Understanding intercultural communicative competence

Definition of Culture

What do we know about intercultural communicative competence? Before defining this very term, let’s see what culture is.

Culture is fundamental and a base of all humanities, this word (and its forms) is widely used in different contexts (e.g.culture area (geographical territory where people of the same culture, language and traditions live); culture complex, culture conflict, culture absolute (the norm of an organization which is believed to be the one right for everyone by bearers of this culture); cultural affairs, cultural background, cultural attaché, culturally deprived environment (slums), etc.).

There are a lot of definitions of the word ‘culture’; it numbers about 500 different definitions nowadays. Anthropologists Kroeber and Klukhohn divided those definitions into 6 groups:

  1. “Description definitions. They describe culture as the sum of all human activities, traditions, and beliefs.
  2. Historical definitions. They link culture to traditions and social heritage of humanity.
  3. Regulatory definitions. They consider culture as the sum of rules that organize human behavior.
  4. Psychological definitions. They describe culture as the sum of learned behavior’s forms that arise consequently by man’s cultural adaptation to living conditions.
  5. Structural definitions. They interpret culture as different kinds of models, or unite system of interrelated phenomena.
  6. Genetic definitions. They are based on culture interpretation as human’s group adaptation to its environment” [1].

As we can see there are a lot of interpretations of what culture is. It is because culture is a versatile subject and is studied by many sciences. For the example several definitions of the word ‘culture’ will be mentioned below:

  • “Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.
  • A culture is a way of life of a group of people the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.
  • Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand, as conditioning influences upon further action.
  • Culture is the sum of total of the learned behavior of a group of people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to generation.
  • Culture is symbolic communication. Some of its symbols include a group's skills, knowledge, attitudes, values, and motives. The meanings of the symbols are learned and deliberately perpetuated in a society through its institutions.
  • Culture in its broadest sense is cultivated behavior; that is the totality of a person's learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted, or more briefly, behavior through social learning.
  • Culture is communication, communication is culture.
  • The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively” [2].

Cultural Phenomena

Speaking about culture, there must be mentioned such phenomena as ‘cultural relativism’, ‘cultural ethnocentrism’, and ‘cultural determinism’.

Cultural relativism is about studying differences in culture among groups and societies. It is about realizing that different cultural groups think, feel, and do things in a different way; and there is no scientific proof that, one culture is superior, or inferior to another. People of one cultural group must understand and accept that people of another cultural group might have another viewpoint and way of acting.

Cultural ethnocentrism is, on the other hand, belief that one’s own culture is superior to others, and there is only one “right” way to do things – as according to one’s own culture.

Cultural determinism is a theory saying that, people are what they learn; beliefs, ideas, and values people learn determine human nature. There are optimistic and pessimistic versions of this theory. “Optimists” believe that human nature is flexible and human being can choose the way of living. There is no right way of being a human.

“Pessimists” believe that human beings are passive creatures and they have no control over their culture. They live how they are meant to live and be they act and do whatever their culture tells them to do; behavior is beyond control.

Culture and Communication

Culture cannot exist alone, without turning to its past or observing experience of other cultures. When cultures observe each other’s experience, they interact. Each culture has its own system of symbols which was developing throughout the history. People create symbols which help and complicate at the same time understanding other cultures. During the mankind’s history there have been created plenty of behavioral signs without which, any kind of activity is impossible. It involves human being into interacting with other people, and culture.

Signs were divided into several groups depending on the purpose:

  1. “Signs copies. They reproduce events of real life, but are not real life itself.
  2. Signs indicators. They give some information about the subject.
  3. Sighs signals. They contain information about agreement on subjects that they give information about.
  4. Signs symbols. They give information about subject by marking out some of its quality.
  5. Language signs.” [1]

Signs do not make any sense when alone; they must be interrelated with other signs and be in system.

All signs relate to a culture of a particular time, and group. Knowledge, habits, traditions, and signs are taught from generation to generation. It is important to pass cultural values from one generation to another; and to share those values with other cultures, without it culture will not survive.

Intercultural Communicative Competence

Nowadays people of different cultures interact with each other more often because of globalization. People travel more, people move from one country to another; cultures clash and mix. People surmount cultural difficulties, cultural differences gradually become extinct. Culture transformations entail various opinions and reactions.

It depends on ethnical culture and cultural viewpoint how people of different cultures understand each other and how negotiation can go. Interrelation between two different cultures is called “intercultural communication”. Relationships can be called “intercultural” if people involved in these relationships are of different cultural backgrounds, and do not use and involve patterns of one’s own culture (traditions, viewpoints), but ready to know another culture’s peculiarities.

Here we come to the notion “competence”. Competence is:

  • “the ability to do something successfully or efficiently
  • the scope of a person's or group's knowledge or ability
  • a skill or ability” [3]
  • “A cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge, and skills that enable a person (or an organization) to act effectively in a job or situation” [4]

As follows from the above intercultural communicative competence (often referred as ICC) is an ability to understand cultures and communicate with people of other cultures successfully.

ICC requires from people to gain knowledge, attitudes, skills, and critical cultural awareness. There are two kinds of knowledge:

  • knowledge about social groups, and
  • knowledge of social and individual interaction.

Both knowledge presupposes also knowledge of cultures in one’s own country. Lack of this knowledge will lead to communication failure and conflicts as communication includes nonverbal way of interacting, traditions, greeting manners, and so on. This knowledge can be formed by one’s own experience, and involves background knowledge of the world.

Skills, according to Byram, are divided into two categories:

  • ability to interpret event from another culture, explain it, and relate to one’s own culture;
  • ability to get new knowledge of a culture, and operate it.

Those are also communicative skills which are the complex of ways to express opinion, feelings, and methods to influence the interlocutor. The one has to be able to express this knowledge and put into practice effectively.

There are must be mentioned language knowledge, and psychological skills.

Language knowledge helps to understand one’s own and other cultures. Language clearly shows us differences between cultures that is why knowing language of another culture is a very important condition of intercultural competence; it helps to understand cultural peculiarities. The one knowing language of another culture can easy adapt one’s behavior similar to interlocutors which leads to successful intercultural communication and mutual understanding. Not saying that, language knowledge helps to develop personal qualities such as tolerance, open-mindedness and readiness to interact with people of other cultures.

Psychological skills or intercultural sensitivity includes abilities communicability which helps to be involved into psychological contacts, to form good relationships with interlocutors; it also can be characterized by absence of psychological discomfort, and tension.

But it must be said that, there are not only personal qualities and talents help to be intercultural competent. If this gift would be given by nature, and it was not possible to learn how to be intercultural competent, a lot of projects would not happen, and human development would be backward.

There are several rules by following which the one can be successfully intercultural competent. The rules are:

  • be aware of own culture, and nature;
  • be patient;
  • be attentive to the interlocutor;
  • be good listener;
  • observe situation;
  • do NOT draw hasty conclusion;
  • be calm and react calmly to unpredictable situations;
  • be capable of taking important decisions;
  • check information;
  • think twice;
  • have sincere inquisitiveness for new and desire for learning;
  • get more information about another culture the one interact most with;
  • learn other culture’s prospects;
  • avoid misunderstandings;
  • admit one’s own mistakes;
  • find ways to interact and communicative with people of other cultures.

Using this rules will help to manage the process of intercultural communication, understand this process in a right way, get new knowledge and be intercultural competent.

Forming intercultural communicative competence presupposes readiness to interact with another system, and is based on mutual respect. Differences in thinking, acting, and perceiving must be defined and used in a proper way.

Intercultural competence is a mean to successful intercultural interaction. Criteria for successful intercultural interaction are ability to have constructive conversation, which includes good knowledge of a language, good relationship with interlocutor of another culture. Intercultural communicative competence is important quality in nowadays’ life.



  1. Грушевицкая Т.Г., Попков В.Д., Садохин А.П. (2004). Основы межкультурной коммуникации: Учебник для вузов (Под ред. А.П. Садохина.) М.: ЮНИТИДАНА.
  2. Hofstede, G. (1997). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the mind. New York: McGraw Hill. Retrieved from: http:// www. tamu. edu/faculty/
  3. http://www. businessdictionary. com/
  4. ABBYY Lingvo X3 ME
  5. Krylov A.V. (2012). Intercultural competence in modern communication. Retrieved from: http://www.rae.ru/ forum2012/ pdf/
  6. Lynne Parmenter. (2003). Intercultural communicative competence. Retrieved from: http: //tb. sanseido. co. jp/ english/ newcrown/ pdf/
Year: 2013
City: Oskemen
Category: Philology