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Defining intercultural communication

To help you understand the focus of this course, here we explain the meaning of the term intercultural communication.

You may have already heard the term “intercultural communication”. In this section, we provide several commonly accepted academic and applied definitions to clarify this concept and process.

It is helpful when scholars and practitioners clarify what they mean by certain terms. The term “intercultural communication” represents broad ideas that are difficult to express in just one way. Thus we present several working definitions as starting points for exploring this topic:

  • Intercultural communication refers to the communication between people from two different cultures. (Chen & Starosta, 1998:28)
  • Intercultural communication is a symbolic, interpretive, transactional, contextual process, in which people from different cultures create shared meanings. (Lustig & Koester, 2007:46)
  • Intercultural communication refers to the effects on communication behavior, when different cultures interact together. Hence, one way of viewing intercultural communication is as communication that unfolds in symbolic intercultural spaces. (Arasaratnam, 2013:48)

You might want to consider which of these definitions best describes this idea and process for you. Perhaps you’ve seen another definition or statement that would be helpful for us and your fellow participants to see. If so, share your thoughts or other quotes (and their author and source if possible) with us. Thanks!


  • Arasaratnam, L. A. (2013). Intercultural communication competence. In A. Kurylo (Ed.), Intercultural communication: Representation and construction of culture (Chap 3, pp. 47-68). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.
  • Chen, G. M., & Starosta, W. J. (1998). Foundations of intercultural communication: Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Lustig, M. W., & Koester, J. (2007). Intercultural competence: interpersonal communication across cultures (5th ed.). Shanghai, China: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.
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Intercultural Communication: Dynamics of cultural identities in global interaction

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