Partager l'article ! What does “intercultural” actually mean?: That is the question I asked myself as I realized that ISIT, which was previously the “Institut s ...
That is the question I asked myself as I realized that ISIT, which was previously the “Institut supérieur des interprètes et des traducteurs” (Institute of Translators and Interpreters), had become an Intercultural Communication and Management school. For someone like me, who had swore to devote all my energies and time to translating, it was not that easy to understand this decision. Truth be told, I had no idea at the time of what “intercultural” could actually mean, so I started looking for a definition.
If you open a dictionary and look up “interculturality”, I doubt you will find it. However, you will surely come across the term “intercultural”, which refers to relationships, exchanges between different cultures or civilizations.
This definition has the virtue of being clear, but is still very general and abstract. In the end, it only made me wonder what a culture was. And then things became slightly more complicated, because the term “culture” refers not only to all intellectual aspects characteristic of a civilization (myths, values, historical, geographical, political and religious points of reference), but also to all acquired attitudes and behaviors within a community. In other words, you might say that as long as there is a distinct community, be it a people, a company or an age group, there is a distinct culture as well. To sum it up, you can think of a culture as a combination of behaviors, values and reference points acquired from experience, that are shared by a community and generate a sense of belonging to the group. Which means that our culture is an integral part of our identity, and greatly determines the way we act and think.
Up to this date, developments in transports and means of communication (like the Internet) made it easier for people to get in contact with each other. We are bound to be confronted at some point with people from foreign cultures. This is why the issue of intercultural relationships has now become an important, even essential matter. There is need to raise awareness on intercultural issues, because it is a great help to resolve conflicts or mutual incomprehension arising between persons from different cultural backgrounds.
Even though exchanging with the other is a fascinating opportunity to learn about their way of life, and their perception of their environment, sometimes things go wrong. The problems we might face are in most cases the result of our natural tendency to see things from our own perspective, without considering that the other might interpret the same fact differently. This phenomenon is called ethnocentrism. The way we interact with our surroundings, the value we place on some things, all this seems “normal” to us, as if it were only sensible way to act. If we want to overcome these difficulties, we must be aware that there are indeed cultural differences, and that our own culture is by no means an universal model everyone should align themselves with. To establish an intercultural relationship on a sound basis, you have to respect the other’s culture.
However, we have to be careful not to go to the opposite extreme. If we try too hard to understand the other and their differences, we might assimilate into their culture, and consequently deprive ourselves of our cultural identity. It would be a shame.
The important thing is to be open to the other’s culture, to understand in which way we are different but also how we are alike, in order to communicate efficiently, while remaining unbiased and avoiding acculturation. Let’s just be honest, it is far from easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But as years go by, we learn from experiences, encounters, even failures, and we gradually define our own way to harmoniously interact with others.
What about translation, then? Well, translating is by definition a part of intercultural communication. When translating into another language, you not only convey facts or feelings, you fit the message to another culture. Even if the subject seems universal or objective (for example in technical or scientific texts), words and phrases always reflect a worldview that varies according to your native language.
Of course, this article is far from giving a comprehensive description of “interculturality”, as it is a vast subject, and it will most certainly be discussed again in further articles (that is, after all, this blog’s purpose).