Cultural Barriers to Learning

Written by john mcdaniel
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Cultural Barriers to Learning
Cultures may be determined along political, national, moral or religious lines. (Ryan McVay/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Certain cultural barriers provide major obstacles for learning. Whether you're learning curriculum in school, learning the trade of a new job or simply sitting down with a new book in order to get some information, cross-cultural barriers can inhibit your learning or affect the way in which you learn. Through a thorough understanding and analysis of another culture, you can begin to see the ways in which cultural barriers influence learning.

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Language is the most obvious cultural barrier to learning. Language, which includes proper words, slang, idioms and accents, can pose a huge obstacle for those who are studying another culture. As philosopher Umberto Eco points out, language constructs the way that we describe and think about the world around us. So, cultures with different languages will invariably think of things in different ways. As a result, learning about another culture can often entail a mastery of the culture's native language.


Stereotypes also pose problems for those who attempt to do cross-cultural learning. These stereotypes may be offensive or inoffensive, and they may hold true or false. Either way, stereotypes are generalisation about a culture that can lend clues to studying the culture, but you should always remember that these are not definitive. Cultures, like people, are always changing, and so the generalisation about cultures can be misleading. For example, people in the United States may seem very individualistic and solipsistic to some, but this is definitely not true for all U.S. citizens. However, this may be a helpful descriptor for someone in a collectivist society who is learning about Americans.


History also poses a huge barrier to cross-cultural learning, as a result of its subjective nature. Historical facts may seem definitive, but a lot of historical events have numerous interpretations. Certain cultures may hold these historical facts in certain lights. For example, the conflict between China and Taiwan currently relies on a different historical interpretation for both places. As a result, residents of each area face a major historical barrier when trying to learn about the other, because each views the historical events that shape their current cultural identities very differently.


Many cultures have certain taboos or sensitivities that they do not share with other cultures. For example, Western cultures typically have a lot of blatant sexuality in the media. Middle Eastern cultures, in their more conservative forms, may find the prevalent sexual nature of Western media to be extremely vile and sinful. This type of cultural barrier comes from certain sensitivities in cultures. These perspectives may be defended from religious or moral standpoints, but they simply represent debates on heated issues in which cultures disagree.

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