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The ArtScience of Digital Communication (Part 1)

06 Jan 202320 Mins Audio

Transcript


Speakers: 

Associate Professor Susan Xu Yun, Head of Translation and Interpretation at SUSS School of Humanities and Behavioural Sciences

Lin Youyi, an alumna of SUSS who is also a TV presenter, content creator, and media coach

Vivian Lim (Host)

Speaker

Timecode

Transcript

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00:00:01

Welcome to the SUSS series of podcasts that shares, questions, and dives into all things personal development. Because learning never stops, especially after graduation. This series will share insights, ideas, and advice on shaping ourselves to prepare for a future of uncertainties.

Vivian

00:00:28

I was excited to sit with Associate Professor Susan Xu Yun, Head of Translation and Interpretation at SUSS School of Humanities and Behavioural Sciences and Lin Youyi, TV Presenter, Content Creator, and Media Coach, to find out how communication could change the world for the better.

Vivian

00:00:46

The Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpretation is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2022. And Youyi is an alumna and also one of the top students of that batch. So I begin by asking them how the landscape of communication has shifted in the past decade, especially in the light of the global pandemic.

Vivian

00:01:05

Susan, can you just share what's been happening or how the global landscape has shifted?

Susan

00:01:10

In the past decade, digital transformation has changed the way we communicate in every sphere of life. Family, religion, education, work, and politics. The global pandemic has accelerated such changes.

Vivian

00:01:25

Do you have any personal experiences that you want to share?

Susan

00:01:29

Yes, of course. I remember my university days when I looked forward to receiving weekly letters from my parents. Later in the 1990s, I could only afford one international call a week. Since the start of the 21st century, email and the internet have become the most common forms of communication. And today we can communicate at any time using WeChat, WhatsApp, or Skype. In the business world, people meet and communicate online more often than before due to the pandemic.

Susan

00:02:01

Having online meetings instead of meeting face-to-face makes it very easy for us to communicate with someone who speaks a different language and lives in a foreign country. As such, cross-cultural and cross-linguistic communication becomes more important than ever before in this global pandemic.

Vivian

00:02:20

Youyi, what about yourself, would you be able to encapsulate and share with us what this change meant?

Youyi

00:02:25

Yeah, like what Susan mentioned: weekly letters, overseas phone calls. It's really fascinating when we think about all the changes that we have been through in the past decade. The iPhone came out in 2007. I think I got my first iPhone the year after, when I started working for Good Morning Singapore at MediaCorp; while I was doing my translation interpretation degree under Susan.

Youyi

00:02:50

And since then I have been hooked on Bejewelled, if any of us still remember that. And I couldn't stop sharing my score on Facebook. And since then, there was Instagram, WhatsApp, WeChat, Candy Crush, Pokemon Go. And we have come a really long way since then. Nowadays, we are having business meetings and even signing contracts on our phone.

Youyi

00:03:12

Even conducting a cross-regional presentation workshop with the help of simultaneous translation. So in this day and age, we are so much more connected. But also, at the same time, exposed to a much bigger audience. Communication is now more immediate than ever. But the question is, are we ready to speak to the world?

Vivian

00:03:32

I really love how you ended with now that we have realised this is the change. What are we going to do with that? And I just wanted to go back to something that Susan said that I picked out - on cross-cultural communication. Susan, you're definitely an expert in that field. Can you just share a bit deeper for us to understand what does that mean?

Susan

00:03:52

As we all know that a word can have very different meanings in different contexts, let alone in different cultures. When the company intends to market a product or service in a new international market, it is important for you to carry out viral market research on the culture, on the customs and languages of that market. A small mistake, such as a wrong choice of word in the brand name, could trigger a PR nightmare or cost a significant market share.

Susan

00:04:21

Google Translate, for example, may be at one’s fingertips when we want to understand a foreign language. But it does not empower us to speak the right language in a given context. According to American cross-cultural researcher, Edward Hall, cross-cultural communication has more to do with releasing the right responses than with conveying the messages.

Susan

00:04:45

In other words, one must know what to speak, how to speak and when to speak to avoid misinterpretation. It is one thing, for example, to speak Mandarin fluently. It is another thing to get the tone right with the recipients who come from very different cultures from you; from the one that you came from.

Vivian

00:05:06

So I really want to ask Youyi as well since you're bilingual, you're known for your works in the bilingual field. What are some of the experiences when it comes to cross-cultural communication? Because we understand that all of us are more connected now, communication is becoming more immediate. But what are some of the pitfalls that you're noticing that arise because of these cross-cultural communications?

Youyi

00:05:28

Well, like what Susan has mentioned, even though I did spend my childhood in Taiwan. A couple of years ago when I was travelling there, I think that was my first time back to Taiwan after being away for so long. I was having trouble ordering breakfast at a local breakfast store because I couldn't understand them and they couldn't understand me. I was like, but I want that pancake. And they were like, ‘Oh, do you want this pancake? Or that pancake with a…’ You know, it happened in Mandarin. (Mandarin: 要蛋吗?要肉?又要什么?) I was like: “Huh? Isn't that just a pancake?”

Youyi

00:05:57

But okay, I do want to bring up a more recent example. I'm sure we all remember Squid Game - super popular Korean show on Netflix; global success. But it has come under fire for not matching up to the dialogue. I'm talking about the English subtitles.

Vivian

00:06:12

I see. So what were the differences?

Youyi

00:06:15

Being an addict to Korean drama myself, I was able to pick out a few things. But this is one that really stood out for me. It was the address term; the honorifics. I'm sure we all remember Ali, the Pakistani immigrant in the show. Yes. So there's this scene of Ali with Sang-Woo, the stockbroker. Ali addressed Sang-Woo as ‘Sajang Nim’, meaning president of a company. And this is a term that can be extended to so many different situations.

Youyi

00:06:42

You can use it to address someone who's probably just wearing a suit, or someone who is older than you. However, it was translated as ‘Sir’, because obviously there's no ‘Sajang Nim’ equivalent in English. However, the word, ‘Sir’, doesn't quite carry the same connotation as any Korean drama fan out there would know. So how did Sang-Woo reply to him? Sang-Woo said, ‘Call me Hyung’, meaning, ‘Call me big brother’. ‘Hyung’, that’s big brother.

Youyi

00:07:11

So what does that mean? It means that, at this point they have formed this somewhat brotherly-like relationship and it does mean that, ‘Hey, I'm your big brother now, I am going to take care of you’. Does anyone remember what the English translation was?

Vivian

00:07:25

No, I don't recall.

Youyi

00:07:27

It says ‘call me Sang-Woo’. Meaning call me by my first name. That we are now on a first-name basis. So again, the meaning that it carries is very different, from a brotherly bond to just friends on a first-name basis. So this is why at the marble scene, do you remember how Ali was betrayed by him? Right before Ali realised that he was betrayed, he was calling out to Sang-Woo, like ‘Sang-Woo Hyung? Sang-Woo Hyung? Where are you?’ And I think it's only for the audience who could understand the meaning of ‘Hyung’ to experience that heartbreak. When Ali realised that he was being betrayed by someone whom he sees as a big brother, not just by a friend on a first-name basis with.

Vivian

00:08:07

You really brought out this very important point. With all these cultural intricacies, a lot of it is lost in translation. A lot of it cannot just be translated via Google Translate, like what Susan was saying, or seen as using all these digital tools. Because we lose so much of these cultural interpretation and the deeper meaning behind languages itself.

Vivian

00:08:27

So you mentioned a lot about the BA programme from SUSS. So I also want to just take a step from the social and modern context or the cultural context and look at it from a research and theoretical standpoint. Maybe this goes to Susan first since you're the Associate Professor of the course. Why do you think this happens? Can you help us break down why it is difficult for us to bridge this cross-cultural communication?

Susan

00:08:53

Before I go to the theoretical information about this cultural communication, Youyi has just mentioned her experience in Taiwan, and I would like to also share some interesting examples that are unique to Singapore, as well as in Taiwan. For example, some terms are just very unique, like Singaporean Chinese may understand the meaning of (Mandarin: 卫塞节), which is the transliteration of Vesak Day.

Susan

00:09:18

But if you go to other Chinese-speaking communities, and you mentioned (Mandarin: 卫塞节), nobody would understand it. Because in their culture or in most Chinese-speaking communities it is known as (Mandarin:玉福节]) or (Mandarin: 佛诞日). And another example is that (Mandarin: 乐龄), which is a euphony for senior citizens, is unique to Singapore.

Susan

00:09:39

People from different Chinese regions may not quite understand what it means. If someone from Taiwan mentioned to you that (Taiwanese: 银发族), to a Singaporean Chinese, the person would mistook it, to refer to those who dye their hair in grey. But actually (Taiwanese: 银发族) in fact really means the same as (Mandarin: 乐龄).

Vivian

00:09:59

I can just imagine what other, this kind of cultural intricacies that gets lost in translation in all other languages as well.

Susan

00:10:06

You see, when the company wants to launch a product or service in a new market, they have to do thorough research into that market by understanding its culture, custom, as well as the thinking style. In our field, it is called localisation effort. So you need to localise your products to suit that particular market. And let's just look at examples of companies’ localisation efforts when they try to enter the Chinese market. You will see how a Chinese name can make or break your launch into that market.

Susan

00:10:36

IKEA is a classic example of good localisation strategy. Its Chinese name, (Mandarin: 宜家) means ‘suitable or friendly for home or family’. So it is well received by Chinese consumers. In contrast, American electrical appliance retail giant, Best Buy, suffered from its poor localisation efforts when it opened its stores in China.

Susan

00:11:00

It's Chinese name, transliterated into, (Mandarin: 百思买), not only lacks the warmth and the good feelings, but also seems to remind consumers that you must think a hundred times before buying that product. So if we look at local companies which are quite successful in the overseas market, you will know that the right brand name could have contributed to their success in one way or another. For example, Tiger Beer may have benefited from the positive associations of ‘tiger’ in both Eastern and Western cultures.

Susan

00:11:33

By contrast a brand that contains the word ‘dragon’ may find it harder to venture into the Western market, than into the Eastern market. Why? Because Chinese people view ‘dragon’ as a symbol of strength or power. But Westerners tend to demonise it.

Youyi

00:11:52

I remember something about colours;what it represents in different cultures. When I was in your class, Susan, there's something about how yellow is associated with royalty in ancient Chinese. And what's that colour for Western, in the Western culture? For royalty, was it purple? Yes, that’s right.

Vivian

00:12:11

I see. So even all these cannot be translated? It's really things that if you do not have deep context of that particular culture or the people, the target audience that you're communicating with, it's so easy to be misunderstood or you come across as rude or not as warm.

Vivian

00:12:27

So I really want to ask Susan first from a research and theoretical standpoint, why do you think this happens? From an academia point of view, can you help break down why it is difficult?

Susan

00:12:37

As you can see, culture is much more complex than we often thought. It is the accumulation of art, language, literature, as well as human reflections on all those relevant activities. And culture influences people's abilities to decide what is good, what is true, what is beautiful and what is efficient. It is deeply rooted and interconnected with our sense of identity and self-understanding. One helpful way to understand culture is to visualise an onion.

Susan

00:13:09

The first person who used this visualisation was Professor Geert Hofstede. The onion has many layers. On the outer layer of the onion are the symbols, such as food, logos or colours. And the second layer of the onion or the culture, are the heroes, including the real life ones, like CEOs, government leaders, athletes, and celebrities, even Youyi and fictional heroes like Spider-Man, Kung Fu Panda.

Susan

00:13:37

So the next layer consists of rituals, such as festivals, celebrations, meetings, sports games, and even karaoke. So the core located in the core of the culture stands for the values and assumptions of a culture, such as freedom of speech, gender and racial equality. While those other things in the outer layers may change over time and constantly. Values, the core of the culture, remain largely unchanged and are transmitted by the environment in which we grow up.

Susan

00:14:11

So according to Hofstede, when things go well, we do not really have issues with culture or cultural differences. But when things go wrong, we may feel uncomfortable or even threatened. And this is when we start to become judgemental. We have the tendency to go back to the basics, the value we’ve acquired since young. And that's where conflicts arise and resentment (are) harboured.

Vivian

00:14:37

Youyi, what about yourself? You work with a lot of the audience as well, in helping them bridge communication or sharpen the way they communicate.

Vivian

00:14:46

Can you break down why it is difficult in your own experiences and contexts?

Youyi

00:14:50

I think it's really interesting when we talk about not just the cultural differences. But even when we speak the same language, our body language itself can give out very different cues. Perhaps we can even call it energy to the people you're talking to. I once spoke with someone who just gave a speech in India. So the speech was in English. Everyone could understand perfectly. But he came back feeling really defeated, because he couldn't understand why he didn't get the response he was expecting from the crowd. So I asked him what happened and he was like, ‘No, it just didn't feel right’. He couldn't quite explain why, but only until we had everything broken down and analysed the entire situation when we realised that it was because even though they could communicate perfectly in English.

Youyi

00:15:39

The body language was different. In India, they have a very specific set of body language that can be unfamiliar to foreigners, such as this gentleman I spoke with. So he thought the speech wasn't well-received. When in fact it was only because he couldn't understand the non-verbal cues he was getting back from the audience.

Vivian

00:15:58

Susan, what's your take on this? Especially when we are communicating the same language with people that are from different cultures.

Susan

00:16:08

As we just shared, cultures are very complex phenomena of human history. In fact, there are many ways of looking at culture. One way is to compare it to a scale of high and low context. As we mentioned, context is very important. According to Edward Hall, in a high context culture, communication is carried by implicit messages in which meaning is not encoded into words. But supplied by non-verbal cues in the context.

Susan

00:16:39

So in a cross-cultural communication, in a high context culture, the person himself is the communication. It takes a long time for you to get to know the person, so that you can build the relationship in order to communicate well. Whereas in the low context culture, communication is carried by explicit verbally expressed messages.

Susan

00:17:04

So the aim of the low context culture is to really give and receive information so as to build the background, as well as the trust. So if you want to communicate with someone from a high context culture, it is very important for you to build the relationship first and those typical high context cultures include Indians, Japanese, Arabs and Chinese. And for low context culture, typical countries are the United States of America, Germany, the Scandinavia, and the other Northern region of Europe. We must remember to share detailed information and give systematic answers in order to build that trust.

Susan

00:17:44

There's another way to look at Eastern and Western differences is to compare the sociological structure of that society. You know that there's a difference between collectivism and individualism?

Susan

00:17:56

It goes back to the basis of the way people think. And that kind of thinking is also shaped by the culture. And so we know that there's an individualistic culture versus the collectivism culture. So collectivist culture emphasises the importance of a community while individualism focuses on the rights of the individuals. In an individualistic culture, people capitalise on the non-relational cognition that is generally known as intelligence. Whereas in the cognitive culture, everything you do is rooted in relational cognition.

Susan

00:18:31

So people growing up in this collectivist culture tend to favour likeness, or similarities. Therefore, stronger ties tend to be formed among similar people. As the saying goes, birds of the same feather flock together (Mandarin: 物以类聚,人以群分). On the other hand, those who come from individualistic cultures strive to be different. So in order for you to be different, you need to be creative. If you want to communicate with someone from the individualistic culture, it's okay for you to agree to disagree.

Susan

00:19:07

But if you want to build relationships with people from collectivism, you should always show that you have common interests. You start with something that you have, you are always in common, you agree on the basis of common interest. So that's why there's a lot of sensitivity – it’s a subtleness in the cross-cultural communication that people really build with that close understanding.

Susan

00:19:31

It's easier for you to really know that there are people who are different from you and you need to adapt to the way they communicate in order to cross that bridge, or barrier.

-

00:19:43

You’ve been listening to the SUSS series of podcasts. The next part of this episode will be available at suss.edu.sg/podcast. Stay tuned!


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Associate Professor Susan Xu Yun
Associate Professor Susan Xu Yun
Lin Youyi
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