p. 160). Collectively, these efforts focus on developing young people who "express their complex cultural identities and are comfortable with them; understand and respect cultural diversity around them; possess the necessary skills and positive attitudes for effective intercultural communication and understanding; and become active and responsible citizens in their respective communities, in Bulgaria, Europe and the world" (p. 162). The author further believes that by applying these concepts and goals in evaluating curriculum and educating students, these efforts will be "the starting point for an educational orientation of school documentation towards developing positive attitudes towards communication and intercultural understanding of differences related to race, ethnicity, language, religion, sexual orientation, etc." (p. 165).

Similar to the need to increase training for business managers and employees, educators must continue toward the examination and implementation of adequate training sessions and materials that improve teacher/student communication and increase levels of success for students in the intercultural environment. Pittman stressed the importance of examining and understand the "literature and a tech-infused multicultural learning community to identify what a unified cultural-convergence theory might consist of and how it could be shaped to align instructional technology and critical ICE in teacher education" (p. 200). By reforming teacher education and making better use of the technologies available, Pittman (2007) further explains that teachers will be better prepared for "a more globally diverse and complex educational environment will require integrating information technologies to draw connections between instructional technology and multicultural education (MCE)" (p. 200).


In the healthcare industry, intercultural communication has become important as patients today come from diverse cultures and backgrounds, making effective communication paramount to the delivery of quality healthcare services. However, there are aspects of technology that have enhanced the collective global healthcare community's ability to share information related to issues such as gender and health disparities. In general terms, technology has enhanced intercultural communication by making patient information available through facility networks where patients can access medical records, appointment notices, and, in some areas, communicate with the provider regarding certain health care topics. In the healthcare industry, technologies have had a positive effect on intercultural communication in ways that some physical discussions do or cannot, specifically by making it possible for patients to access information in their native language or to correspond with a translator. However, it is important to mention, the introduction of HIPAA has changed the way information is obtained, shared, and stored and further changed the way the healthcare industry operates.

As the use of technology has evolved, the increased efforts under HIPAA guidelines have been made easier for the medical professional and the patient. The Internet, for one, has become a priceless tool for maintaining information databases that enable quick and easy access for health care professionals and patients seeking to update account information, make payments, add insurance coverage, and schedule appointments, to name a few. Specifically, ongoing trends include the use of email, telemedicine, and the electronic transfer of records.

Telemedicine is an impressive trend but remains "largely unproven [for] providing case management services to patients with chronic conditions and lower access to care" (Shea, p. 446). Electronic health records (EHR) is a growing trend that is used by more than 38% of all office-based physicians and is expected to increase significantly. Specifically, the use of EHR enables quick retrieval, access, and transfer of health records both internal and external to the organization and improves communication standards for intercultural patients. Interestingly, in 2008, international Internet users totaled 21.2% of the world's population and 3.4 billion (about 50%) of the world's population were mobile phone subscribers. The growing mobile technologies are integral to Telecare providers' ability to "decentralize and extend their reach to remote settings as well as to individual members with a comparatively smaller investment in technology infrastructure" (How, par. 4). While Internet users comprise a great number of individuals accessing health care information, the majority of information users are linked to some form of mobile technology. In fact, the advancements in mobile technology has given many of the same perks to mobile users as were formally afforded to Internet users and further enhance intercultural communication.

Ethics of Technology and Intercultural Communication

Ethics and technology is not a new combination nor is it a forgotten concern among individuals and organizations that opt to engage in the use of various technologies for communicating with others. Similarly, a number of ethical issues are involved when technology and intercultural communication are merged. As discussed earlier, there are issues pertaining to understand other cultures and the diversity of merging cultures through technology; however, privacy and legal issues are also a large element that, when ignored or not understood, can lead to significant conflicts and potential legal consequences. As such, it is vital that both individual and organizational users understand that technology is not only a beneficial tool to enhance intercultural communication but it can be a barrier in itself when used improperly.

The term improperly fits many contexts but herein it applies to incorrect use because of inadequate or lack of training-a common dilemma with individual use and among many smaller organizations. For individuals, using technologies in intercultural communications involves being respective of each party's cultural differences in ways that promote unity and avoid unethical behavior or conversation. For organizations, the uses are more complex and must involve various learning stages and processes of training that typically begins at the human resources level and extends throughout all levels of the organization. Since there is a strong link between human resources and cultures in the growing global work environment, the importance of linking human resources management to the understanding of cultural and multicultural work environments is a first step. The objective of these links is to address the common problems associated with cross cultural working environments: communication, management, and continued training. The changes of the globalized organization are constant and the objectives of human resources must be constantly evolving to meet the growing cultural demands in ways that enhance the organization's work environment and meets overall productivity needs.


Through out this paper, this writer has worked to extensively discuss how technologies are used and the benefits and disadvantages of use in business, education and healthcare with regard to intercultural communication. The growth of globalization has increased the use of advanced technologies in all industry, particularly in business, education and healthcare. The levels of interaction available through technologies such as email, the Internet and social networking has led many researchers to examine how these advancements effect intercultural communication. Collectively, the use across all industries has been impressive but the collective sources examined in this paper stress the importance of self-education and training to ensure users (individuals and organizations) understand the cultural difference among users in the global setting and how this understanding will ultimately enhance communication in ways that seamlessly unite people and business around the world. Further, ethical concerns generally stem from failure to understand cultural differences and legal issues that apply to global technology and communication practices. Overall, however, the sources examine support this writer's belief that technologies positively enhance intercultural communication and serve as a bridge between nations where people from various cultures and backgrounds can share innovative ideas and, in some cases, simply connect to learn more about life and culture in other nations.


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Shea, S., et al. (A Randomized Trial Comparing Telemedicine Case Management with Usual Care in Older, Ethnically Diverse, Medically Underserved Patients with Diabetes Mellitus: 5 Year Results of the IDEATel Study. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association 16(4), 446-456.

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