Understanding the concept of intercultural competence

Actually, the process of teaching and learning a foreign language unites the presing.

Intercultural competence is in plain ence of another culture as well as contact with Otherness. An encounter with otherness – whether national, racial, or ethnic – is experienced as defiance to the existing beliefs, values, and behaviors of people. This challenge may have a twofold effect, leading either to a confrontational relationship with other, in which self and other are experienced as incompatible; or leading to a relationship of acceptance where self and other are trying to negotiate a cultural platform that is satisfactory to all parties involved.

Establishing open-mindedness, tolerance of difference, and respect for self and other is now widely accepted as among the most effective ways of promoting intercultural communication in the foreign language classes. Although most teachers do not deny the importance of intercultural communication in their language course curriculum, few teachers actively value whether their students are approaching their intercultural learning goals or not. The problem may be due to the fact that teachers are uncertain as to how intercultural communicative competence should be evaluated. It is necessary to specify the ways of assessing students’ intercultural learnterms the ability to be effective when interacting between cultures. It is a rather elusive set of qualities that enable a person to successfully navigate through differences they encounter in interactions with others in contexts such as business, education, and daily interactions. Because competence is very necessary in a world, it is something that scholars in various disciplines have researched for decades, but without agreement about what it is, what it is made up of, how to value it, or how to develop it.

Intercultural ability, or ICC for short, has been conceptualized in a variety of ways. Early in the history of scholarship on the construct, the conceptualizations varied according to the researcher’s theoretical orientation or specific sample being studied. Some of these concepts were named as cross-cultural adjustment, cross-cultural recast, intercultural understanding, overseas success, personal growth or adjustment, cross-cultural effectiveness, and satisfaction with overseas experience [1, 66-78]. In the last two decades, there has been a growing unanimity on the conceptualization of ICC competence. As a reflection of this consensus and for the purposes of this essay, there are a number of implications provoked in this conceptualization.

The representations of culture have undergone considerable change in the field of ICC scholarship. Some researchers take a more traditional approach at defining culture and typically use attributes such as race, nationality, ethnicity, or geographic region to operationalized culture. Other scholars point on culture as a “learned set of shared interpretations about beliefs, values, and norms, which affect the behaviors of a relatively large group of people” [2, 30]. With this shift of focus, the operationalization of culture is not where members were born or the color of their skin, but on the commonalities in and interpretations of their behaviors. Taking this tack, operationalization of culture could include the elderly, singles with physical disabilities, individuals who are deaf, sexual orientations, or genders [3]. Certainly, the latter approach opens more sub-populations to investigation; however the problem becomes one of determining sufficient distinctive features to delineate different cultures.

A number of theoretical solutions have been suggested to help resolve this problem. One possible solution comes from Gudykunst and Lim (1986) who suggest qualitative distinctions based upon the peculiarity of individual versus group attribute s in influencing the nature of singles’ attributions and their communication. If there is a greater advantage of single characteristics, the communication is considered more interpersonal; while if group attribute s predominates, the communication is considered intergroup. Another possible solution is the reliance on cultural dimensions; for example, singleism/ collectivism, independent or interdependent selfconstructs, and high or low power distance. With the use of these cultural dimensions, the operationalization of culture moves from a more typological and discrete format to one that is based on degrees of differences in cultural dimensions. Finally, a third solution involves the symbolic interactionism principle of self-referencing, namely, the operationalization of culture is based on one’s own self-identity [4, 99-120]. With this approach, it becomes more important to measure how communicators define their own identities, be those identities ethnic, social, or cultural. What criteria should be used to judge ICC ability? A growing number of communication scholars have embraced Spitzberg’s answer to this question: “Efficient communication is interaction that is perceived as effective in fulfilling certain rewarding goals in a way that is also appropriate to the context in which the interaction occurs” [5, 68]. That means that competent communication consists of behaviors which are regarded as effective and appropriate. Effective communication means that people are able to achieve desired personal outcomes. So, competent communicators should be able to control and manipulate their social environment to obtain those goals. This presumes that efficient communicators are able to identify their goals, assess the resources necessary to obtain those goals, accurately predict the other communicator’s responses, choose workable communication strategies, enact those communication strategies, and, finally, accurately assess the results of the interaction [6].

The two criteria of effectiveness and appropriateness combine to influence the quality of the interaction. In his recent formulation on ICC competence, Spitzberg (2000) suggested four possible interaction styles that may result from the combinations of the extremes of the two criteria:

  1. Minimizing interaction is both inappropriate and ineffective, and would obviously be of a low communicative quality.
  2. Sufficient interaction is appropriate but ineffective, that is, it is highly accommodating and does nothing objectionable, but also accomplishes no personal goal s. Here, Spitzberg suggested that the sufficing style is sufficient to meet the basic demands of the context, but accomplishes nothing more.
  3. Maximizing communication occurs when an individual is effective in achieving personal goals, but at the cost of being highly inappropriate contextually. This style may include verbal aggression, unscrupulous behavior, deception, the infringement of others’ rights, or the degradation of others.
  4. Optimizing communication occurs when communicators simultaneously achieve their personal goals and fulfill the normative expectations of the context. While this two-bytwo analysis of discrete, binary combinations of the two criteria may be a bit simplistic, it helps to provide insight into the dialectics of the ability criteria in social episodes.

We achieve the active aspect of our representations of inter cultural ability. When communicators interact, they are co-orienting and coordinating their behaviors (verbal and nonverbal) to accomplish social functions, obtain personal goals, and conform to the normative expectations of the situation. To the extent that the communicators do these activities effectively and appropriately, they are considered competent communicators.

There has been considerable variation in the focus on communicative behaviors across investigations on ICC competence. In an early study, Ruben identified seven dimensions of interaction related to one’s effectiveness in overseas assignments: display of respect, interaction posture, and orientation to knowledge, empathy, role behavior, interaction management, and tolerance for ambiguity. These general behaviors were subsequently operationalized in both self-report and observer measures, and applied to the evaluation of overseas technical assistance personnel [7, 15-48], Japanese student sojourners, and ICC workshop participants.

In another early study, Hammer, Gudykunst, and Wiseman examined the intercultural effectiveness among American sojourners in terms of their educational experiences in other nations. Based upon a measure consisting of 24 general behaviors posited to be instrumental in one’s intercultural effectiveness, a factor analysis of the sojourners’ responses determined three basic factors: ability to deal with psychological stress, ability to communicate effectively, and ability to establish interpersonal relationships. [8, 11-16].

ICC ability is not something inherent within us, nor does it occur accidentally. Rather, there are necessary conditions that must exist before we are consciously and compatibly competent in our intercultural communications. Spitzberg and Cupach (1984) singled out three conditions: knowledge, motivation, and deftness. If an interacting is lacking one of these conditions, the likelihood of competent intercultural interaction is significantly diminished.

Knowledge refers to our awareness or understanding of requisite information and actions to be intercultural competent. A knowledgeable communicator needs information about the people, the communication rules, the context, and the normative expectations governing the interaction with the member of the other culture. Without this information, the communicator will invariably make misattributions, choose incorrect communication strategies, violate rules of etiquette, or cause the loss of face for self or other. Further, the unknowing communicator may not be able to correctly describe the reasons for the errors or be able to correct them. To obtain the needed knowledge to competently communicate, singles need to be sensitive to the feedback from others as well as be cognitively flexible to accommodate that feedback.

Motivation refers to the set of feelings, intentions, needs, and drives associated with the anticipation of or actual engagement in intercultural interaction. Factors such as anxiety, perceived social distance, attraction, ethnocentrism, and prejudice can influence an individual’s decision to communicate with another. If our fears, dislikes, and anxieties predominating our affect toward the other, we will have negative motivation, and we will be likely to avoid the interaction, even if we feel we have the requisite knowledge and deftness to perform.

Skills refer to the actual performance of the behaviors felt to be effective and appropriate in the communication context. For Spitzberg (2000), skills must be repeatable and goal-oriented. If a person accidentally produces a behavior that is perceived as competent, this would not be adequate, since the person may not be able to replicate the same behavior with the same effect. The person needs to be able to perform the script fluently and with cause (i.e., an appropriate rationale for its performance). This brings us to the notion that deftness must be goal-oriented. There must be some teleological basis for the performance, or else it is just behavior, not skilled behavior. The goals may be personal, dyadic, social, or contextual.

Much acquisition of ICC is tutored and takes place within an educational setting. The formal education with specific attention to the intercultural aspects is politically, religiously and socially influenced, which at times and in some places impedes the process of communicative language learning and teaching. However, there are some general goals set for ICC teachers and students and in general for foreign language education to be followed.

Doye (1993), cited in Byram (1997), draws parallels between foreign language education and ‘politishe Bildung’ as understood in the German tradition of schooling. He bases his analysis on Gogel’s (1983) distinction of three kinds of orientation to be offered across all subjects to young people during their general education:

  1. Cognitive orientation: the acquisition of concepts, knowledge and modes of analysis for the understanding of different phenomena,
  2. Evaluative orientation: the explanation and mediation of values,
  3. Action orientation: development of the ability and the readiness for different types of engagement.

When teachers are not comfortable with political or religious orientations, they can base their intercultural communicative competence differently on morale or other aspects of values. ICC teaching within a school or institution has this responsibility to establish an awareness of the values and significance of cultural practices in the other and own culture. What in effect proves critically needed and crucial is that in any way possible, whether registered techniques or even innovative of the teachers themselves, the teachers and learners shall try to attain ability in intercultural interaction through a language and its relationship to the cultural practices and identities interlocutors bring to an interaction.

The assessment of ICC is complex but rewarding as it provides feedback to students related to their intercultural learning, and it also informs teachers about the nature and level of their students’ intercultural performance.

In this context, distinction should be made between formative and summative assessment. The former is carried out during the course as an ongoing process, with the aim of giving students guidance on their performance, and improving the learning process, while the latter evaluates the learners’ achievement at the end of a course, with a final grade or mark. Since ICC covers cognitive, behavioral and affective domains, its evaluation should be formative rather than summative [9, 23].

Secondly, the assessment of ICC should be continuous and not administered at one or two instances during a course. ICC may be assessed either by the teacher, or by the students themselves.

Thirdly, assessment can be carried out at different phases of a course. For example, a pre-test intends to find out the initial level of the students’ Intercultural knowledge, deftness’s and attitudes before the course starts, a test during the course can “gauge progress and increase motivation” [10, 194], and a post-test measures the students’ intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes after the course has ended, giving thus some indication of the effectiveness of intercultural learning.

Fourthly, different types of test format may be resorted to at different stages of an intercultural course, depending on the goals of instruction. Tests may be roughly divided into goal and subjective ones. The former require no evaluative judgment on the part of the assessor, whereas the latter involve some kind of personal evaluation of the assessor’s performance.

A further distinction is made between holistic and analytic assessment. The former means making a global impressionistic judgment about the learners’ performance on a task as a whole, whereas the latter requires that the assessor should observe closely all the three dimensions of ICC, or each dimension separately in order to come out with different profiles of learner performance [9, 25].

Finally, the assessment of ICC may be either direct or indirect. The former measures learner performance directly by requiring the assessing to perform a role play, or discuss another culture’s attitudes in a small group with the assessor matching their performance to the most appropriate categories on a criteria grid. Indirect assessment, on the other hand, is a pen-and-paper test, which often assesses intercultural knowledge [9, 39].

When assessing ICC, the teacher invariably becomes an observer of the intercultural learning process rather than of its end product. Therefore,

Standardized tests based on a norm, and grading learners with a mark and score as a result of indirect testing, lose their relevance here. By contrast, the teacher has to rely upon alternative assessment tools, such as selfevaluation reports, portfolios, observation checklists of the intercultural learning process and of students’ progress. For these reasons, the main purpose of ICC assessment is to give teachers, as well as students, an estimation of the intercultural learning, based upon concrete descriptors and criteria of performance, which are categorized in terms of low, medium and high profile.

We found out that foreign or second language education has culturally and intercultural grown and come to this conclusion that foreign or second language learners should be intercultural equipped to enjoy an efficient communication in this globalized community. Textbooks evidently play a great role in this demand and authenticity of materials with all intercultural factors and objectives is, needless to say, a requirement hitherto neglected to some extent. Authenticity of the texts shall be kept intact and, if felt extremely necessary, they can be amended without losing its initial message.



  1. Harris, J. G. (1975). Identification of crosscultural talent: The empirical approach of the Peace Corps. Topics in Culture Learning, 3
  2. Lustig, M. W., & Koester, J. (1999). Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures (3rd ed.). New York: Longman.
  3. Herek, G.M., & Giles, H. (2000, June). New directions in intercultural communication competence: The process model. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Acapulco, Mexico.
  4. Collier, M. J., & Thomas, M. (1988). Identity in intercultural communication: An interpretive perspective. In Y. Kim & W. Gudykunst (Eds.), Theories of intercultural communication. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  5. Spitzberg, B. H., & Cupach, W. R. (1989). Handbook of interpersonal competence research. New York: Springer-Verlag.
  6. Parks, M. R. (1976, November). Communication competence. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Speech Communication Association, San Francisco.
  7. Ruben, B. D., & Kealey, D. (1979). Behavioral assessment of communication competency and the prediction of cross-cultural adaptation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 3.
  8. Wiseman, R. L., & Abe, H. (1984). Finding and explaining differences: A reply to Gudykunst & Hammer. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 8.
  9. Lussier, D.Ivanus, D., ChavdarovaKostova, S., Golubina, K., Skopinskaja, L., Wiesinger, S., de la Maya Retamar, G. 2007. Guidelines for the Assessment of Intercultural Communicative Competence in Lazar, I., Huber-Kriegler, M., Lussier, D., Matei, G.S., Peck, C. Developing and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence: A Guide for Language Teachers and Teacher Educators, Strasbourg and Graz: European Centre for Modern Languages and Council of Europe Publishing.
  10. Corbett, J. 2003. An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Year: 2013
City: Almaty
Category: Philology