Barriers to Cross-cultural Communication

Barriers to Cross-cultural Communication

This post is also available in: Français (French)





Grade:      K-8
Date:        Feb. 19 – 23, 2018.   (no deadline)
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Hashtag:   Please share student work and photographs of your students completing this activity using the hashtag #akgtcSA



  • To learn about different mannerisms that people have when they talk: eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, body language, and personal space.
  • To learn these differences may be a personal style or come from one’s cultural background.
  • To understand  how the meaning of these mannerisms may be misinterpreted by others, and how this can be an unintended barrier to communication.
  • To learn to understand, accept, and respect the different ways that people speak.



  • Oral Language (characteristics of oral language, vocal expression)
  • Drama (role play)
  • Social Studies/Human Geography:  (Cultures, cultural attributes)




This week we challenge your students to take on a role and experiment with the way they speak and express themselves in a number of different situations.


A.  OLDER GRADES – The Diversity Activity

Older classes are encouraged to participate in the “Diversity Activity“(download below), by Mike Hogan from The Four Skills of Cultural Diversity Competence, 1999, Wadsworth Publishing Company.

In this activity, students are divided into four groups and each group is given a different role description. i.e. Group One: speak softly, with head down looking at the ground, and don’t ask questions. Each student is then asked to pair up with someone from a different group, and find out 3 things about the other person while communicating according to their role description: .  [Note: It may be helpful to give specific instructions about the information students are to gather.]

After students have had sufficient time to talk with someone from each of the other 3 groups, a reflection and group discussion will help students to answer the questions outlined in the debrief section, or the questions below:

1  What was it like to interact with people from Group One? Group Two? Group Three? Group Four? What were your reactions?  What kind of feelings did you experience?

2  Can you guess what each group’s instructions were?  [Ask one person from each group to read their group’s role description.]  These are like the “hidden rules” we have for speaking. All cultures in the world have hidden rules for communication, and because they can be quite different from others, someone’s way of speaking can strike us as strange and different, and we can often react negatively to it. We don’t understand it, the way they speak might  make us feel uncomfortable, and since it isn’t the way that WE talk, we might judge others as doing it “wrong”.

3  How can misunderstanding someone’s mannerisms lead us to false conclusions and misunderstandings?  Could people from other cultural backgrounds be thinking and feeling and making the same misjudgements about us?!?  What kind of mannerisms do we generally use in our speech, and what might that lead others to conclude about us? Would that be correct?

4  How can you take what you’ve learned today and use it to avoid and overcome this barrier to communication when meeting people from different backgrounds.?

Please download:  The Diversity Activity



B.  YOUNGER GRADES – Why does he talk like that?

We have created an adapted version of the Diversity Activity above, for younger students. This is a drama and oral language activity done in partners, introducing different mannerisms of speaking, and allowing students to experiment with these mannerisms themselves. Student A asks a question in a normal voice, and Student B answers it following the instructions of the teacher i.e. (Look at the other person in the eyes the whole time, speak loudly, etc.)

Following the activity, discussion questions focus on identifying the different mannerisms that people use when they talk, how this can be from someone’s personal style or from their cultural background, and how we sometimes give meaning to them even though we might be quite mistaken in what we’re thinking!

Please download: Why Does He Talk Like That?



  • Downloaded Activity description appropriate for grade level



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