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
© CHI Ruobing, Shanghai International Studies University

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

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education