Cultures and communication: Culture influences on email writing and interpretation

I carried out a study on this subject some years ago and I would like to share some thoughts about the culture’s influences on email writing and content interpretation.

The study involved a number of European teachers that worked in international collaborative school projects. Their work implied email exchange as the basic activity of the Web-based collaborative projects, therefore these conclusions are based on the email exchange between teachers from different countries and hence from different cultural settings.

Stones symbolise different things to different people

Stones symbolise different things to different people

The study looked at three aspects of culture influences on email writing and interpretation: 1) what happens on the sender side 2) on the receiver side and 3) what would be the steps to follow to achieve successful email communication.

1) On the sender side email writing involves:

  • not only a message, but also some of the cultural attributes of the sender, which are reflected in the email content
  • differences in use of language registers and content structuring
  • patterns and layout shaped by the communication language
  • message accuracy and efficacy; it helps not only conveying a meaning, but also enables the receiver to perceive it from his/her own cultural perspective
  • a degree of inhibition; when email communication requires the use of a second/third language.

2) On the receiver side, email interpretation involves:

  • information to analyse both cultural differences and similarities
  • careful reading and interpretation of email; it may minimise misperceptions generated when writing in a non-native language.

3) How to achieve successful email communication:

  • both sender and receiver should be aware of the stumbling blocks that may occur in intercultural communication
  • conveying humour might be difficult
  • exchanging emails means interacting and sharing experiences
  • before engaging in an email exchange, some cultural background information about sender/receiver may reduce any online misunderstandings.

The email exchange involving people with different cultural backgrounds may indeed be the first step to achieve cultural openness since cultures are alive and without openness, a culture is in danger. In other words, communicating cultures by email may help preserve world cultures better.

In terms of raising intercultural awareness, email exchange remains a possibility to experience other cultures, learning how different and similar opinions, ideas and feelings should be shared online. In addition, learning to face cultural differences may lead to learning about tolerance and openness to other cultures, which in turn may help become more aware of one’s own culture.


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