Applying Cross-Cultural Intelligence
To Spoken Communication

              Cross-cultural intelligence is the intelligence one uses when one encounters people from different cultures within onefs own culture.  The first and last rule of dealing with people from another culture is to recognize that they are in unfamiliar circumstances and to treat them with hospitality and courtesy.  The second rule is to be patient and consider how you would feel if you were in their shoes.

              Though there are many aspects of cross-cultural intelligence, this essay deals with how foreigners apply their native grammar and syntax to their new language.  To the native who has no cross-cultural intelligence, such speech patterns may sound unintelligent.  Though the examples in this essay come from experiences with Japanese people in America or vice versa, the general idea applies in virtually all cross-cultural experiences.

              A teacher of ESL might hear a Japanese speaker say, gYes, yes, very easy can learn.h  This is an example of the speaker slipping into native syntax.  Speakers of foreign languages will do this when they speak before carefully thinking through their second language grammar and syntax.  Likewise native speakers naturally slide deeper into non-standard English when they are among family and friends. 

              Behind almost every foreign-speakerfs non-standard speech pattern is her own native speech syntax.  The Japanese speaker who says, gYes, yes, very easy can learnh is telling the teacher, gYes, I understand,h or in the non-standard, gI get it.h  Either way, typical English syntax calls for the verb to follow the subject.  The Japanese speaker has taken English words and used a Japanese syntax.  The Japanese syntax allows the subject to be omitted and the verb to end the sentence.  

              Really, there is very little misunderstanding that will occur if the native speaker is receptive to the non-native speaker, and the non-native speaker uses the right words.  For instance, if a Japanese speaker says, gTomorrow, I to airport go,h it is quite easy to understand the person is saying, gIfm going to the airport tomorrow.h  This example brings up the problem of articles.  Japanese does not have the articles a, an, or the.  Since English rules governing these words are vague at best, non-native speakers who have never used articles in their own language find it almost impossible to master them.  Therefore, the articles are frequently omitted altogether.  (Consider the previous sentence.  How could a teacher explain to a Japanese person why the article the is used?  Isnft it okay to omit the?  If one does omit the how does it change the meaning of the sentence?)

              For English speakers of Japanese, the article problem is similar to learning Japanese particles or markers.  English doesnft have markers, which in Japanese indicate the function of a word.  Wa and ga, for example, indicate subjects and topics (similar but distinct ideas in Japanese).  Therefore, English speakers will often confused the markers wa, ga, ni, to, and o.  Japanese does have rather consistent and clear rules for the use of these markers,  and getting them wrong can cause the speaker to say something he certainly doesnft mean.  An American having dinner for the first time with a Japanese family noticed that their dog Jun, who was enjoying his own dinner in a corner of the genkan (a foyer-like area used to remove onefs shoes).  Eager to use his fledgling Japanese, the American said Jun ga tabetai desu.  The American was trying to say, Jun likes to eat, but instead he said I would like to eat Jun.  (His mistake occurred because he mistook ga for wa and forgot that the subject is usually omitted.)  The host family thought this rather odd because they were not aware that Americans ate dogs.  Then someone recognized the mistake, everyone laughed, and Jun stood in the genkan, begging for more chicken tempura.

              Other features of English which are absent in Japanese are plurals and prepositions.  Therefore when planning a picnic with her American friends, Keiko might say, gIfll bring rice ball and you bring hamburger.h  Obviously Keiko does not mean she will bring one rice ball and her friend will bring one hamburger.  Japanese does not use plurals because context almost always allows one to understand if something is one or several.  Prepositions are another major problem for Japanese speakers.  A Japanese woman, telling an American friend her plans for the weekend said, gI need to work for the yard.h  This woman had grown up in Japan, attended college in American, and lived in America for nearly twenty years.  Yet, the correct use of prepositions could still be elusive.  This is because our rules for preposition use are often colloquial.  For instance, what rule determines that we are gin the road,h but gon  the sidewalkh?  When one understands the meaning of on and for, it makes perfect sense to say gI am working for the yard,h rather than gon the yardh?

              The most important thing to remember when dealing with non-native speakers is to be patient and receptive.  It also helps to keep in mind that the person with whom one is trying to communicate often has a lot of intelligence.  Consider the intelligence it must take to learn a foreign language well enough even to muddle through it.  Foreign speakers should never be chided for syntactical errors.  All they are doing is speaking their own version of non-standard English.  Practically all Americans have a version of non-standard English they acquired from their family, their socio-economic group, and/or their region of the country.  When they speak non-standard English, it generally goes unnoticed and without derisive comment.  Therefore, one must always apply cross-cultural intelligence when speaking with non-native speakers.