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EDUC 878 - Intercultural Competence

Resources for Intercultural Competence related to Theory of and Research Application to International Education

What is Intercultural Competence?

There are many definitions and models for “Intercultural competence."  All these definitions have some themes in common including the following abilities:

  • to communicate
  • to understand ourselves, the situation and others
  • to cooperate
  • to act

At its heart if one is interculturally competent he/she is able to successfully communicate with people from other cultures. It is not bound by a person's age.  It is a skill which can always be developed and improved.  Deardoff (2006) defines it as the ability to develop targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behavior and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions.” (Deardoff, 2006, doi: 10.1177/1028315306287002).

The following rubric developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities may also be useful:  Intercultural Knowledge and Competence Value Rubric.

Intercultural Competence Models

Darla Deardorff's Intercultural Competence Model

Darla Deardorff’s Intercultural Competence Model (2006) is based on five elements: attitude, knowledge, skills, internal outcomes, and external outcomes. This model provides a framework that can be utilized to guide a curriculum that promotes intercultural competence and assessment of learning outcomes.

  • Attitudes: There are three key attitudes: respect, openness, and curiosity. Respect demonstrates that you value others who are from different backgrounds, and openness and curiosity are necessary to move outside of your comfort zone. These three attitudes are foundational for the development of knowledge and skills needed for intercultural competence. 
  • Knowledge: In order to achieve intercultural competence, you must have a cultural self-awareness, culture-specific knowledge, deep cultural knowledge (understanding of other world views), and sociolinguistic awareness. Understanding the world from others’ perspectives is fundamental to intercultural competence.      
  • Skills: Observing, listening, evaluating, analyzing, interpreting, and relating are skills necessary for processing knowledge. When interacting with others from diverse backgrounds, you cannot rely on knowledge alone. You will also need to use these skills in order to understand and process information.    
  • Internal Outcomes: The attitudes, knowledge, and skills lead to an internal outcome that consists of flexibility, adaptability, and empathy. These abilities allow individuals to achieve intercultural competence to some degree. At this point, you are able to begin to see from others’ perspectives and respond to others according to the way in which the other desires to be treated.
  • External Outcomes: The behavior and communication skills demonstrated by an individual based on their attitudes, knowledge, skills, and internal outcomes are the external outcomes experienced by others. The effective and appropriate behavior and communication are the visible external outcomes of intercultural competence.

Describes the Intercultural Competence Model

Reproduced with permission Raynor Memorial Libraries (Marquette University), 2017.

Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS)

Many people are at different levels of intercultural competence. To help visualize where you may be, look at the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) by Milton Bennett (1986). There are six steps to achieving an intercultural mindset:

Stage 1: Denial- The ability to recognize the more observable cultural differences, but may avoid or withdraw from these cultural differences.

Stage 2: Polarization- A judgmental orientation that views cultural differences in terms of “us” and “them.”

  • Defense: Critical view of other cultural values.
  • Reversal: Critical view of one’s own cultural values and not critical of the other

Stage 3: Minimization – Sees cultural commonality and universal values that may also mask deeper recognition and appreciation of cultural differences.

Stage 4: Acceptance – Recognizes and appreciates patterns of cultural differences and commonalities in one’s own and other cultures.

Stage 5: Adaptation – Able to shift cultural perspective and change behavior in culturally appropriate and authentic ways.

Stage 6: Integration – Able to move smoothly in and out of different cultural worldviews and develop a feeling of membership in a new culture.

Integration graphic showing the process from denial through adaptation

The goal is to move from a monocultural mindset, in which we make sense of cultural differences and commonalities based on our own values and practices and use stereotypes to identify cultural differences, to an intercultural or global mindset. In an intercultural mindset, we use our own and other culture’s values and practices to make sense of cultural differences.

Reproduced with permission Raynor Memorial Libraries (Marquette University), 2017.

Taylor’s learning model for intercultural competence evolved out of a research project which analyzed the learning process involved in teachers becoming interculturally competent.

1.  Setting the stage

  • People’s experience can act as the impetus for intercultural learning
  • People’s experiences form a background for intercultural learning

2.  Cultural disequilibrium

  • The point at which a person experience uncomfortableness and/or unease in the foreign setting
  • This component is required for change to occur and to become interculturally competent

3.  Cognitive orientations

  • Non-reflective orientation - Occurs when a person does not question their own personal cultural beliefs, assumptions, and values
  • Reflective orientation
    • A person questions their own personal cultural beliefs, assumptions, and values
    • It leads to deep critical thinking
    • Leads to cultural competence

4.  Behavioral learning strategies

  • The behaviors, actions and/or learning strategies which can be grouped into three subcategories
    • A person watches what natives do and performed the same actions (Observer)
    • A person participated in cultural activities such as working with cultural natives, buying local food, and dress like the natives. (Particpant)
    • A person develops long-term relationships with natives which leads to a less stressful and fearful environment for the person and the formation of friendships and long-term relationships. (Friend)

6.  Evolving intercultural identity

  • Occurs when the person’s intercultural identify evolves
  • The person adopts the perspectives and values of the other culture
  • The person's view of the world changes

Setting the stages of Taylor's intercultural competence model

Taylor, E.W. (1994). Intercultural competency: A transformative learning process. Adult Education Quarterly 44 (3), 154-174.  doi: 10.1177/074171369404400303