Nowadays, the world is more accessible than ever. Endless opportunities for travel, study or work make us feel like we literally have the world at our feet. Lots of people take the opportunity and jump into an adventure abroad. So it’s no surprise that the number of intercultural relationships has risen over the years.
Intercultural relationships face highs and lows of their own, in addition to the usual challenges any couple faces. A big challenge is a difference in communication. Even though intercultural relationships don’t always mean different languages, they very well can. Communicating with someone of another native language can be challenging. Firstly, there is the verbal content of communication. Within different languages, sometimes translations don’t match the meaning or energy behind a word. But different cultures also use non-verbal clues, emotions and body language in different ways in their communication.
A very important error that is frequently made in intercultural communication is forgetting that when you translate a word from your own language to another, it can have a different meaning. Once you make the mistake of not translating well, not just the word itself but the entire energy behind them changes. A word that is neutral in one language, might have a negative undertone in another language. This can lead to an attribution error: you put a negative association to the personality of the person saying the word(s), whereas in fact it’s just a communication mistake.
Some communication styles differ per culture, and they can stem from deep values within a culture. It‘s important to know your own values and those of your partner, and where they come from, to understand why you speak and act the way you do. Once you're conscious of these things it's easier to be flexible about them, in order to deal with conflict.
Aside from differences, there are also some emotions universally recognized in every culture: anger, fear, happiness, sadness, disgust and surprise. Every culture and every language is different, with many aspects that can be perceived as positive and negative – depending who looks at it. That’s why it’s important to avoid the idea that your culture is superior to your partner’s. Always keep in the back of your mind how your communication style can be perceived. Think about your choice of words and gestures and try to avoid slang and expressions, which get lost in translation.
Some personal qualities make for more successful intercultural communication:
Patience : give your partner the time to explain what he/she means, when a communication error arises.
Tolerance : the better you can handle any frustration without verbalizing, the better chances that a miscommunication won’t lead to an argument but that you can talk openly about your differences.
Objectivity : the more you can see your situation and communication from a distance, the better you can also notice your own difficulties in expressing yourself.
Empathy : if your communication hurts or affects your partner – intentional or unintentional- be mindful of their feelings and acknowledge how they feel.
Respect : respect both cultures and both languages, as each has its good and bad sides and are equally worthy.