What is Intercultural Competence?

tekijä: Kari Parrott Viimeisin muutos lauantai 03. elokuuta 2013, 21.14

Intercultural competence is an important area of research in intercultural communication and other related fields, such as linguistics, psychology and education. Intercultural competence is not, however, interesting from a research standpoint only. It is a topical concept for practitioners (e.g., employees, employers, trainers) in various fields (e.g., business, diplomacy, development work, social work, health care).

In a globalizing world, research-based knowledge and information on intercultural competence is expected both in academia and one's professional life. Among others, the following questions are being asked:

  • What is intercultural competence?
  • What does it consist of?
  • What qualities should people have in order to be interculturally apt?
  • Is it tied to an individual, or co-created in interaction?
  • Is intercultural competence something one can learn? To what extent?
  • How can intercultural competence be measured and evaluated?


During the last 25 years researchers from various fields - particularly psychology and communication - have tried to answer these questions.

Linguists and language teachers remember the discussions from 1960s on the concept of"communicative competence". This concept was developed by Dell Hymes in response to Noam Chomsky's theoretical concept of competence, particularly Chomsky's distinction between "competence" and "performance". In everyday communicative situations, interactional dynamics or cultural foundations of communication were not of Chomsky's interest. For Hymes, however, concrete communication acts in sociocultural contexts were relevant objects of study. His concept of communicative competence was well received by applied linguists and language teachers, who were engaged in improving language use, particularly oral proficiency.

Within the fields of communication and psychology several models of intercultural competence have been developed in the past decades. Communication researchers have approached competence from an interactional point of view, psychologists from the point of view of individual internal processes. Most models contain lists of personal attributes, psychological adaptation, communication skills and cultural awareness (see e.g., Chen & Starosta 1998).