Cross-cultural communication occurs when we interact with people from different cultural backgrounds and develop successful relationships and understanding of their ideals, principles and standards. According to the Early Years Learning Framework, cross-cultural communication is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. It is an integral component of cultural competence (Early Years Learning Framework, p.16).
In 1991, Anne Stonehouse predicted that children will work with, go to school with, be friends with, live next door to and form permanent relationships with people from cultures different from their own. This prophecy has already come true for Australia where we know that six million people were born overseas and more than 260 languages are spoken (excluding Aboriginal languages). Australia is also home to over 1.5 million children of immigrant families, representing almost 33 per cent of all children in Australia (Katz & Redmond, 2009).
Families may have moved to Australia by choice or by chance. They may have come as migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, students or as visitors. In any case, the new environment presents people with various challenges which may include changes in many aspects of life including: climate, housing, food, languages, currency, friendships, jobs and taboos.
One of the most difficult things a person must face, when living in a different country is learning a new language. Not being able to speak English in Australia can make life difficult, and also leave people feeling very lonely and frustrated. Language barriers can contribute to unemployment, underemployment and also make everyday activities like accessing community services, shopping and just being able to talk to people very difficult. If children don’t speak English, they may struggle with school work and making friends.
When early childhood practitioners effectively communicate with children, parents and carers, it can strengthen their understandings about the child and build relationships with families. With a clear understanding of an individual child’s culture and approach to learning, the practitioner can maximise opportunities, and thus the learning outcomes for the child.
By working through this course, you will understand the importance of cross-cultural communication in early childhood services, and learn how to apply this method in your own service.
- National Quality Framework (NQF) and Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)
National Quality Framework (NQF) and Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)
The National Quality Framework (NQF) for early childhood education and care was introduced across Australia in 2012. The NQF sets a strong foundation for educators to embrace cultural diversity, build cultural competence and promote principles that advance the rights of the children and families within their services.
A key feature of the NQF is the introduction of a nationally approved Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). The learning outcomes of the EYLF identify that developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures is vital for achieving cultural competence.
EYLF learning outcomes for young children are:
1. Children have a strong sense of identity
2. Children are connected with and contribute to their world
3. Children have a strong sense of wellbeing
4. Children are confident and involved learners
5. Children are effective communicators
In addition, Principle 4 of the EYLF, Respect for diversity, outlines that “......Educators think critically about opportunities and dilemmas that can arise from diversity and can take action to redress unfairness. They provide opportunities to learn about similarities and difference and about interdependence and how we can learn to live together” (EYLF p 12).
In early childhood settings, cross-cultural communication capacities can support meaningful participation of parents and carers and are integral for developing cultural competence. Practitioners’ readiness to interact, communicate and partner with parents and carers from diverse cultural backgrounds can prove essential for achieving learning outcomes for their children.
- Elements of communication
Elements of communication
There may be times when a person’s speech and body language is difficult to understand. However, analysis of behaviours and situations show that the following four elements are usually present (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010).
- Verbal communication is what we say and how we say it. This includes accents, tone of voice, volume, rate of speech and slang. Language barriers can emerge if you speak too quickly, use Australian slang or jargon, provide too much information or use patronising speech. Using a demeaning emotional tone of voice is another aspect of language that can lead to misunderstandings. Limited ability in English can be a communication barrier in Australia.
- Non-verbal communication is what we say when we are not talking. Body language or non-verbal communication is a large component of communication. Our facial expressions, interpersonal space, gestures, posture, touch or eye movements can project subtle messages before we speak. A lack of awareness of your body language can convey a negative message or create misunderstandings.
- Communication styles refer to how we prefer to express ourselves. The way we communicate has a big impact on how we get on with people and get the things we want. Good communication skills can help us avoid conflict and solve problems. These skills are also important for making friends and maintaining healthy relationships. The main styles of communication include aggressive, passive or assertive (Edleman & Remond, 2005).
- Values, attitudes and prejudices are more complex and include our deep beliefs and feelings about our own identity, about the world around us, our perceptions of right and wrong and how we judge other people. It is important to be clear about our own cultural background and how it defines and limits our world view.
(Adapted from: Australian Multicultural Foundation 2010, Managing Cultural Diversity Training Manual, AMF, Victoria.)
- Characteristics of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups in Australia
Characteristics of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups in Australia
Families both across and within cultural groups vary considerably from one another and it is important for service providers and early childhood practitioners to be aware of and sensitive to this diversity. When we work with families it is important to consider:
- their language and religion
- the individualistic or collectivistic orientation of the family’s cultural group
- Cultural adaptation
The key to understanding the process of entering a new culture or increasing your cultural adaptability is to build your cross-cultural communication skills. Acculturation is the process through which people adapt in the face of cultural change (Harter, 2012). It is remarkably predictable in spite of its complexity. Cultural adjustment generally occurs in phases, each with specific emotions and characteristics. The process generally follows an up and down curve beginning with euphoria, then sinking into culture shock, then finally recovering to accept and enjoy a new culture.
Understanding the phases and characteristics of acculturation can help educators to communicate with parents and children and embed diverse cultural perspectives into their service. The phases of acculturation are: honeymoon, crisis, recovery, adjustment and acceptance. Each phase comes with its own set of emotions and cultural shocks. An individual has reached the acceptance phase when they accept bi-culturality as a way of life. However, phases may vary and may not occur in the same sequence for all individuals. Successful integration of the individual is only possible when the dominant society is open and inclusive in its orientation towards cultural diversity (Berry, 1997).
The stages of adaptation each have some commonly occurring behaviours that accompany them.
Honeymoon period: curiosity, high energy, laughter
Culture shock: depression, withdrawal, loss of cultural support
Initial adjustment: nervousness, anxiety
Mental isolation: anger, suspicion, exclusion
Acceptance and integration: self-assurance, relaxed, warmth, empathy
Bi-culturality: trust, humour, expressiveness
Adapted from the Gullahorn and Gullahorn W-Curve Model of Cultural Adaptation (Gullahorn & Gullahorn 1963)
- Practical strategies for improving cross-cultural communication
Practical strategies for improving cross-cultural communication
There are a number of practical strategies that practitioners in early childhood services can use to improve their cross cultural communication.
These strategies include:
- Native language
- Sensitivity around the topic of migration history
- Gender issues in diverse families
- Greeting families
- Addressing families
- Religious practices across cultures
Read the following information about the types of practical strategies that you could use, and then attempt the quiz.
- Best practice in cultural inclusion
Best practice in cultural inclusion
The stories below provide the perspectives of parents, children and practitioners and can give some examples of best practice in cultural inclusion. Some of the strategies mentioned can also assist early childhood practitioners to improve cultural inclusion in their services.
Read each story and then reflect on how you could apply this in your service.
It is important that as early childhood professionals who are the pedagogues for our children, we understand the acculturation process of all families in our services. This understanding will help us with our own cultural adaptability, cross-cultural communication and interpersonal skills.
Remember: All children are not the same and therefore if we are aiming to create fairness in our early childhood education and care environment we cannot promote sameness. Consider this cartoon as you complete the final activity.
- References and Resources
References and Resources
Once you have viewed all of the materials in this course and completed the activities, you will be able to download your certificate of completion here. Please note this course is not accredited.