What is cultural diversity and why is it important?

Cultural diversity is what makes the world so appealing. Language and culture go hand in hand. Each language and culture provide culturally diverse challenges. Well, today we’re going to go a little bit further and extend this to say that communication and culture are equally relatable.

Today more than ever, we must all demonstrate cultural awareness in order to communicate successfully. Cultural diversity can relate to language, symbols, facial expressions or even food! Therefore, it’s important we have all bases covered when communicating with another culture.

Let cultural diversity be central in your globalisation strategy!


Everything says something

We must take great care of many aspects of our discourse with a view to an effective globalisation strategy. Cultural diversity includes every aspect of communication, and communication is not just about words. It has many associated features, mainly visual, which are all interculturally linked.

This happens at both the written level and oral level, so all factors must be considered when translating or interpreting.


Cultural diversity in the written word

Texts aren’t just texts anymore. Now more than ever, multimodality is the order of the day. The majority of texts that are produced end up on the Internet, a medium in which texts merge with the visual.

The meaning of symbols in different cultures

What one culture understands in one way can have reverse meanings in another. Although we believe that there is an international culture, and in some ways, there is, this doesn’t detract from the fact that there is cultural diversity today. Here’s some clear examples:

  • The swastika is totally forbidden in any Western culture (and no wonder) because of its symbolic relationship with Nazism. In the Hindu world, it’s a symbol that evokes the sun, good luck and the evolution of the universe. It’s that appreciated that there are even some people named Swastik!
  • The dragon is usually associated with something evil or perverse in the cultural tradition of the West. In China, it’s a positive symbol associated with the sun or good emperors.
  • It’s common to see people with a satanic appearance whose symbolism is the Star of David. In the Jewish world, this would be offensive, since the star is the greatest symbol of Judaism.

Why colours perceptin change around the world?

Another key factor in understanding cultural diversity in the world are colours. They often lead us to related concepts, and there are variations in their understanding across cultures:

  • A colour can represent opposite things. White is the classic example: whilst in the West it’s the colour associated with birth or life, in other countries such as China or Japan it’s the colour of mourning.
  • Another example is the combination of colours and their association with flags. The mixture of green and white probably doesn’t have the same associated symbolism in Ireland (where it would be linked to patriotism, either positively or negatively) as it would in France or Italy.


Gestures in different languages

We’ve all been there. You’re on holidays, trying to speak to someone in their language and they can’t understand you. We keep on trying but no luck. That’s when you resort to the gestures, usually with too much emphasis. Do you realise that gestures are not universal? You’ll be lucky if cultural diversity hasn’t been slapped you in the face!

  • In the UK, holding up two fingers towards someone is the same as doing a “sleeve cut” gesture in Spanish. Careful when ordering those beers if you are Spanish…
  • The “OK” gesture, making a circle with the index finger and thumb, is offensive in countries such as Brazil or Turkey.
  • A thumbs up is a very positive, pleasant symbol, right? Well, be careful sending it through WhatsApp to an Iranian person, or they’ll think you want to insert it into some orifice in their body (and no, it’s not their nose).


An expert in translation or interpretation is aware of cultural diversity

Symbols, colours, gestures…You’d think they would be universal, but you’d be wrong. To communicate with people from another country, you must remember their mental frameworks are different so you should get to know their culture.

The benefits of cultural diversity are that it makes us unique and provides arrange of outlooks and contrasts which makes the world so appealing. A professional translator or interpreter will be familiar with the cultures in which they work with. They will guide you and avoid you making mistakes when using certain symbols. They will also know about cultural references that you could even use for your marketing campaigns, such us bad luck and good luck 13th.

Any questions about cultural differences? Contact us!

About the author

Oscar Nogueras

Es el CEO de Ontranslation y dedica algunos ratos libres a escribir en este blog para compartir sus conocimientos sobre internacionalización, cross-border ecommerce y Traducción SEO. No es para menos, ya que entre su formación cuenta con una licenciatura en filología inglesa, un máster en tradumática, un posgrado en elearning y un MBA. En definitiva, una declaración de intenciones donde la cultura y los idiomas se sirven mezclados, no agitados.

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