People travel for all sorts of reasons and often find themselves in unfamiliar cultural settings. Increasing numbers of professionals are having to learn language skills that encompass far more than just verbal and written communication. Professor Lynda Yates investigates the nuanced ways in which we work and how difficult it can be to communicate in a culturally different workplace.
It is difficult enough learning another language, but applying it appropriately within contextually different situations – this is a crucial skill for professional migrants around the world. Impressions at work, both positive and negative, are formed very quickly. Managing the impressions others have of us is something we all do in our daily lives, but it is much more complicated to do in another language and an unfamiliar cultural environment. So although newly-arrived immigrants may be able to do this very well in the languages they have worked in before, they may need to hone these skills in English. Any difficulties they might have with grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation are easily identifiable, but difficulties with the ability to interpret and communicate intentions in context are not quite so and can be misinterpreted.
Professor Yates researches ‘the secret rules of speaking’. These less visible ‘rules’ are often a source of greater misunderstanding for newcomers to any community, especially those who are still developing language proficiency. Professional roles, in particular, often involve inspiring trust, teamwork and engaging in complex routine interactions, activities that demand careful deployment of these cultural-linguistic skills. Because these vary across cultures and languages, they can pose a challenge for people working in a language they have learned later in life.
Prof Yates research goes further. As workplaces become increasingly multicultural, an understanding of the impact of cultural values on interactions in the workplace is crucial for everyone, regardless of their background. This means that cultural-linguistic adaptability and understanding is important for all professionals in a contemporary workplace.