Saturday, May 21, 2011

Culture Quote of the Day - avoiding being "fluent fools"

“To establish a more fundamental intercultural understanding, the foreign partner must acquire the host culture language.  Having to express oneself in another language means learning to adopt someone else’s reference frame.  It is doubtful whether one can be bicultural without also being bilingual.”  

“Without knowing the language one will miss a lot of the subtleties of a culture [e.g., humor] and be forced to remain a relative outsider.” 
Pedersen and Hofstede, Exploring Culture

“If we view languages only as communication tools – sets of words that can be exchanged for other sets and yield the same meaning – we court the role of ‘fluent fools’ as we translate words without their original cultural context.  Language serves as a tool for communication, but in addition it is a system of representation for perception and thinking.”

“Americans, like everyone else, recognize that differences in language must be dealt with in cross-cultural situations.  But since most Americans speak only one language, they are usually dependent on finding English speakers or translators.  Once they success in their search, Americans are likely to believe that the problem of language is solved.  They assume that words alone are conduits for conveying meaning and tend to ignore the more subtle role of language in communication.” 
Stewart and Bennett, American Cultural Patterns


  1. "It is doubtful whether one can be bicultural without also being bilingual."

    What about being bicultural in two cultures that employ the same language?

  2. From our American friends who live in Britain, the "English" is not exactly the same, between the two countries. In fact, even within a country, the "same" language might be used in different ways. So this is a good question, which reinforces the point of the authors, and adds one: "don't assume that the language is exactly the same, even if it seems to be."