Talking about the importance of multiculturalism and diversity has become something normal in the age of globalization. XXI century, advancement of technology, movement of people across the national borders, their identifying as being bi-cultural is a reality we are witnessing for the past few decades. People around the world learn foreign languages which helps them to study, work and live in different countries.
Does linguistic fluency equal to cultural fluency? Not really.
Cultural fluency is much broader than a mere language. One might be fluent in a language but not be able to navigate successfully in cultures where it is spoken as native.
Learning a language, however, lays a foundation towards becoming culturally fluent. So does traveling.
When a human brain has space for an extra language and memories from foreign experience, it tends to capture the conclusion for a box of knowledge and go back when necessity occurs. So if a person learnt a language and traveled or lived in a country where it is used, there is a certain amount of practical knowledge he or she has about that culture. Then the latter information is applied to every subsequent representative of the culture the human brain thinks of as one. It is called a stereotype. It can be right, but it can also be wrong.
The issue starts when stereotypes do not meet the reality of a personality. I respectfully disagree with the statement that we are all products of our culture. In fact, we are products of our experiences. They, sometimes, are connected directly to the culture we used to reside or currently reside in, but that is not always the case. It happens that we embraced two or more cultures and do not feel like a member of one specific of them. Contemporary ‘where do you belong’ is a better question than the old fashioned ‘where are you from’.
Cultural fluency is the ability to fully understand that people do not necessarily belong culturally to their place of birth or residence.
It is being extremely delicate when telling other people you know who they are and what their culture is like because you visited the country, or the worst case: you heard or saw a movie about it. Not everyone you meet along the journey of life can be put into a box you have in your mind for specific groups of people. While linguistic fluency allows you to live in the countries where that specific language is used, cultural fluency gives you the ability to live everywhere, without any culture shock, barrier or challenges.
Developing awareness that some people belong to their native cultures, some are bi-cultural, some are culturally ambiguous, while others do not identify with any culture at all would be an epitome of the multiculturalism our world needs. We can live in a more kind, open-minded and peaceful universe if each and every one of us practices understanding of not only language but also culture and its occasional irrelevance in defining another human being.
Are you culturally fluent, anyways?