Culture describes the ways of a community’s life, the manner in which people conduct themselves, their design of life, and the way they cope with physical, biological, and social surroundings. The main components of culture include its systems of values, norms, beliefs, and material possession. Culture description covers belief systems; hence, it involves myths, stories, and interpretations that cause people reflect on their lives. Sometimes, people just act in a given way in a subconscious manner. The most common successful systems of beliefs are always aligned to religious beliefs. Culture involves value systems whereby, these values are created depending on the individuals’ learning systems on how they believe things should be; how people should behave particularly regarding values like trust, integrity, and sincerity. Communication forms part of culture; therefore, the way people communicate is shaped by their culture. Sometimes, people may adopt more than one culture and be competent in a combination of several cultures. However, communication remains a product of culture no matter what other culture one adopts. Cross-cultural communication is of immense significance especially in conducting business, associating in school, and learning among other areas. Some cultural communication rules may not be acceptable in another culture; therefore, in a multicultural society, the intercultural communication field has become supremely influential in business and politics. A clash of culture could be problematic to operations of international and national companies. This study explores the willingness to communicate with foreigners in Saudi Arabia as influenced by culture since communication in a diverse and multicultural world is pertinent and inevitable.
In the previous years, mainly before industrialization era, most people lived in confined of geographical areas where they were born, grew up and conducted their businesses as well as every other thing in that restrictions (Brake, 1994, p.34). They never truly came to face people from different backgrounds as their neighbours may have had closely related culture. Because of industrialization and globalization, people from extremely different cultures across the world come to interact according to their differing cultures, values, and communication style (Brake, 1994, p.35). Researchers and international leaders feel it adequate that there needs to be a better understanding of other people’s cultures; this should not be a barrier to efficient communication.
The aim of the study was to examine intercultural willingness to communicate with foreigners, together with language and ethnocentric character as barriers to communication.
Results showed that students in Riyadh have a higher tendency to express ethnocentrism as analyzed by survey questions. The highest score was 4.20 score while the lowest was 1.95 score hence the difference was exceptionally high. The ethnocentrism is unusually high because the 18 survey questions had a mean above average thus supporting the hypothesis that Riyadh students are ethnocentric. In as much as the students are willing to communicate with their counterparts from other culture, language is the main barrier (Nolan, 1999, p. 67; Samovar & Porter, 2001, p. 62). Most of the interviewee responded that they were much comfortable communicate in Arabic than in English. The reason being that most of their communication is in local language and have trouble or feel inadequate to communicate in English (Jandt, 1995, p. 86).
Other than the problem of the language barrier, the result show that due to the differences in cultural norms, lifestyle and style of communication between the westerners and the Saudi Arabian, communication would be hindered (Chen, & Starosta, 1999, p. 46). The westerners are more outgoing, confident, egotistical, and bold; however, the Saudi Arabians are slightly introverted, hesitant, and timid. Because of that, Riyadh citizens may not initiate communication with foreigners their wish and willingness to do so notwithstanding (Chen & Starosta, 1999, p. 29; Chen, 2010, p.8).
From the GENE questionnaire interviews, it is pertinent to note that there was varied level of willingness to communicate hence the average was almost 50/50. The result deduced that Riyadh citizens had low willingness to communicate to foreigners or people from a different culture. This inference came about because the values recorded were slightly above average at 2.97 deviating on 0.47. The unwillingness hinges on the fact that, a considerable number of Riyadh students are self-centred people and express ethnocentrism and full of pride and respect for their culture. Therefore, they consider themselves perfect or belonging to superior culture compared to the visitors (Neuliep, 2002, p. 207; Samovar & Porter, 2000, p. 24). This fact besides English as the language barrier forms another factor that affects the ability of the Saudi citizens to exercise intercultural willingness to communicate (Lustig & Koester, 1999, p. 102). It is true that Saudis genuinely hold their culture in high regard and, therefore, believe it is the best manner of conduct compared to other cultures and lifestyle of the world. Saudi culture forms an integral part of lifestyle, and it is drawn from their religion (Islam); therefore, it has string bearing to their communication behaviour (Chen & Starosta, 2011, p. 136).
An analysis across gender brings up intriguing outcomes since there is a clear variation between the male and female citizens. The male interviewee had only two scores below average and four above average. The highest score was 3.10 and lowest 2.35 (33% was below average and 67% above average), showing that their willingness to communicate with different culture was high enough. Female citizens had only one score above average and five (16% above average and 84% below average). Therefore, Female’s willingness to communicate with foreigners is remarkably low (Dean & Popp, 1990, p. 34), for female students are more conservative compared to the male students (Mulac, et al., 1996, p. 117), as the willingness is inspired by level of exposure, behaviour and personality, (Grant, 2008, p. 307).
When communicating to foreigners, the different regions studied revealed consistent and related patterns of communication. In Northern Riyadh, the citizens tend to modify their communication style and behaviour so that they can be eloquent and elaborate. As such, they speak slowly, word by word, clearer and use the basic words in the sentence to reinforce what they mean. Sometime they sign to enhance efficient communication. In Southern Riyadh citizens, cultural identity is the prime determinant of willingness to communicate. Cultural identity determines individual perception of the foreigners, therefore, influencing willingness for communication (McCroskey, 2003, p.78; McCroskey & Richmond, 1990, p. 77). Eastern Riyadh citizens are more exposed hence higher willingness to communicate with foreigner. The Western Riyadh citizens seem to be highly exposed to foreigners and have a friend from a different part of the world, therefore, readily communicates with foreigners.
With the recent rapid growth in business, education, and politics (globalization), intercultural communication has become a critical factor across the globe. A subsequent challenge is the consequences of intercultural communication troubles. It is easy to conclude that ethnocentrism affects willingness to communicate with other people from different cultures. However, this mainly affects those who are ignorant of other people’s culture or the sheer conservatives. This barrier could be a serious hindrance to communication. The difficulties emerge because of the misunderstanding of some of the aspects of cross-cultural communications, which affect even the elite. Ethnocentrism is accurately descriptive since people of Arab culture perceive their culture as the only valid culture and their behaviour appropriate. They consider their values absolute and distinct. However, with exposure, they tend to accept these differences and can willingly communicate.
The English language was another noticeable barrier to the willingness to communicate among the Riyadh students. English can be difficult in three ways, viz. poor translation, difficulty in expressing subtle distinctions between languages, and variation based entre on cultural beliefs even among speakers of the same language. Most respondent from Saudi Arabs are uncomfortable mainly to speak because they were likely to make translation errors. The common language for them has been Arabic, and most have accent problem or pronunciation difficulty hence, not at ease to initiate communication, as they fear it may not make sense at all. Attitude towards accent and dialect or the general style of talking also created a barrier. English has accent loyalty, and if one does not speak in proper accent, it sounds funny and inappropriate, which scares away Riyadh students. Arabian students fear that their Arabic accent would affect their English hence exposing their unfamiliarity, and that makes them uncomfortable to communicate with foreigners.
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