Types of communicative failures in situations of international communication by Vlada Lukina, Ulyanovsk, Russia

This paper examines the existence of communicative failures in situations of international communication and their influence on people’s relations. There were a total of 75 respondents who were equally divided into age level, social status and experience of communication with foreigners. The methodology employed in this research included written-administered questionnaires and informal interviews. A summary of the results revealed that the majority of the respondents met with negative influence of communicative failures. However, the results of communicative failures analysis demonstrated that people can get rid of them if they use several rules during communication with foreigners.

Objective. This study aimed to investigate if communicative failures take place in international communication and people’s attitudes to it. Specifically, this study sought to answer the following research questions: “What kind of harm can communicative failures do to people?” and “Do people need something to predict their appearance?”

Literature Review. Communicative actions have been studied from as early as the end of XX century. The theory of communicative action (Jürgen Habermas, 1981 ) is a critical project which reconstructs a concept of reason which is not grounded in instrumental or objectivistic terms, but rather in an emancipatory communicative act. Habermas in his theory of communicative actions explicated three types of communicative failures: 1) consists of errors, confusions, misunderstandings that occur in everyday life (failure of communicative action)

2) consists of failures to attain strategic goals within broader social context in the process to gain success. (failure to strategic action)

3) mixture of the first two: the social mechanisms interfere with everyday processes.

On the other hand, there was another important classification (Thomas, J.,1983). In his work “Cross-cultural pragmatic failure” Thomas divided communicative failures into: pragma-linguistics (failures are closely linked with language itself because learners unconsciously transfer native expressions into foreign) and social-linguistics (they involve lack of awareness of the socio-cultural norms of a foreign language).

Despite these theoretical problems, many researchers have proceeded overcoming the difficulties by virtue of adopting different perspectives and methods. The most famous of them are: surveys, interviews, case studies, commitment measures, and the matched-guise technique.

Methodology. This paper analyses the responses from sociolinguistic questionnaires coupled with personal interviews and participant observation. Quota sampling was used to select subjects for the individual orally administered questionnaires. Experience in communication with foreigners was considered as the initial factor in selecting the respondents. 75 people were chosen as the research responders. 50 of them who had the experience were asked to answer the questions of more detailed questionnaires which would serve to find the information about communicative failures and what role they play in lives of common people. Three Russian cities were chosen as research sites (Moscow, Ulyanovsk and Krasnodar).

Language use. At the beginning of the work the responders were divided into two big groups: people who had the experience of communication with foreigners and who hadn’t. It was done with the help of the first questionnaire which included 4 questions. 33% of responders answered that they hadn’t ever been abroad and had no communication experience with people from other countries. 13% of responders didn’t know foreign languages at all. These facts allowed to do the first selection: 67% were given the second questionnaire to find out if the failures do exist.

Existence of communicative failures. In this paper, failures in communication were investigated using 7 questions. The first question “Have you ever came across the misunderstanding during the dialog with a foreigner?” showed that 60% of responders of the first selection felt the misunderstanding. Then, the respondents were asked to rank meeting communicative failures according to one of four responses: 1 – frequently, 2 – rarely, 3 – very rarely, 4 – never. Results show that 40% of the responses pointed that they rarely meet communicative failures during the communication with foreigners. 35% chose the variant “frequently”, 25% answered “very rarely” and no one respondent chose the variant “never” (See Figure 1 below).

Figure 1


To answer the third question the responders must name the main reasons of communication failures according to their points of view. The most prevalent answers were: lack of the vocabulary, different mentality of the country, lack of the language skills and excitement. The fourth question “How could you understand why the misunderstanding had appeared?” gave the following common answers: talking about different things, misunderstanding a word, change of the faces’ expressions and loss of thoughts’ logic. To manage with the fifth question the respondents were asked to rank problems which could appeared because of communicative failures according to one of five responses: 1 – no problems at all, 2 – no serious problems, 3 – the process of communication was broken, 4 – big pause, excitement, 5 – other variants. 30% of people had no problems, 25% felt that communication process was broken, another 25% said that a big pause appeared and they felt nervous about it, 20% of persons chose another variant and 20% had no serious problems (See Figure 2 below).

Figure 2


The sixth question was about the responders’ foreign opponent. 68% of them said that foreigners noticed the misunderstanding too. The most common answers on the last question “What were your actions when you understood that the misunderstanding had appeared?” were: precised the meaning of the word, asked again, tried a new formulation and asked to repeat the phrase.

Conclusion. Based on the discussion above, several conclusions can be drawn from this paper to answer the research questions: “What kind of harm can communicative failures do to people?” and “Do people need something to predict their appearance?” Communicative failures can be the reason of conflicts and the barrier for setting understanding between people of different countries. In several cases they can bring threat to the society. More than half of the total population of the respondents reported that they came across the difficulties in communication and felt their negative influence. The responders understood the causes of the communicative failure. All of them tried to correct the situation for the better and establish contacts with foreigners.

In summary, to answer the research question “Do people need something to predict the appearance of the failures?” it is shown that people need to predict and get rid of them. Our modern society can offer a great number of ways to solve the problem of communicative failures’ existence. For example, studying cultural and historical features of foreign languages, learning more about mentalities of foreign countries, studying foreign languages at the higher level, organization of free international communication.


– Habermas, Jürgen (1984) .Theory of Communicative Action Volume One: Reason and the Rationalization of Society. Translated by Thomas A. McCarthy. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press

– Thomas, J. (1983). Cross-cultural pragmatic failure. Applied Linguistics.

– Thomas, J. (1995). Meaning in interaction: An introduction to pragmatics. London: Longman.

– O’ Sullivan, K. (1994). Understanding ways: Communicating between cultures. Syney, Australia: Hale & Ironmonger.

– Furnham, A. & Bochner, S. (1986). Culture shock: Psychological reactions to unfamiliar environments. London: Methuen.


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