By Frederick Philander
Intercultural communication nowadays cannot be a matter of a small well-educated elite or that of the economy. In these times of accelerated globalization and almost unlimited mobility, it forms part of the “soft skills” essential to a comprehensive education.
This is the view of Austrian social anthropologist, Sabina Bernhard, who has been with learners from four selected Namibian and two Austrian schools on an intercultural communication project since September.
“The computer and internet connect people. They enable information to be exchanged for both private and business purposes every day. However, this exchange takes place almost exclusively on intra-cultural level. The reasons for this are that, on the one hand, the people who are communicating share similar interests and, on the other hand, they are bound by a common first language,” she said.
According to her the inadequate command of a language – irrespective of the fields of interest – is the major obstacle to intercultural exchange.
“The inability to communicate means that the foreigner continues to be regarded as such, and so the picture gained of the potential communication partner, being unaware of his/her philosophy of life, needs, interests etc., is based on, or at least influenced by, prejudices and stereotype concepts. The spatial, physical contact with people of other cultures, and therefore the obligation to communicate is a matter of fact, which we have to deal with,” she said.
The necessity for direct confrontation with unknown cultures, in ignorance of their ways of thinking and acting, their values etc., unfortunately leads to conflicts which, normally, should be avoidable.
“For exactly this reason, as an ethnologist, I initiated a school project that will contribute towards the promotion of intercultural understanding. Two classes of 16-year-old pupils in Namibia and two in Austria are being encouraged to communicate with their respective foreign partners via web blogs and Internet forums in English,” Bernhard said.
The four Namibian schools involved in the project are A. Shipena Secondary School, Eldorado Secondary School, Canisianum RC High School in Outapi and Erundu Senior Secondary School in Oshakati.