Korea. A cross cultural communication analyzed

| June 30, 2002
Korea. A cross cultural communication analyzed

Keywords: No Keyword

Kim, James P.

This work will analyze cross-cultural communications between Korean native speakers and myself, and will review the literature to date. I have chosen Koreans as the report emanates from Pusan, Korea, an international port city of some 4 million Koreans. Pusan Korean is spoken, and said by all, to be a ‘vulgar’ dialect of Korean. Pronunciation of verb endings features a strong ‘imnida’/’imnika/imniga’ sound at the end of the sentence (the verb takes final position s-o-v with stress on the final syllable), whereas the Seoul dialect ends with a soft verb ‘yeao’ sound. Arguelles. A and Kim. J (1999:2) note that the Seoul Korean is the most “…prestigious with undisputed hegemony…” and is the standard for good Korean. English, however, is not yet an official L2 despite its gaining popularity, and few adults speak English, for communicative English is only a recent entry to the school curriculum.


This work will analyze cross-cultural communications between Korean native speakers and myself, and will review the literature to date. I have chosen Koreans as the report emanates from Pusan, Korea, an international port city of some 4 million Koreans. Pusan Korean is spoken, and said by all, to be a ‘vulgar’ dialect of Korean. Pronunciation of verb endings features a strong ‘imnida’/’imnika/imniga’ sound at the end of the sentence (the verb takes final position s-o-v with stress on the final syllable), whereas the Seoul dialect ends with a soft verb ‘yeao’ sound. Arguelles. A and Kim. J (1999:2) note that the Seoul Korean is the most “…prestigious with undisputed hegemony…” and is the standard for good Korean. English, however, is not yet an official L2 despite its gaining popularity, and few adults speak English, for communicative English is only a recent entry to the school curriculum.
Thus the conclusion will point to substantial problems arising from cross cultural communication breakdown, triggered by cross-cultural differences that cannot be easily reconciled. It will also be submitted that Beal’s (1992) conclusions are distinguishable from the Korean scenario and hence his analyses may not be applicable to Asian/Australian/ cross-cultural situations. However, in so far as his conclusion supports the Crozet and Liddicoat (1999) thrust, namely, “…that in every language…there is a gap between what is literally being said and what is meant” (Beal, 1992, 51), it will be submitted that that has a broader application in a Korean Australian communication than the Australian-French scenario.

This work will proceed, after an analysis of what is a cross cultural communication with an overview of the Korean culture and the dictates of modern living as are rooted in Confucianism. Unless one has a clear and intricate understanding of the Korean hierarchical system, then right from the beginning handshake and welcome or greeting words between an Australian and a Korean, there may be confusion, misinterpretations of feeling, and possible ‘loss of face’ by the Korean from this beginning encounter.

Korea, often described as a mono-cultural society, does not have significant multi-lingual communities as in Australia, thus a Korean’s encounter with a non-Korean speaker may be the first time for him/her. Quasi diglossia is also a part of the language because of the Confucian respect structure; however, this is not a factor in cross cultural communication breakdown. Cheon (2002) notes that Koreans are taught in their L2 classes to resolve communication breakdowns by reverting to their L1, thus arguably exacerbating a cross cultural communicative breakdown that the Korean may encounter.

Next the work will consider what has become known as ‘Konglish.’ Konglish can be described as Korean English speaking with Korean syntax. This is unique in so far as it provides and adds new words to the English language, and may express complex Korean words, meanings or interactions in but a single English word, the meaning of which may not be readily apparent to a native English speaking person.

Finally an analysis of Korean body language will be presented along with Koreans understanding of non-Korean body language. Then using the Saville-Troike (1989) framework a series of cross-cultural communications between myself and groups of Koreans will be presented and analyzed.

It is expected that the results will show a general absence of awareness of cross-cultural complexities on both Australian and Korean sides, but the Beal (1992:50) conclusion that “… it can take years for a speaker of a second language to work out what is actually going wrong in his/her encounters with native speakers,” whilst a correct analysis especially in a Korean/Australian context, is wrongly condemning the victim (the cross cultural participants) and ignoring the cause, namely deficient L2 language programs that lack cross cultural specificity.

Cross Cultural Communication:
Communication, for these purposes is limited to oral communications. Beal (1992:24) suggests a cross-cultural communication is a dual part study of two systems meeting. His ‘system’ is two persons from different countries (as opposed to Thomas, 1984) generating “…content, sequencing and conversational style…” and secondly, includes their misunderstandings and “…uncomfortable moments” (1992:25). The first seems a subjective criterion, yet the latter seems objective, thus surely adding a degree of uncertainty to the analysis. Fairclough, 1989, (quoted in Wardhaugh, 1998:304) suggests an element of power between the two system communicators is often present which may lead to cross cultural communicative misunderstandings, which, it seems, must therefore include that which is found in a Confucian hierarchical structure.

Thus Beal’s (1992) definition needs a pre-analysis of any ‘power basis’ before a subjective/objective approach can be applied to the misunderstanding. Kramsch (2001:81) adds an element of expected ‘…culture shock’ that attaches to a cross cultural communication, yet without any explanation as to what this actually is and does in a cross cultural communication. Possibly this conforms to Beal’s (1992) uncomfortable moments.

Saville-Troike (1989:110) raise caveats on ethnographers working in other cultures, and it is submitted those caveats extend to a cross-cultural communication. Conversely to the above opinions of workable cross cultural communications is the opinion of Neustpuny (1988) who suggests that cross-cultural communications (Japanese Australian) can never work until the communicators have learnt about the society and culture of the other speaker. Clearly he is wrong based on the evidence at large, for that would suggest all cross cultural communications fail. That is too wide an assumption. Nishida, Hammer and Wiseman (1998:499) studying Japanese-American cross cultural communication, prefer the term, ‘types and degrees of difficulties’ that can occur, thus limiting the Neustpuny (1988) argument.

Korean traditions within the confines of Confucianism.
No analyses of a communicative event in Korea can be complete without a brief expose of the fundamental influence on the Korean system, namely the principles of neo-Confucianism as seen in the 21st century. Confucius advocated social harmony, building of ethical virtues and an ideal state. Combined with this is the Confucian notion of filial piety that has greatly influenced Korean life in all walks, and this manifests itself in the communicative system. Diglossia, using the Fishman (1980:3) definition, (quoted in Wardhaugh, 1998) requires schooling to correctly use the high form that features in terms of junior senior and family communications.

Thus Confucianism strongly influences the learner’s characteristics and dictates the Korean teachers’ teaching style. This translates into rigid rules of communication, which are likewise taught as a compulsory subject. W. Lee (1996) concludes the Confucian influence and ethos manifests itself in Japan, (Korea’s neighbor) in 6 educationally definable areas, and arguing therefore, Asia, as a whole, being Confucionist oriented has inflexible rules of inter or cross cultural communication that stem from basic schooling education. So, a cross-cultural communication between Confucionist based language societies and a non-Confucionist tradition language culture (Australia) is one when the non-Confucionist culture speaker cannot but help breach cultural traditions and norms. Cook (2001:152) notes the “…insults to the Confucian ethos…” by western teachers in China, which advances W. Lee’s (1996) proposition.

The word ‘learning’ according to J. Lee (2002:10), was used by Confucius as an equivalent to ‘education,’ and ‘the learning’ is interrelated with virtue and education. Only through ethical education can the ideal of a virtuous nation exist. This is very prevalent in contemporary Korean education, with language its prime medium. Of course not all Koreans follow the principles of Confucianism; indeed the sometimes competing principles of Buddhism are equally strong. Nevertheless, the dictates of a society strongly influenced by Buddhism and Confucianism produce certain rules of engagement in communicating. Depending upon one’s age, certain honorific endings in speech are mandatory. The rule is that the junior must use honorific speech to a person his senior. This also translates into the ‘degree of bow’ upon meeting. The Korean family has been traditionally ruled by the Confucian philosophy that emphasizes patriarchal authority and hierarchical relationships. Koo (1992) suggests this relationship is diminishing, however, Kim (2000), suggests in fact a strengthening through realignment of the traditional rules of filial piety, a view supported by Oh, Y. (2002) who sees a contemporary “…Confucian bound Korean society…”.

Whichever view is correct, Koreans still adhere to formal modes and rules of communication that would be unfamiliar to an Australian.

However, the teaching of the English language throughout Korea does not utilize the principles of Inter Cultural Language teaching, (Crozet and Liddicoat, 1997). Thus a meeting of cross cultural communicators, say Australian and Korean, is going to face, on the one hand, the Korean Confucian rules, combined with the ‘evasiveness’ (Beal: 1992: 39) of the Australian speaker via the medium of English. This leads, as will be examined, to misunderstandings, and a possible belief by both speakers that each other is rude. This can often mean the Korean ‘loses face’, which is a tragic result. Loss of face to an Australian (Beal, 1990:26) must be clearly distinguished from loss of face (chaemyoun) by a Korean. The Korean term has far greater meaning than the western words and meaning, and includes a sensitivity to the other view. “Chaemyoun and honor are more important than life and death,” (Yang, S. 2002).

According to Kramsch (2001:46), communication, whether cross cultural or otherwise, has, as it’s ultimate aim, the need to “…protect one’s own and other participant’s face at all times”. With respect to the learned author, it is submitted that this is not so in a cross cultural communication between Korean or Japanese and Australians for it does not take into account the arguments of Yang, (2002). And according to J. Lee, (2002:130), “…understanding the Confucian concept of feelings or emotions may provide westerners with a refreshing and original philosophy regarding the nature of human beings and the meaning of Confucian values.”

In addition to the ‘chaemyoun’, is the ‘Chong’, a Korean sentiment that attaches to all communications and interactions, (Suh, 1996). Thus, if we return to misunderstandings and uncomfortable moments, (Thomas, 1984) it is suggested that they both fall within the Chaemyoun, which the Australian cannot fully comprehend, as opposed to the ‘Chong’, which it is suggested is more in line with the Beal (1992:43) view, “To be nice seems to be an important Australian cultural value…”

Passmore (1985) quoted in McMeniman and Evans (1997:4), discusses “sympathetic imagination” wherein he describes one of the critical skills of language learning as being the understanding and feelings of what the other speaker is thinking, and why they are acting as they are; this almost being akin to the ‘Chong.’ However, as noted by McMeniman and Evans (1997:7), this aspect of language learning is scarce in Australia, and almost non-existent in Korean language learning. UNESCO (Korea UNESCO Cultural Exchange Services, 2002) run a cultural awareness program on a limited basis that attempts to introduce culture to school students, however, it does not facilitate cross cultural communications to any significant degree.

The term Konglish (Korean-English) is commonly used by Koreans to indicate the word they have spoken is what they believe to be a Korean invention using English word(s) to describe something, and that that word is not in common English usage. Konglish is part of their every day speech usage. Konglish has different forms, and applying the definition of Akmajian, Demers, Farmer & Harnish (1993), certain Konglish words are not code switching, but in fact ‘borrowing’ for “…the foreign words come to be used as regular vocabulary items”, (1993:260), and are listed in the Korean dictionary.

Some English words are now parts of everyday Korean speak, but there has been scarce academic attention paid to this important subject. As such, Koreans believe, wrongly, that Konglish is bad English and insitu western educators with little understanding of the subject agree it is bad English. Kent (2000) shows clear lack of understanding pertaining to this subject yet authoritatively commenting upon it. It has been estimated that there are approximately 700 words in common usage in Konglish.

Konglish may have it roots in one of three sources. Black English spoken by Afro-American soldiers during the Korean War (1950-1953) is believed to have introduced many Black English words communicatively misunderstood at the time, but have since lived on in a Koreanised form. Characteristics of BE (Akmajian, Demers, Farmer and Harnish, 1993:238), can be seen in Konglish.

Secondly the Korean language often has one word that would take the English a phrase to describe. Thus they invent, devise, or transpose the closest single dictionary word meaning possible. Finally, some Korean words may be a combination of the two languages, ‘air-con, remote-con, side mirror’. Does this become code switching? Kramsch (2001:125) suggests that to be defined code switching the speaker must be bi-lingual. This narrows the view of Akmajian, Demers, Farmer and Harnish, (1993). Defining ‘bi-lingual’ thus becomes crucial in determining if a Korean is code switching or borrowing. Ellis (1996:696), suggests code switching is a branch of intra-speaker variation, and provides a definition that would exclude Konglish in all forms from code switching, for his code switching requires more than the juxtaposition of a single word and requires “…speaker changes from one variety of language to another variety or language in accordance with situational or purely personal factors.” Romaine’s view (2000:56), tends to support this latter view. Nishimura (1997) cited in McGloin, (1998:546) suggesting two forms of code switching, namely ‘real’ and ‘symbolic’ still seems to exclude Konglish.

Whatever view, it is clear more academic research is needed into the various forms of Konglish and its origins and usage to make a definitive statement. Nevertheless, an analysis of contemporary Korean may suggest that code switching does not occur in the ‘older generation’ wherein single occurrences of an English word are juxtaposed into standard Korean, however, code switching may be coming part of everyday Korean speaking in the younger generation. That issue requires greater research however.

Konglish words can cause misunderstanding and confusion, but the majority may be no more confusing than some British English is to American English. The words below highlight the misunderstanding and confusion that Konglish can give rise to in a cross-cultural communication.

(a) consent (long first syllable) – is what an Australian would call an electric power point. Clearly here we have an incorrect dictionary transposition. The link between ‘consent ~ to agree’ and electric plug is apparent.
(b) skinship – is what the Koreans call hugging, patting or any bodily touching, such as in family relationships.
(c) handle – is what the Koreans call the car steering wheel.
(d) hotchkiss – is what the Koreans call a stapler. It is the name of the inventor and manufacturer in England who exported his staplers to Japan in 1890. Following the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910-1945 it can be seen the word became a loan word from Japanese English, (Pellowe, 1998).
(e) eye shopping – is a derivation from the English phrase ‘window shopping’.
(f) fighting – is used by a Korean giving encouragement to a football team for example; ‘come on team’ = fighting.

The list is much longer and can be confusing when viewed/heard for the first time, but it does confirm that cross cultural communications in English with a Korean, apart from the dimension of cultural conflict, also have a secondary element of lexical confusion.

Korean Body Language.
Even with my five years of Korean living experience, I find that it is difficult to assess Korean body language in cross cultural communicating. Whilst little research seems to pertain to Korean body language, there is valuable information on Japanese body language, which has applications in Korea. Argyle (1975:52) notes the Japanese have an implied rule that causes negative emotions not to be displayed, and that their smile may in fact be “…used as a mask”, (1975:52). Like Japan, a smile in Korea may be used to mask embarrassment or unwillingness to give a negative answer.

This in part is because the Korean does not know where to place the non-Korean on the highly structured Confucian scale of respect. Similarly, a response to a question by a foreigner that would be perceived by the foreigner as a straight out lie, is in fact an important part of the Korean response in not losing face, or more correctly, saving face. The Korean believes his answer has resolved the communication for the moment at least, whereas his non-answer would have made him/her look foolish, which to a Korean is a very serious matter and may prevent any further communication from in fact taking place.

Despite Kramsch’s (2001:46) terminology of protecting the other’s face, this ideal simply cannot work in an Australian Korean cross cultural encounter, for one cannot protect what one cannot see.
Kudoh and Matsumoto (1985:1443) note that Japanese non-verbal clues concerning status are very discernable to the Japanese as opposed to emotions of like-dislike that are not noticeable. These clues are not apparent to westerners. Similarly, in Korea, non verbal clues as to one’s status in Korean society are easily noticeable to a Korean via a set of factors including, but certainly not limited to, age, name, family, position, things that an initial cross cultural communication would fail to elicit.

Touching may also cause foreigner confusion. Korean dialogue, like Japanese, includes a lot of touching, and same sex touching. This is a sign of respect and trust between the two speakers, though a westerner can easily mistake touch for sexual innuendo. An excellent expose of the complexities of Japanese/American cross cultural communications and body language is seen in the Rising Sun (motion picture 2001; S. Connery) wherein the similarities to Korean cross cultural difficulties also appear. Protocols and rules of oral engagement clearly show the misunderstandings and confusion inherent in such communications.

Unlike the Japanese, according to Argyle, (1975:60), where touching is not done in public, Korea is quite the opposite. If a Korean touches his interlocutor (same sex) during speech, such as holding his hand, or placing a hand on the other’s leg, it is in the eyes of the Korean speaker and Korean listener that he/she trusts that communicative partner and feels he/she can open his/her heart and soul to the listener. Touch is the sign this has occurred. However, the westerner will/may feel a degree of shock or even horror and wonder why the Korean is touching him/her.

Although an extensive evaluation of Korean body language is beyond the scope of this work, it is important to note that same or similar types of body language are not necessarily pan-cultural, and that cross cultural body posture meaning is still an area in need of more research, (Kudoh and Matsumoto, 1985). However, the caveats are clear. Any cross cultural communication with a Korean has a potential to lead to the ‘loss of face’ syndrome described herein. A non-Korean will fail to read the Korean body language, unless, as noted by Saville Troike, (1989:110) “…extensive background study of the community…” has first been carried out. It is submitted that the word ‘extensive’ means ‘very extensive.’

Western body language:
The other side of the coin is how the Korean’s perceive western body language and its complexities, (Argyle, 1975). However research is mostly one sided, namely body language that a westerner exudes, yet language is a two-way stream and so is body language. Each member in a dyadic cross-cultural communication needs to recognize his opposite’s signals. Korean hand movements are generally suppressed, and whereas Japanese fear overt western arm movements, (Rising sun, 2001, motion picture) Koreans find them descriptive and clue giving. Korean eye contact (gaze) depends upon a set of complex factors associated with the Confucionist hierarchal structure. Generally, overt cues are difficult to interpret when observing a Korean in a communication dyad.

Analyzing cross cultural communications:
A: A meeting between writer and a principal of a Korean Elementary school.
B. A talk between writer and three Korean transplant surgeons.
C. A conversation between writer and Korean co-teacher.A.

The writer is visiting a Korean elementary school. It is a large school of about 1,800 students. The purpose of the visit is to meet the Korean English teachers and discuss English teaching methods. However it is customary to meet the school principal before the teacher sessions begin. I am aware this is likely to occur so I am prepared and I am wearing a dark suit and tie. The Korean English teacher conducts me to the principal’s office. It is my expectation that she (the Korean English teacher) will not speak again until the meeting is over. The office is spacious with a large comfortable sofa close to the principal’s desk, many flowers, and photos of past principals adorning the walls, and large Korean flag.

As I enter the room the elderly male principal, wearing suit and tie, stands, and with hand motion (palm down, fingers curling up in the traditional Korean ‘come here’ body language, beckons me in. I am expecting brief words from him but much formality.

1. Principal. Welcome to my school (in Korean)
2. AB. Thank you (in Korean)
Right hands meet for the ‘very soft hand shake’ and we both bow about 20 degrees.
3. AB. My name is Paul. I am happy to meet you (in English)
4. Hand embrace now stops.
5. Principal. Sit down (in English)
6. Both sit down; the third person also sits down after receiving the cue (body language) from the principal.
7. AB. Thank you
8. Principal. My name is E. E Chul An
9. AB. I am very happy to be in your school Mr Lee
10. Principal. My card
11. Principal hands his business card to me
12. AB. this is your school number
13. Principal. Yes this is it
14. Where are you from
15. AB. Hoju (Korean word for Australia)
16. Principal. Ahh very beautiful Sydney Opera House
17. AB. Yes have you been there
18. Principal. No (1) where is your family
19. AB. I am single my mother and father are in Sydney
20. Principal. ohh (Korean words to 3rd person) coffee green tea
21. AB. No thank you I must get to the teacher class and begin the meeting
22. All three people stand. Principal again shakes hand, bows, and follows me to the door.
23. AB.It was very nice meting you
24. Principal. Come and see me any time
25. Me. Thank you I will

A successful cross cultural communication with a high degree of success. Misunderstandings and confusion did not enter this event. My speed of speech was deliberately slowed to about one word per second to facilitate his understanding. Line 18 may have caused an Australian to give the wrong answer during a first time communication. In this situation, the principal was not concerned ‘where’ my family was, but in fact was I married. Whereas some Koreans will pry this information from a westerner (for it is important in the Confucian hierarchy) this Korean used neutral words that I recognized. Note in Line 20 the principal speaks to the Korean English teacher. I understand his words: he wonders why I am not married. However, his knowledge of western culture prevents him from asking me directly, which is often a common Korean trait in establishing hierarchical structures.

Noteworthy features of this event are the traditional Korean handshake, being very weak and limp, (the firm Australian hand shake would shock the Korean into thinking the foreigner was rude) and the ritual with the business card, wherein it is my duty in Korean tradition to examine it carefully and ask some question, irrespective of whether I need the answer or not. This is being polite and respectful. As expected the junior teacher did not speak throughout the meeting merely bowing upon departure.

B. Setting.
In a major public hospital. I am with three kidney transplant surgeons who like practicing English. The ‘president’, owner of the hospital, (senior doctor) and two ‘junior’ surgeons are seated at a rectangular table in the president’s office. The president is about 50, the juniors are about 45. It is a bi-weekly informal meeting that follows traditional Confucian speech constraints whereby the president dictates when the junior’s speak.

AB. What did you do on the weekend
President. I played
AB. Oh where did you play?
President. In the temple I played in the temple
AB. Of course and after praying.


Koreans have great difficulty pronouncing and distinguishing the letters ‘l’ and ‘r’, (note the recent research in Japan on l/r pronunciation difficulties, ((Yamada and Tohkura, 1992))). In this situation the senior doctor wished to tell me that he had been praying in the temple on the weekend. However, his inability to pronounce the letter ‘r’ meant he produced an ‘l’ sound, thus the sentence meaning radically changed from the intended meaning. Again this is a situation of rapid understanding that one doesn’t play in a temple, that Koreans have trouble pronouncing ‘r’, thus the intended meaning was probably that he ‘prayed’ in the temple. Here we have two competing principles for a native English teacher.

Firstly the principle that an immediate correction of his pronunciation error is called for, (Enright, 1991, 391), and secondly, that to correct a ‘senior’ in front of the ‘junior’s’ may mean losing face to the senior Korean. Thus, after a small time interval, I continued with what was most probably the next correct question in the conversation. The likelihood of a Korean playing in a temple being remote meant that it was safe for me to gamble on my next utterance. A later reference to the pronunciation of ‘l’ ad ‘r’ sounds was made such that it was accepted by all participants as a valued point of good English speaking and with no reference to any past mistake. However, the situation, had it not been for my experience, may have led to loss of face for the Korean, and embarrassment or confusion to an Australian if the word ‘play’ had been followed up on, namely; “Why do you play in a temple?”

C. Setting
In a classroom with middle aged male Korean English teacher. The purpose of this was to demonstrate a team-teaching situation to a class of about 50 male Middle school students.

AB. What page shall we begin on Mr. Kim
Kim Oh really
AB.. I see ok let’s practice a role-play for the students
Kim ok

Communication breakdown is the feature of this interaction. Clearly Mr. Kim did not understand my simple question. His English ability (known to me before hand) was low despite his being an English teacher. Note the period of time between his answer and my response. His answer confused me for it was not appropriate. However, the situation required careful tact; asking the question again would have caused Mr. Kim to lose face in front of his class. Thus in the long interval I had to plan a sentence that would seem to the student’s that I was satisfied with their teacher’s answer and was ready to proceed. Thus my response had to indicate his answer was correct and my next words would follow naturally. A difficult situation encompassing various aspects of cross cultural communication breakdown, confusion, misunderstanding and face saving.

A more appropriate question and non verbal action at the outset from me would have been holding the text book, open it anywhere, show him the book, and ask my question whilst looking at the book, thus giving him extra overt clues as to the meaning of my speech. This situation involved Mr. Kim’s lack of English understanding and my lack of demonstrative body language to assist Mr. Kim receive extra cues from my oral question. The end result was, for Mr. Kim, good, for he appeared before his students as a master of English communication, however, from my aspect, it was confusion and a hope to avoid a potentially bad situation in front of so many witnesses. In terms of Nishida, Hammer and Wiseman (1998) the cross cultural communication had on Mr. Kim’s side, a good degree of success, yet on my side, a limited degree of cross cultural communicative satisfaction.

The question calls for a review of a cross cultural communication. It was initially hypothesized based on existing literature and the writer’s experience that the task would be subject to multiple conflicting influences. The easygoing nature of an Australian (Beal: 1992) versus the highly structured and formalized Korean Confucian hierarchical system.

My preliminary cross cultural communication between the writer and a group of Koreans was abandoned for the results would not have been authentic, and misleading on any follow up analysis, for the hierarchical rules of speaking and structured silence would have produced inconclusive data. As long as one Korean is perceived as the senior then all others will defer to him/her out of respect. Once that senior has spoken, he/she will often direct who is to answer. Juniors tend to remain steadfastly silent despite an apparent desire to actively contribute out of turn to the dialogue. Thus overlapping samples of speech would not have been a feature. Note however, that in some situations of cross cultural communication, Cheng (2000) suggests that the observer paradox, as reported by Cukor-Avila (2000), is negated after a period of time has been spent between observer and participant. In her cross-cultural communication, she, a Chinese national, interviewed male Koreans.

However, the distinction to an Australian interviewing/ communicating with Koreans is substantially different as the element of Confucian rules is lacking on one side. Thus, as noted by Cukor-Avila (2000:254), unless certain criteria are carefully examined pre interview, then “…we can never know to what extent these data represent the typical linguistic behavior of informants”.

Nevertheless, the results supported the initial belief that a cross cultural communication could contain possible elements of confusion and misunderstanding. The uncomfortable moments, Beal (1992:25) were not observed in two of the three communications as the communications were spontaneous and set in an atmosphere where I had previously been placed by my Korean counterparts on their hierarchical table, thus eliminating a source of their initial confusion they would normally encounter with a first time meeting with an Australian.

However, the results of a Korean/Australian/Asian cross cultural communication will depend upon a set of complex factors, not limited to but centered upon;
A. the age of the foreign interviewer (communicator) and nationality
his perceived status in the Confucian system
length of time within the community
his/her physical appearance
his/her dress code
his/her educational qualifications
male or female
B. age and sex of interviewee (communicator)
university background
family roots
job/position in society

C. group cross cultural communications will be subject to ‘A’ and ‘B’ plus
the rules of status, i.e. who is senior.
It was mentioned at the outset that communication breakdown or difficulties should not be blamed on the communicators, but the educational programs that fail to disclose the true nature of cross cultural communications. Despite the suggestions of McMeniman and Evans (1997), Crozet and Liddicoat (1997) et al, that cross-cultural approaches become an embedded component of language pedagogy, the evidence at large in Korea suggests this does not occur in any meaningful manner. In Korean L2 programs, this aspect receives lip service in government textbooks, however, until teachers are taught this aspect of education (Chisholm, 1994, quoted in McMeniman and Evans, 1997:3), it is arguable that even text references are not appropriate.

Cross cultural communications will succeed, but as Nishida, Hammer and Wiseman (1998) note, the analysis must be seen in terms of degrees of success. However, this in itself is only part of the guide, for whilst the Australian may have observed or perceived the communication as a success, to a certain degree, the Korean mask (smile) and answer may have hidden from view a very serious infraction of cultural norms that may or may not ever become apparent.


Akmajian, A., Demers, R., Farmer, A. & Harnish, R. 1993, Linguistics. An Introduction to Language And Communication. The MIT Press, London, England.

Argyle, M. 1975, Bodily Communication, 2nd edn, Methuen and Co, NY.

Arguelles, A. & Kim. J.R. 1999, A Historical Literal and Cultural Approach to Korean Language. Elizabeth, N.J., Seoul.

Beal, C. 1990, ‘It’s All in the Asking’, Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, Series No 7. pp.16-32.

Beal, C. 1992, ‘Did you have a Good Week-end? Or why there is no such thing as a simple question in cross-cultural encounters’, Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, 15(1), pp.23-52.

Cheng, S.L. 2000, ‘Assuming Manhood: Prostitution and Patriotic Passions in Korea’, East Asia: An International Quarterly, vol.18. i4, pp.40-67.

Cheon, H. 2001, The viability of computer mediated communication in the Korean secondary EFL classroom. Ma Thesis, Pukyong National University, Korea.

Cook, V. 2002, Second Language Learning and Teaching, 3rd edn, Arnold, London.

Crozet, C. & Liddicoat, A.J. 1997, ‘Teaching Culture as an Integrated Part of Language Teaching: An Introduction,’ ARAL Series S, no. 14, pp.1-22.

Cukor-Avila, P. ‘Revisiting The Observer’s Paradox’, American Speech, vol. 75. i3, pp.253-254.

Ellis, R. 1994, The Study of Second Language Acquisition, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Enright, S. 1991, ‘Supporting Children’s English Language Development in Grade Level and Language Classrooms’ in, Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language, ed. Celce-Murcia, Heinle and Heinle, pp.386-401.

Huerta-Macias, A. & Quintero, E. 1992, ‘Code Switching, Bilingualism and Bi-literacy. A Case Study’. BiLingual Research Journal, vol. 16, n3 n4, pp. 69.

Holmes, J. 2001, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 2nd edn, Pearson Education Limited, England.

Kent, D. B. (accessed May 5th 2002) ‘KONGLISH. A Strange Linguistic Practice ofKoreans’, http://www.littlekorea.com/konglish/#Author’s%20Note

Kim, Dae Jung. 1999, (accessed February 4th 2002) Loyalty, Filial Piet in Changing Times, http://www.tparents.org/UNews/unws9906/Kim_conscience.htm

Koo, J. 1992, ‘The term of address, ‘you’ in South Korea today’, Korea Journal, vol. 32. nl, pp. 27.

Korea UNESCO Cultural Exchange Services, 2002. (accessed May 11th, 2002) http://kuces.unesco.or.kr/member/apply_now.asp

Kramsch, C. 2001, Language and Culture. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Kudoh, T. & Matsumoto, D. ‘Cross Cultural Examination of Semantic Dispositions of Body Postures’, Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 48, pp.1440-1446.

Lee, J.K. 2002, Korean Higher Education. A Confucian Perspective. Jimoondang Publishing Company, Seoul.

Lee, K. 1984, A New History of Korea, Harvard Yenching Institute, Cambridge.

Lee, W.O. 1996, ‘The cultural context for Chinese learners; Conception of learning in the Confucian tradition,’ in The Chinese Learner; Cultural, Psychological and Contextual Influences, D. Watkins & J. Biggs, (eds), CERC, HK & ACER, Melbourne. Pp. 25-41.

McDonald, D. & Clark, D. 1996, The Koreans, 3rd edn, WestView Press, Colorado.

McGloin, N. 1998, ‘Japanese English Code Switching : Syntax and Pragmatics, The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 57. pp.545-546.

McMeniman, M. & Evans, R. 1997, ‘The Contribution Of Language Learning To The Development Of Cultural Understanding’, ARAL 20 (2) pp.1-18.

Neustpuny, J. 1988, ‘Australia and Japan: Cross Cultural Communication Problems’, Vox 1. pp.28-32.

Nishida, H., Hammer, M. & Wiseman, R. 1998, ‘Cognitive Differences Between Japanese and Americans in Their Perceptions of Difficult Social Situations’, Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology, vol. 25, n4, p499-526.

Oh, Y.J. 2002, ‘Hong-Gul Case May Taint Kim’s Legacy’, The Korea Times, 16 May 2002, p.1.

Pellowe, W. 1998, More resources for TEFL research. Ma Thesis. Birmingham University, UK.

Rising Sun (motion picture) 2001, USA, Twentieth Century Fox, Producer P.Kauffman.

Romaine, S. 2000, Language In Society, 2nd edn, OUP, Oxford.

Saville-Troike, M. 1989, “The Analysis of Communicative Events’, in The Ethnography of Communication: An Introduction, 2nd edn, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 107-180.
Suh, C.S. 1996, ‘A Cultural Perspective on the Korean Language’, Korean Journal, vol. 36, n3, pp.40.

Thomas, J. 1984, ‘Cross Cultural Pragmatic Failure’, Applied Linguistics, 4, 1. pp. 91-112.

Valdes, J.M. 1986, Culture Bound. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Wardhaugh, R. 1998, An Introduction to Socio-Linguistics, 3rd edn, Blackwell, Oxford, UK.

Yamada, T. & Tohkura, Y. 1992, Perception of American English /r/ and /l/ by Native Speakers of Japanese. In Y. Tohkura, E. Bateson & Y. Sagisaka eds. Speech Perception. Production and Linguistic Structure. Tokyo: Ohmsha, Amsterdam, IOS Press, pp.155-174.

Yang, S. 2002, ‘”Chaemyoun-saving, (face saving)” due to Korean job loss. Listening to men’s voices’, Journal of Comparative Family Studies, vol. 33.il. pp 73.


Category: Quarterly Journal