Respecting communication styles of different cultures

Working in children’s services provides opportunities to meet and interact with children and families from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds.

Worker reading to child.Expanding your awareness and understanding of different cultures enables you to provide a richer experience for the children in your care, as well as helping all children feel welcome and included. You are likely to encounter communication styles and customs that are vastly different to what you are used to or have grown up with.

In order to convey respect for all the children and families we work with, we must be mindful of the language we use. We need to steer away from potentially confusing language habits, such as the use of sarcasm. Not only can sarcasm be unintentionally offensive but many cultures may not understand its meaning. Likewise, the use of slang words and phrases should be avoided.

Read the examples below to see some of the idiosyncrasies we often use in the Australian language without even thinking, and how this may be confusing to people from different cultural backgrounds.

See you later

When interpreted formally, this should mean that a person intends to meet you again, but really it means goodbye.


This means a person is very busy.

Bring a plate

This means you can bring some food along to contribute food to a gathering or party.

Not a problem

This means that everything is alright.

Sick, mad or wicked

Can mean really good or great.

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Think of some other examples, like the ones you just read, that you use in your own everyday conversations. Write at least 3 in your notebook, explaining what you say and what your words really mean.

There are other cultural differences we should also consider that can affect communication. These include:

You can read more about culturally aware communication practices in
Communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Parents/carers.

The norms around the management of time, personal space, level of eye contact and body posture can vary dramatically between cultures.

In Cabramatta, in Sydney's south-west, the police had to be educated about variations in eye contact between Asian Australians and European Australians. The police, when dealing with young Vietnamese men, were assuming that they were guilty or had something to hide because the young men didn't make eye contact. The young men were in fact avoiding eye contact to demonstrate respect to a person in authority.

There may be children in our child care centre who speak a language other than English as their first language. It is our role to nurture and respect their native language, as well as to foster and develop their English language skills.