Spanish vs U.S. Communication Styles

My time with La Casita de Inglés has come to a close! Honestly, the past two months have gone by so quickly. It is cliché but completely true. I did not realize this was my final week until last Monday!

As far as updates on current work, not much is new. I have just been finishing up editing handbooks for the manager and teacher positions. Although both are written in English, they were clearly translated from Spanish and needed to be corrected. My supervisors have been meaning to do it themselves, but due to understaffing, they are constantly busy with more pressing matters. Therefore, it is the perfect job for me, the bilingual intern! I am mostly just rewording for clarity and adding headers to group the information better. However, I also included an “About Us” and a “Mission Statement”. La Casita de Inglés is passionate about their unique business model, and these segments are the perfect way for new hires to be reminded of why that is.

In this blog post, I will be discussing the communication differences between American and Spanish culture and how I have experienced these differences during my internship. More specifically, this week’s prompt asks students to focus on the low context to high context communication scale.

Countries described as having a low-context culture, such as the United States, often value straightforwardness and place meaning in the words being said. For example, when working on a group project, people of this communication style like to get down to business quickly and discuss in plain language what needs to be done. In comparison, countries with a high-context culture, such as Spain, value subtlety and rely on the context of a situation to add meaning. When working in groups, people may spend more time building a professional relationship and getting to know each other before discussing work.

Something interesting I noticed during my internship is the way in which teachers at La Casita are expected to relay negative feedback to parents about their child’s behavior. In each of the employee handbooks I edited, there is a relatively long section explaining how to communicate to parents that their child has misbehaved during class. It stresses the importance of sandwiching negative feedback with positive feedback. The example sentence featured in both documents says, “Yago is really improving speaking. Sometimes he gets distracted when playing with his friend, but he has started asking more questions relating to the topic.” The section goes on to explain that if the student’s behavior does not improve after a few more weeks, then the manager must explain to the parent that it may be better to move their child to a different group, change the day that they come, or even wait a few months before returning to La Casita.

Coming from a low-context culture, I found this to be an overly gentle technique. According to the handbook, that “compliment sandwich” approach is considered a first warning to parents about their child’s behavior. However, when I read the example sentence, it comes off to me as a passing remark rather than a more serious issue that the parents should address. If the same scenario occurred in a low-context culture, I imagine the teacher would be more straightforward. They may still start with a positive comment, but would also use words that explicitly describe the child’s behavior as worrisome or something that needs improvement so there is no confusion on the seriousness of the issue.

My disclaimer to this observation is that La Casita’s soft approach to communicating bad news could also be a choice the company has made for their business model rather than a result of Spanish culture. Part of La Casita’s marketing strategy relies on word of mouth and recommendations from parents who have enrolled their children. Since its establishment in 2002, the company has worked hard to build and maintain their reputation as a caring and nurturing environment. As every good business owner knows, even just one bad review can greatly affect how the public perceives a company. Therefore, I can understand why training employees on how to avoid conflict with parents is crucial for protecting franchise’s success.

All in all, it is important to learn how cultures different from your own prefer to communicate in order to successfully navigate cross-cultural environments. By studying these aspects of Spanish culture before joining La Casita, I knew how to interpret messages from my supervisors and how to best share my ideas and suggestions. One of my career goals is to work abroad in Spain, and my hope is that the cross-cultural communication skills I developed through this internship will bring me one step closer to that dream.