Intercultural competences


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A set of cognitive, affective and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts. Some have termed intercultural competence as a developmental process of personal maturation, whereby the learner evolves from lower to higher levels of intercultural awareness (Bennett, 1986, 1998). Intercultural competence can be explained in terms of stages of intercultural sensitivity from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism. Intercultural competence can arise from learning to adapt to the differences and the psychological stress caused by broad experiences, incorporates changes in cognition, behavior, and beliefs.

Teachers and educators are increasingly aware that they must understand a great deal more about the cultural background of all their students as well as the communities where their pupils reside. Teachers intercultural competence mainly refers to suitable educative supplies, to the dexterities and in the scientific training that the teacher must have for intercultural education, as well as in his flexibility or in his capability to apply the theory, so that he can manage with fluency the diversity and achieve his teaching goals (Papachristos, 2007). The teachers, consequently, need to adopt flexible methods of teaching, which correspond in the multicultural particularities of individuals and teams in classroom. This reflects the necessity of an intercultural dimension in the education of teachers (Damanakis, 2005, Betelaan, 2008, Karatzia and Spinthouraki, 2005, Palaiologou and Euaggelou, 2003).

The competence has two preconditions. One is in terms of knowledge about the foreign society and social processes, about self and other, and about interaction and all that goes into it in a given situation. The other precondition is in terms of attitude. This refers to features like openness, flexibility, empathy, awareness of others, and the ability to relativize one’s perspective and overcome dysfunctions and resistances. All of which allow establishing and maintaining relationships with other cultures.

Intercultural Competence – variety of cultural contexts

Cognitive Affective Behavioral
Cultural self-awareness Curiosity Relationship building
Culture-general knowledge Cognitive flexibility Listening, problem solving
Culture-specific knowledge Motivation Empathy
Interaction analysis Open mindedness Information gathering

Classroom Strategies to Increase Engagement of Culturally Diverse Students

To increase engagement of culturally diverse pupils, try specific classroom strategies, developed by a group:

  1. Set clear expectations, via your syllabus and modeling desired behaviours, for class participation and the value of sharing cultural perspectives.
  2. Vary forms of classroom participation, including: working in pairs and small groups before reporting out to large groups; using clickers; utilizing responses from course website/discussion board during in-class discussions; having pupils write individual contracts that allocate points based on categories of skills they want to develop.
  3. Communicate on an individual level, e.g.require pupils (or give them specific incentives) to sign up for office hours during the first 2-3 weeks; walk around the room to engage with students or student groups on a more individual basis.
  4. Arrange seats in a circle with a talking stick.
  5. Plan time for reflection before soliciting responses from the class.
  6. Raise the status of students with lower language skills.
  7. Use show and tell activities to highlight culture, e.g. incorporate “artifacts” in e-portfolios.
  8. Be intentional in the design of groups or assignments, e.g. assign specific roles; use playing cards to assign students to groups randomly.
  9. Share awareness of personal limitations and worldview.


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Title: Cultural identity

Objective: To raise awareness of teachers about their cultural identity and about the degree of their perceptible intercultural competences



You have a cultural, ethnic, and/or racial identity that shapes your understanding of the world, and your perceptions about others.

Take a few minutes to write down your own cultural identity, and your experience of it.

Do you have a racial identity? How does it shape your view of yourself? After you have done this, discuss it with someone of a different culture or race.


Answer the questions proposed as reflections to assess the degree of your perceptible intercultural competences

  • Have you adjusted the content of teaching for the pupils of your classroom with different cultural background and in which way?
  • Have you used alternative models of teaching suitably adjusted for multicultural classrooms? If yes list two examples.
  • Do you think that the teaching methods you select are suitable for multicultural environments and why?
  • Do you think that you can correspond to your educational duties in classrooms with pupils lingual and cultural different?
  • To what extent you think that you can handle with facility subjects that concern the diversity?
  • To what extent do you consider that you can correspond satisfactorily in the management of problems and conflicts between students of different cultures?

Materials: paper and pen.

 Case studies

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There are two pupils in the same class of primary school that has just arrived with their families from different countries. Yinan comes from China and Sasha is from Russia. They aren´t very fluent in English (or country’s language).

During the first weeks of class, Yinan has not contributed anything to the discussions at class. She is uncomfortable whenever the teacher opens conversations and she refuses to participate in most of the activities because it is difficult for her to understand instructions.

Sasha speaks quite forcefully sometimes giving 5-7 sentences in English and the rest of the time he speaks Russian. He is very talkative.

In week three, the teacher assigns a group exercise and asks the class to get into groups of 3-4. Within minutes pupils have sorted themselves out and Yinan and Sasha are without a group.

Questions to reflect:

  • How do feel in relation to what you observe in this specific moment?
  • How do you think Yinan and Sasha feel?
  • What seems to be the main obstacle for pupils’ integration of this class?

Based on Step 2 of the activity presented above, reflect also about these questions:

  • Do you think is it neccesary to adjust the content of teaching for the pupils of this classroom with different cultural background and why?
  • Would you use alternative models of teaching suitably adjusted for this multicultural classroom and which ones?
  • Do you think that the teaching methods applied in the case are suitable for multicultural environments?Elaborate on the reasons why.
  • Do you think that the teacher can correspond to his/her educational duties in classrooms with students lingual and cultural different? Justify your answer.
  • How would you as a teacher handle this specific situation?
  • How would you manage problems and conflicts between pupils of different cultures?