Cultural Fluency: How Biculturalism Helps with Consumer Understanding

Nov 1, 2023

Biculturalism, the ability to seamlessly navigate between two cultures, can provide powerful insights into consumer motivations and behaviors. On Episode 3 of “Insightful Inspiration,” Isabelle Landreville and Marta Villanueva, discuss how leveraging their own biculturalism has enriched their work in qualitative research and enhanced their understanding of diverse consumers.

Define Biculturalism: What is Biculturalism?

Biculturalism refers to the experience of blending two cultures. As Marta explains, it goes beyond language to encompass “the values, the traditions, the rituals, the things that are important to that culture.” A bicultural person not only speaks two languages but also understands the subtle nuances, unspoken rules, and core values that shape each culture.

Marta describes bicultural Hispanics in America as living “in both worlds.” The degree of immersion in each culture can vary – some may identify more strongly with one culture versus the other. Identity is complex, with many variables like immigrant generation, country of origin, geography, socioeconomic status, and education influencing the blend. Marta stresses the importance of understanding individuals’ specific cultural context.

Isabelle contrasts Canada’s national bilingualism, with English and French both holding official language status, to the regional distinction between English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Quebec. For bicultural Canadians, she says, the two languages reflect “an entire other dimension to the world.”  

How Does It Help Researchers?

According to Isabelle and Marta, bicultural researchers leverage a breadth of cultural experiences and perspectives to make deeper human connections and arrive at richer insights.

Language Fluency

Bicultural researchers have an intuitive grasp of nuances across languages. As Marta notes, direct word-for-word translation doesn’t always convey the right meaning or achieve the intended response. The bicultural moderator listens for gaps in understanding and pivots strategies in real time.


Cultural Fluency

Language is only the tip of the iceberg. Bicultural moderators like Marta and Isabelle pick up on unspoken cultural norms and values that shape consumer thinking and behavior.   

For example, Marta describes how the Hispanic value of personalismo requires her to build warmer rapport with participants: “It’s about the community and family and make the circle bigger and allowing others to come in.” She'll use touch to comfort or connect. In contrast, the same behaviors could feel invasive to mainstream American respondents.  

Biculturalism also tunes moderators into generational nuances within cultures. Isabelle talks about distinguishing insights that are culturally driven from those tied to life stage.

Mitigating Bias

All researchers have biases, says Marta. For bicultural researchers, constantly moving between cultures heightens self-awareness. By pinpointing areas of difference, they can better recognize and set aside preconceived notions.  

For example, Marta cautions against stereotyping the Hispanic community’s interests. While those cultural touchpoints matter, she says, “It goes into belief systems and the way people dream and the hopes that they have and, and the aspirations.”

Adapting Approaches

Bicultural researchers tailor their moderating style and interview techniques to resonate across cultures. As Isabelle explains, “You put everything that's in you on a tray, and depending on who's in front of you, you cherry pick, yes. What is appropriate to really instill that trust.”

She and Marta adapt their warmth, humour, body language, and conversation pacing when moving between English and French/Spanish groups. While a mainstream American group may prefer more personal space and professional distance, Hispanic participants appreciate the rapport created through touch and words of endearment.

Isabelle also notes that Canadians that speak French get talkative and sociable in the waiting room, so she joins that dynamic, while English-speaking groups keep to themselves. This impacts her introduction style and flow.

Creative Techniques  

To delve beyond surface responses, Marta embraces creative exercises to “get people to express in a deeper way.” Tapping the unconscious allows fresh self-insights to emerge organically.  

Educating Clients

Bicultural researchers act as interpreters, revealing cultural nuances that clients may overlook. Marta immerses clients upfront to set the stage for those “aha” discoveries, while Isabelle traces insights back to foundational values using Edward T. Hall’s Cultural Iceberg Model iceberg framework. Their guidance makes culture tangible and actionable.

The Multicultural Edge

Biculturalism hones skills transferable to understanding any culture. As Marta says, “It’s not just ethnicity. It’s not just language, it really is, you know, a lot of different things that, you know, can be important to somebody.” Both emphasize listening without assumptions as key.  

While their blended insights come intuitively, Isabelle and Marta agree bicultural researchers still work hard behind the scenes. But their dual cultural lenses allow them to connect, observe and empathize on a deeper human level to unlock powerful multicultural insights.

Humanity and Belonging

At its core, biculturalism is about openness to shared humanity. For Marta and Isabelle, it’s about claiming confidence in their own belonging and using that profoundly to invite others in.

As Marta concludes, her biculturalism has been her “essence,” guiding her through struggle and uplifting her mission to be the voice for Hispanic consumers. At the end of the day, cultural fluency is about moving past fear and bias to embrace the richness of our collective story.  

In a complex world, these bicultural researchers exemplify how cross-cultural empathy and understanding can reveal powerful new insights that resonate across all people.

Cultural Fluency: How Biculturalism Helps with Consumer Understanding

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