Hymes' speaking model is significant for students and others who find themselves interacting with people from other cultures because of the way it helps people understand the ways that communication differs in different cultural situations.
For example, if you are a non-Chinese person from the U.S. and were applying this model in a casual kind of way and found yourself in China, you would not just assume that there are the same types of speech communities as in the United States. You would first recognize that you are among a particular group of people. Then, you might begin by paying close attention to how they address one another (P).
If you were interested in finding out more about the Participants in order to get along well, you would find answers to the following in order to act appropriately:
Using this ethnography of communication perspective, when you find yourself in another culture or community, you would look to the situations that call for speaking and those that do not (S). For instance, if you are a student in class are you supposed to be speaking, or is that only reserved for the instructor?
Another example is encountering people from a different socio-economic class or gender than you. For instance, in a community referred to by Philipsen (1975/1992) as Teamsterville, “the street” is a setting for speech, particularly for men, whereas the living room is not.
In whatever cross-cultural setting you find yourself, you would also try to find out why people communicate with each other (E). Do they communicate to get something, or to just get along with everyone?
You would also try to figure out the different behaviors that count as communication (A). Does everything count as communication, from blinking your eye to saying "come to my house." Or, is communication used to describe certain things, like using email or the telephone?
When you discover the communication acts, you would think about how people said things (K). Did they get all excited whenever they were speaking to you? Or, were they more reserved and quiet in their speech?
You would also think about how people communicate (I). Do they prefer talking in person or by sending letters? Is one way more personal and another way more public or formal?
When you find yourself in another culture, it is often jarring to discover different rules or norms for communicating (N). Is it o.k. to look at someone who is speaking to you or not? What are the consequences of breaking a norm? For example, if you broke a communication norm in a particular organization (with its own culture) would it mean promotion or demotion?
And, finally, when you come to expect certain behaviors to happen and for them to go a certain way, you’ve likely stumbled upon a genre (G). Does a new person that you’ve met not engage in small talk correctly? Are they telling you too many intimate details about themselves too soon? These differences help you to recognize that you have certain expectations for how to communicate in a certain way and not everyone shares that knowledge or that way.