Researchers are faced with cultural differences in a wide range of situations, whether that’s a difference in organisational cultures (perhaps when collaborating with partners outside of academia) or in travelling to other countries, or welcoming international visitors to the UK. This section will help you be more aware of some of the cross-cultural networking challenges you might come across and we signpost you to resources where you can learn more.

A common thing that can trip you up when going into a different culture or that might cause embarrassment is how direct are people in their communication.

Culture and communication

A common thing that can trip you up when going into a different culture or that might cause embarrassment is how direct are people in their communication.

Networking in English

You might recognise some of the phrases in this table!

What the British sayWhat the British meanWhat others understand
I hear what you say I disagree and don’t wish
to discuss it further
He accepts my point of
With the greatest respect I think you’re an idiot She is listening to me and
taking me seriously
That’s not bad That’s good That’s nothing special
That is a very brave
You are insane She thinks I am strong
Quite good It’s a bit disappointing He likes it
I would suggest… Do what I say or else! Consider this idea but it is
my decision
Oh, by the way... The main point of our
discussion is...
This is something not
relevant to our discussion
I was a bit disappointed I’m angry about... This could be a bit better
Very interesting When are you going to stop talking about this? She is impressed so keep talking
I'll bear that in mind I've forgotten it already He thinks it's a good idea
It was probably mu fault It was your fault She is taking the blame
You must come for dinner I'm just being polite He likes me as a friend
I agree up to a point I couldn't agree less She thinks it's almost a perfect idea
I just have a few minor comments Start again and rewrite this completely He found a couple of typos
How about we consider some other options? I think your idea stinks She hasn't made a decision yet

Download the Anglo-EU Translation Guide

How direct people are in conversation can differ wildly between countries. Asking for clarity and having conversations to set expectations, following up with emails to check understanding can all help.  Remember it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure clarity – ask others if they want you to clarify anything, and make sure you seek clarification if anything is vague.  Sometimes it’s easier to do this on email as some cultures may not feel comfortable in telling you face to face that they don’t understand you.

Communicating when English second language

Networking when English isn’t your first language

Networking can be challenging enough but when you need to process the surroundings and interactions in another language, and through the lens of a different country’s culture, it adds another layer of complexity. So, let’s consider how you can you prepare for networking events to ensure you can confidently interact with other attendees:

  • Remember that It’s ok to forget a word – we all do it and having ‘repair strategies’ is more important e.g., restarting a sentence, looking for a synonym or being honest and saying you’ve forgotten the word. Being honest helps to build trust.
  • Don’t feel singled out or that it’s a reflection of your English when someone asks you to repeat what you’ve just said – sometimes people are surprised to hear another accent and just ask unconsciously.
  • Speaking slowly does not mean you can’t speak fluently – look at Sir David Attenborough and don’t feel the need for speed.
  • Don’t get anxious if you can’t understand every word – English is full of contractions. Instead, listen out for the stressed words.  Fluent English speakers don’t hear every word in a sentence either, but we emphasise the key words so if you follow those you can follow the meaning.
  • Practice any problem sounds you have before you go – e.g., “th” by standing in front of a mirror and saying 3,333.  You should be able to see your tongue come out of your mouth, if not, you’re not pronouncing it correctly.  If you find English pronunciation complicated, you’re not alone, try Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill or, if you want to understand the different accents in the UK check out the video series “English like a native” on YouTube.
  • Consider the event and think about the sort of questions you could ask.  Make a bank of questions and pay attention to where the word stress is in any words of two or more syllables.  If you’re not sure whether it’s audience or audience check in The phonemic script uses an apostrophe (‘) to indicate the next syllable is the stressed one.  Word stress is one of the easiest ways to be clear in your spoken communication.
  • Develop an introduction that succinctly tells people who you are.  As with the questions, analyse your introduction for problem phonemes and word stress and practice before you attend so you feel confident when people ask you who you are.
  • If you are tired of hearing your name mispronounced, there are several websites (e.g. NameDrop - a name pronunciation service) which allow you to record your own name and add a link to your email signature.
  • And, most importantly, remember your accent is part of the unique person you are. The ability to speak more than one language to a high level is something to be proud of.  Your accent is a badge of bravery “wear” it with pride.

Related links

Academic careers in different countries – cultural differences

If you’re networking with the intention of finding a job or to better understand a collaborator from another country, it’s useful to know how the ‘system’ works in those countries – this will help you to emphasise the most important topics and to understand what might motivate researchers or academic employers in those countries. The following websites will help you:

Academic discipline cultures and collaboration