Skip main navigation

What is intercultural communication?

Any communication interaction is intercultural if you can identify a cultural difference and show how it influences the communicative event
There are three important elements that mark a communicative act as being intercultural. They are generally:

  1. Contact (communication)
  2. between different cultures (inter-), where
  3. the cultural differences affect in the process

1 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.

2 Cultural differences

Cultural differences exist in these contacts. Cultural differences can be categorised 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.

3 Affecting the process

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.


In summary, you can characterise 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.

© CHI Ruobing, Shanghai International Studies University
This article is from the free online

Intercultural Communication: Dynamics of cultural identities in global interaction

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now