Technical Communication Learning on the U.S.-Mexico Border: Factors Affecting Cross-Cultural Competence in Globalized Settings

By Evia, Carlos | Business Communication Quarterly, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Technical Communication Learning on the U.S.-Mexico Border: Factors Affecting Cross-Cultural Competence in Globalized Settings


Evia, Carlos, Business Communication Quarterly


WHATEVER THEIR INTENSITY, all cultural differences must be dealt with in a professional communication classroom to create a cross-culturally competent system of individuals working toward a common goal. I use the term cross-cultural competence (or transcultural competence) in the same way as Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (2002) used it in their work on multiculturalism:

   [We] argue that business cultures are so different as to be in some
   respects diametrically opposed and that because business is run
   differently around the globe, we need different managerial and
   leadership competencies. Yet from those differences, from that
   seeming Babel of discordant values, there is emerging a new
   capacity for bridging business differences. We call this
   transcultural competence. (p. 14)

Beginning with the premise that understanding and respecting cultural differences in academic environments where professional communication is taught is important, I studied the way in which professional communication is being learned along the U.S.-Mexico border. The population I studied belongs to the cultural group of students (and their instructors) enrolled in the technical communication introductory course at two public universities in U.S. cities close to Mexico.

In professional communication research, very few authors have ever mentioned Mexico in their multicultural studies. In her article "Designing Written Business Communication Along the Shifting Cultural Continuum," Elizabeth Tebeaux (1999) pointed out some problems related to "Mexican education and its effects on current applied discourse practices" (p. 71). She observed that college writing classes in Mexico are mostly focused on general competence or mechanics. She added that most of those courses would he "construed as remedial English in a typical U.S. university" (p. 71). Concentrating on the rhetorical differences between U.S. writing classes and their Mexican equivalents, she said,

   The course syllabi that I have been able to examine suggest that
   rhetoric, as it is presented in US college curricula (with
   analysis of audience, purpose, and context as the basis for
   content determination), is not carefully addressed (if at all).
   Also writing courses do not use a process approach for teaching
   writing. Textbooks focus on form and an outline approach to the
   development of documents such as reports and proposals. (p. 72)

Tebeaux's (1999) methodology included a textual analysis of written business communication (mainly letters) from 21 individuals in eight "Mexican organizations that agreed to discuss their written communication with me" (p. 50). Tebeaux concluded that we need to understand "not only Mexican culture but also U.S. culture" to "design effective documents for Mexican readers" (p. 79).

Confirming Tebeaux's finding of a lack of research about professional communication in Spanish-speaking countries, Barry Thatcher (1999) pointed out, "This gap puts U.S. technical communicators at a considerable disadvantage" (p. 177). Thatcher added, "Cultural values underlie the purposes of writing and orality, and corresponding audience-author relations, needs for information, ways of organizing discourse, and stylistic preferences" (p. 193). Hence, I identified a gap in the literature and research that my dissertation could fill, focusing on the experiences of Mexican and Mexican American students in professional communication classes on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Research Questions

I conducted my research at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and New Mexico State University (NMSU), studying sections of their introductory communication courses. My research questions were

* Which factors affect the nonimmigrant Mexican students' ability to learn how to produce and consume technical documents written in English?

* How does the high presence of nonimmigrant Mexican students affect, for better or worse, cross-cultural competence in such courses in border universities? …

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