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2021.05.31

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Japanese Culture is High Context, German Culture is Low Context


Communication in foreign languages is difficult. But is this simply due to different words and grammar?

No, it is not. Even if you translate every word correctly, it is not uncommon that misunderstandings happen. This happens because the form of communication itself differs from culture to culture. Cross-cultural communication failures can be explained by the concept of high-context cultures and low-context cultures.

The Difference between High-context Cultures and Low-context Cultures

The concept of high-context cultures and low-context cultures was proposed by the American cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall (1914-2009) and is an index for typifying communication through language. Context here refers to “information other than language,” such as context, situation, social infrastructure, and historical background. In high-context cultures, non-verbal elements (context) such as common knowledge and understanding, speech situations, etc. are also important factors in communication. Therefore, there are many ambiguous linguistic expressions and a high tendency to communicate by unspoken understanding. The Japanese language, where it is important to “read the air,” “understand,” and “discern” in communication, is considered the high-context culture with the highest tendency towards ambiguity compared to various other languages. Following Japan, China, Arab countries, Greece, and Spain are also described as high-context cultures.

It is true that the Japanese language is full of euphemistic expressions. Communication considers the situation and various other factors. So, it is easy for misunderstandings to occur even among Japanese people. What people are implying might be the exact opposite of what is being said. In the article that is linked here, we also discussed the issues that the high-context nature of the Japanese language can pose for translators. 

On the other hand, languages belonging to low-context cultures have a form of communication in which all communicated information is clearly verbalized. Communication is based on the principles of direct expression and logical thinking. According to Hall’s analysis, this tendency is the strongest in the German-speaking regions of Switzerland, followed by Germany, Scandinavia, and the United States. German is characterized by a strict grammatical structure with case and noun changes, that provide very exact expressions.

The more global the Society, the greater the Need for clear Verbalization

 The differences between high- and low-context cultures are categorized based on information other than spoken words, such as common perceptions, common sense, values, and history.  The more international a place is, the more likely it is to have a low-context culture. Immigrant nations, where people with different backgrounds and customs gather, and Switzerland, with its three official languages, fall into this category. By adopting a clearly coded language and communication style, discrepancies are avoided.

As globalization progresses, the creation of a society where people with diverse values and backgrounds can coexist is becoming a more pressing issue.

transeuro has employees from many different cultural backgrounds, and we have a good understanding of the respective cultures. Therefore, we can create translations with a proper understanding of the cultural context. Please feel free to contact us for German to Japanese translations or Japanese to German translations. 


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