Types of Cultural Barriers in Communication

Although spoken language is the primary form of human communication, people can also express concepts and meaning with unspoken communication, such as facial and bodily gestures. This can lead to confusion or even insult even though people speak the same language. It is relatively likely for people in the same cultural group to misunderstand each other due to the complexity and ambiguity sometimes characteristic of unspoken communication. Imagine how likely this is to happen when people belong to different cultural groups.


People from different cultures approach speaking volume in different ways. For example, in Israel, people are generally more accustomed to speaking loudly than in, for example, America. An American visitor can easily interpret this as a sign of rudeness, even after having moved to and resided in the country for a long period of time.

Tone of Voice

Tone of voice is another one of those things that can easily be misinterpreted. People can assume all sorts of things based on a person's tone of voice. For example, in cultures where people tend to speak sternly, a person unaccustomed to such a tone might assume that people are uptight or overbearing. Tone of voice, based on inflection, speed, and cadence or rhythm can also lead to a host of unexpected assumptions, such as that a person is behaving dishonestly or compassionately. For example, most Americans perceive the typical British accent (there are many) to sound intelligent and sophisticated.

Gender Expectations

All cultures have their own ideas of appropriate gender behaviour and roles. According to charlotteworks, "in many countries, women are subordinate to men. Working in an American business, women from these countries may feel they should defer to their male counterparts or should not speak to or even look directly in the eyes of their male supervisors, managers or co-workers." This is just an example of the awkwardness that can occur due to cultural barriers.

Cultural Tension

Assumptions about other people, either wholly unrealistic or with some merit, can often be the cause of cultural barriers between people. Both negative personal experience and communal attitudes toward a group of people, for example, due to political and/or social conflict, can lead to cultural tensions which amount to cultural barriers.

Religious Views

Even though religion and culture are not synonyms, religions come with a varying degree of culture. This is because an aspect of religion is conformity to a set system of ideas and philosophical outlooks. For example, an Orthodox Jew might have an aversion to working in a restaurant that serves shrimp or pig products; those foods are part of a larger prohibited diet as enumerated in the Torah.

Personal Space

Some cultures value little personal space and others value more. In a culture that values relatively less personal space, standing too far away while speaking might be perceived as shyness, snob behaviour or rudeness. In a culture that values more personal space, standing too close while speaking might seem intrusive or awkward.


Values, manners, and etiquette are factors highly responsible for creating cultural barriers. For example, lateness is common in one culture, earliness in another, and exact timing in yet another. A foreigner might link lateness with disinterest or rudeness, while for the commoner it indicates nothing. In America, one is often expected to be a little early to formal meetings, which shows promptness and alacrity. In other cultures both late and early arrivals are considered strange and one is expected to arrive at the exact time disclosed. A failure to understand another's culture often leads to confusion, tension and sometimes humorous scenarios.

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About the Author

Yaniv Gerowitz began writing professionally in 2008. His work has been published online at Torah Women and JSpace. Gerowitz studied political science at the University of Arizona and is a graduate of the WritePoint technical writing course in Jerusalem.