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Asking "What is intercultural communication?"

This article describes what we mean as Educators when we talk about the focus of this course regarding various elements of “Intercultural communication”.

In our analysis, there are three important elements that mark a communicative act as being intercultural. They are generally:

  • contact (communication)
  • between different cultures (inter-), where
  • the cultural differences affect in the process.

First, contact: It does not matter whether this is face to face or through a medium (e.g., letter, email, online games, social media, etc.), but some kind of interaction must be taking place. Given the rapidly developing information and communication technology (ICT) of our era, communication is now facilitated on multiple platforms with audiences from all around the world.

Secondly, cultural differences exist in these contacts. Cultural differences can be categorized by nationality, ethnicity, religious belief, gender, age/generation, geographical region, political ideology, body (dis)ability, sexual orientation, etc. Hardly anyone belongs to only one cultural grouping, so it is natural that several categories might apply or be salient in any specific interaction. Note some examples given in the article.

Thirdly, cultural differences are what influences communication. When cultural differences can be noted as affecting the interaction, then it qualifies as a process of intercultural communication. Please note how these are illustrated in the article.

In sum, you can characterize any communication interaction as being intercultural if you can identify a cultural difference and show how it influences the communicative event. There is no magic line which isolates “intercultural” from other types of communication. Although in practice, many equate cultural differences to groups divided by nationality, ethnicity, or race, it is important that you keep in mind a broader understanding of the “cultures” that each of us embody. Reflecting further on the definitions provided in the downloadable article, or those from other learners in these steps, can help you expand your ideas on the scope of intercultural communication.

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This article is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)

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