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Verbal and Non-Verbal Cross-Cultural Communication


Cultural communication is a way through which the members of the society express their views and relay information. All aspects of human beings including communication are affected and altered by culture. Culture includes how individuals express themselves including the way they think, move, and solve problems. When we discuss cultural communication we should have in mind the spectrum of communication which includes language, verbal and non-verbal communication. In talking about cultural communication different cultures are brought to light.

It is important to recognize that there are numerous different ways of cultural communication which include verbal and non-verbal means and these communications may have different meanings. Cross-cultural communication is the way through which intercultural communication takes place amongst individuals with different cultural backgrounds (Hays 2001, pp. 5-15). This essay explores the nature of verbal and non-verbal cross-cultural communication. It mainly concerns itself with how verbal and non-verbal signs can be used to facilitate cross-cultural communication.

Verbal Cross-Cultural Communication

Verbal communication is one way through which individuals communicate face-to-face. Some of the fundamental components of this form of communication are words, sound, language, and speaking. Verbal communication may be expressed naturally while others may be a direct result of emotional expressions; these may be crying or laughing. It is important to note that verbal communication can be used in conjunction with non-verbal communication (Ting-Toomey 1999, p. 100).

In some cases, verbal communication is used to explain the inter-cultural meanings of non-verbal communication that may have different cultural meanings. For instance, there are some symbols and signs that may express some cultural message. This may be in the form of drawing or painting. Through verbal communication, the meanings of these signs and symbols can be debunked by interpreting such meanings into another cultural language. Verbal communication takes place in various cultural contexts. It is a fact that there are thousands and thousands of languages through which members of society use during communication.

These languages are not understood by all the societal members. This fact sometimes presents communication barriers amongst communicants, but even within one cultural language, there are still possibilities of misunderstanding amongst the communicants. Verbal communication may take place in two ways: interpersonal and public communication (Marshall Cavendish Corporation 2007, p. 1351).

With the growing technology, it is not mandatory that verbal communication must take place in a face-to-face context. Verbal communication can take place through radios, telephony, mobile phone, and televisions (Coombs and DeLeon 2000, p. 67). Noteworthy is the fact that verbal communication can also take place through the internet. Verbal communication can take place between two or amongst many individuals who are geographically far from one another. Verbal communication can be enhanced by visual aids. Just like non-verbal communication information can be stored and retrieved for reuse, verbal communication can also be stored in computers, magnetic tapes, and other technological means available.

Verbal communication has certain elements that qualify it. These elements include actions and things, specification, relationships, and functional words.

Actions and things: verbal communication should indicate actions and things. In other words, during verbal communications, the words spoken should indicate actions being undertaken and things being acted upon.

Specification: the verbal communication should be specific on whether the action that is being referred to are past, present, or will be undertaken in the future.

Functional word: in the process of verbal communication, the words and sentences used should be grouped in such a manner that gives meaning to an action being either true or false.

Relationships: verbal communication should be able to indicate how the things being acted upon are related to one another and the actions being taken.

Non-Verbal Cultural Communication

Non-verbal communication has been comprehended to mean the process by which individuals communicate through the transmission of wordless messages taking into account the aspects of culture. It is divided into aesthetics, signs, symbols, and physical. All these have different cultural interpretations (Mayinger 2001, p. 196). In this case, language is not considered as the only source of communication.

Non-verbal cultural communication can be done through gestures and haptic communication. It can also be expressed through body language, facial expressions, postures, and eye contact. Non-verbal communication can also take place through hairstyle, style of clothing, symbols, infographics, and architecture. Speech is usually a form of verbal communication since it involves the utterances of words; however, there are certain elements of speech that form part of non-verbal communication. These elements are known as paralanguages. Paralanguages can be communicated either consciously or unconsciously.

The paralanguages include but are not limited to the quality of voice, style of speaking, emotions, and features like rhythm, stress, and intonation. Dancing and written information are also considered as non-verbal cultural communication.

Non-verbal cultural communication, in many cases, complements verbal communication (Krueger 2008, p. 3). There are different meanings attached to non-verbal communication. Different signs have different cultural meanings and may also be used in different cultural contexts. For instance, a style of dressing may be used to give information about an occasion. This may include a wedding ceremony, a funeral ceremony, or an official ceremony.

Individuals from different cultural backgrounds may also express their communication in different ways through the use of symbols. For example, it will be easy to tell an African way of dressing from other dressing styles, a nod has a different meaning amongst different people; among Americans, it means a positive reinforcement and it has a negative connotation amongst the Chinese. The paralanguages in one’s speech may also tell the cultural background of the speaker.

Non-verbal communication may take place through face-to-face communication. In this case, the space between the communicator and the recipient may also have meaning in terms of communication. For example, the closeness of the communicants may show that the information being shared is either secret or private and confidential and when the communicants are far from each other it may mean there is no privacy of the information being shared; the information may be general. There are other cultural connotations of nonverbal communication. Just to mention a few examples; looking directly into the eyes means some kind of disrespect in some parts of Africa and other nations, while it is a sign of being attentive in America. Other cultures consider the body odor as normal while others dislike it.


Verbal and nonverbal cultural communications are ways through which information is passed from an individual or group of individuals to others. These communications can take place across cultures. Nonverbal communication includes dancing, clothes amongst others. Nonverbal signs are interpreted differently subject to the cultural background of different societal individuals. Nonverbal communications can be used to support verbal communications to give deeper meanings to information being communicated. Verbal communication in most cases involves the use of sound. It can either take place face-to-face, over the internet, radios, televisions, or phones. Verbal communication comes in different dialects which are usually understood by respective members of a particular culture.

Sometimes the dialectical languages are hindrances to communication that take place in a multicultural setting. Otherwise, it is more popularly used than nonverbal communication. It can be used to relay information in real-time over a great distance. In most cases, verbal communication is preferred as an effective way of doing business and other official communications. Nonverbal communication may come in as reinforcement to verbal communication.

Reference List

Coombs, T & DeLeon, R 2000, Icq Fyi: Instant Communications Online: Your Qamp;a Guide to Icq. United States.

Hays, P 2001, Addressing cultural complexities in practice a framework for clinicians and counselors / Pamela A. Hays. Psychological Association, Washington, DC.

Krueger, J 2008, Nonverbal Communication. Akademische Schriftenreihe, GRIN Verlag, Norderstedt Germany.

Marshall Cavendish Corporation 2007, World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia, World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia, Marshall Cavendish, New York.

Mayinger, F 2001, Mobility and traffic in the 21st century, Engineering online library, Springer, Singapore.

Ting-Toomey, S 1999, Communicating across cultures, The Guilford communication series, Guilford Press, New York.


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