Intercultural Communication as a Field of Study and Learning


Marija Liudvika Drazdauskiene

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An acknowledgment: I should like to acknowledge gratefully

the help of Mrs Nijole Petrauskiene, at the American Centre,

Embassy of the United States of America, for her help

in locating information and sources in American publications on

the most recent evaluation of the Internet in my presentation.

An outline

1. An Abstract and key words

2. The aim of the paper related to the Conference theme

3. The difficulty in intercultural communication and its goal

4. Pseudo problems in education for intercultural communication

5. Edward T. Hall’s original paradigm for intercultural communication

6. The known experience in education for intercultural communication:

a) The Lewis Model applied;

b) Rob Dean’s concept for culturally embedded language education;

c) Critical discourse analysis as a resource area;

d) Older relevant resources;

e) An extra idea for intercultural communication.

7. Conclusions

1. Abstract. The complexity and intricacy of intercultural communication opens the question of how this field can be studied and taught. A man of culture and education is likely to enter into communication with representatives of a new culture resorting to his knowledge of language, his general knowledge of different cultures and history, and politeness. This knowledge is the result of upbringing, education, broad general; knowledge and expertise in socialization. Young people are not so well equipped with social and cultural knowledge. Hence is the necessity of courses in intercultural communication. A summary of Edward T. Hall’s paradigm for intercultural communication highlights the strong and weak points in education in the field, which is followed by a review of contemporary practices while applying the Lewis model and by a summary of minor approaches to the field, such as deliberation on the Lewis’s model, a combination of critical discourse analysis and a multidisciplinary approach to the study of language, the uses of studies in psychology and textbook basics. An extra idea for a course in intercultural communication in the humanities centres on quality language knowledge and general introductions to close-ups on different aspects of culture in English speaking countries, verbal culture and politeness, spoken English and polite conversation, on style in language and literature, when intercultural communication is considered in relations between major (primarily, English and French-speaking) countries and minor European non-English or French-speaking countries.

Key words: intercultural, cross-cultural communication, macro-level cultural features, language skills, meaning and context, nonverbal communication, the unconscious level of communication, culture in communication, cultural relativism, the onion model of culture; cultural categories, national characteristics, stereotypes,  the individual as a representative of a culture; group culture, social and professional skills, verbal mastery, general knowledge of cultural phenomena; instruction, team work, simulation, individual study.

2. The theme of the Conference emphasises the plurality of competences, which is important in intercultural communication, but competence means the ability to do something well. I intend to emphasise the nucleus constituents in education for intercultural communication and their quality.

3. Whatever happens in intercultural communication stems from an individual’s culture, his contribution to success in achieving the desired result and from his knowledge of the language used. The decisive factor is gainful contacts and the realisation of relevant purport.

The complexity of intercultural communication as a phenomenon derives from the interrelatedness of language and culture1 and from the multiplicity of delicate combinations in a live process. The difficulty in conducting and in teaching intercultural communication is in the most delicate integrity of language, culture-bound forms of verbal and physical behaviour, beliefs, values and expectations. The challenge is the ability to manage these components appropriately in every particular situation. What is required is quality knowledge of language and culture and skill in the execution of verbal contacts. It is impossible to train or educate a person for every particular situation, but it is possible prepare him to be efficient in any.

4. As the Internet increased the availability of virtual discussion platforms, individual experiences happen to be  publicised and presented as problems. Not all of them are. Examples: a story of a native speaker of English who took the words, “Oh, don’t trouble yourself”, of an Arabian speaker for granted and did not serve her tea which was really wanted; a story of a Vietnamese on a train Beijing-Moscow who got away with “Thank you” (Cпасибо), as his Russian failed him, on colliding with a woman in a train compartment.

The anecdotal incidents happen, they are indicative of the significance of language in any communication and especially in intercultural communication, but they must be left at the mentioning. They are not research or education problems. Language education based on such examples would be partial and unfocused. It is not particulars that make education, although particulars matter in communication.  Education has to have a more general design in which particulars only need not be overlooked.

5. This point may be the point of vantage as intercultural communication has been studied and taught. My major reference is the conception of the American anthropologist Edward T. Hall, the founder of “the original paradigm for intercultural communication” and of this field of study (Rogers, Hart. Miike, 2002, 1), with the term “intercultural communication” credited to his name.

Drawing on anthropology and linguistics, psychoanalysis and feedback in teaching, Edward T.Hall developed what is known as an original paradigm for intercultural communication. It includes:

1) The focus on intercultural communication wholly, in which linguistic and anthropological perspectives are brought together “into an intellectual convergence” (Rogers, Hart, Miike, p.9), when culture is treated as communication and communication as culture (Hall, 1959, 186, cited in Rogers, Hart, Miike, p. 9,10). However, originally practiced macro-level teaching of specific cultures to his trainees, (i.e. kinship structure and social institutions, etc. in a culture), had been unsuccessful.

2) The teaching of nonverbal communication, which is communication that “does not involve the exchange of words”, which subsequently has different nonverbal expression, such as:  proxemics or the effect of space in communication and its management2, chronemics or the management of time and kinesics or bodily movements (Rogers, Hart, Miike, p.9).

3) The emphasis on nonverbal communication as issuing from “the out-of-awareness level of communication exchange”, derived from the Freudian concept of the subconscious level of communication (Ibidem). Freud, as is known, distrusted the spoken word3.

4) The acceptance of cultural differences and involvement of nonjudgmental tolerance, which is known as cultural relativism, i.e. “the belief that a particular cultural element should only be judged in light of its context” (Rogers, Hart, Miike, p.11) and that the (native) language spoken influences and modifies our view of the world in terms of its conventional (e.g. measurement of space and time, numerical calculation , etc.) and idiomatic meaning (e.g. the images in  its idioms, the social and cultural integrity of its phraseology, etc.).

5) Participatory training methods, which included “simulation, games, exercises and other participant-involving methods of experiential instruction” (Rogers, Hart, Miike, p.11).

6) Awareness of a highly applied type of training, which initially was “intended to ameliorate the lack of skills of U.S.American diplomats and development technicians” and continued with varying emphasis on the anthropological study of Americna languages, on nonverbal communication and on language skills in general and in particular.

The six main elements of Hall’s paradigm were worked out at the Foreign Service Institute of America. They “generally characterise the field of intercultural communication today as it is taught at the U.S. universities” (Rogers, Hart, Miike, p.11).

This overview of the original idea in education for intercultural communication clearly shows two aspects – language education and cultural instruction. But “the macro-level teaching of specific cultures” was not successful in Hall’s practice. This means that culture has to be taken integrated in broader communicative contexts, primarily in language, and, in its relevant components, fanned out on the students. The idea of “macro level teaching” may be further developed into language-based courses, such as etiquette and politeness, which will be considered further.

It should also be borne in mind that American diplomats whose education was envisaged in Hall’s conception were people of culture and refinement, whereas intercultural communication for today is projected, as a rule, toward migrant masses. The addressee audience being so different, it does not mean that students orientated toward intercultural communication in East European universities should not be given cultural education as perfect as can be. (Cf. the fuss and pseudo problem of teaching global English).There exists communication between English-speaking and non-English speaking countries, which entails problems when non-English speaking nations aspire to the English language of the English. This point will be considered further in an extra idea.

6a. The practice of training for intercultural communication while aiming to develop the required competences has been known in English-speaking and other European countries. One conception of cross-cultural behaviour elaborated for educational purposes is the Lewis model  of cross-cultural behaviour applied in The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, and in the World Bank.

The Lewis model is based on his approach “to describing national cultures outlined by Richard D.Lewis in his book ‘When Cultures Collide’ (Nicholas Brealey 2006, 3rd Edition)” (Gates, Lewis et al, 2009, 53).

“Lewis’s model focuses on values and communication and how these affect behavior, primarily in working life. It is applied to areas such as presentation, meetings, leadership, the language of management, motivation, teams and trust. It was developed as a practical tool which could easily be applied, in order to help employees behave in more productive ways in multicultural situations rater than purely as means of analysis.” Gates, Lewis et al, 2009, 53).

The Lewis model encompasses many and complex layers of culture – regional, educational, professional, gender, class, religious, generational, ethnic, corporate and personal. In training, an individual begins by giving his own individual profile to reduce the dangers of stereotyping.

The goal:  success and gain in cross-cultural communication.

The focus: language and national character.

The point of departure in training: self-assessment.

The starting point: the identification of the common ground in cross-cultural context. (p.54)

The Introductory: the CultureActive programme. (p.55)

The individual profile stems from self-assessment within the Cultural Categories outlined by Lewis in a respective Table (Gates, Lewis et al, 2009, 54)

The evaluation of the character of countries in reference to the outlined Cultural Categories is also represented graphically by Richard Lewis (Gates, Lewis, 2009, 54)

Case study using the Lewis model at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University  illustrates the practice of its application.

The goal of the School is to enable “every graduate of its programs to achieve global competence and understand the nuances of global leadership. Global leadership is a mindset and the result of a process, not a single competency added to a domestic leader’s skills portfolio.” The study is team-based:

to learn about global leadership; for international students, to learn from each other about managing and leading in different cultures;

to learn about various cultural traits and behaviors;

to learn about different cultures taking the CultureActive survey;

to develop a multicultural perspective and to look beyond national culture to explain teammates’ behavior and  attitudes.

“The self-assessment is done in the CultureActive programme in three main sections:

1. An assessment and feedback section where individuals fill in a 40 minute personal questionnaire, and have access to a large number of quizzes on different countries’ cultural characterisrics, in general and in business.

2. An interactive database on 80 world cultures.

3. An administration area that allows administrators and trainers to consolidate the data for groups and subgroups and create graphs and charts containing data which may be useful both for analysis and in training.” (Gates, Lewis et al, p.55)

Individual students receive Survey results and discuss them in groups referring to conflict, communication and modes of leadership.

Instructors introduce the three categories of cultural behavior and then “compare and contrast concepts of time, importance of relationships, and implications for team-work among the three categories.

Teams of mixed cultural categories are preferred. Teams of one type can have limited perspectives and insights: a linear team is likely to focus on facts and ignore relationships; a multiactive team might lose focus and spend time on digressions; a reactive team – too much time on face considerations, harmony and gradualist solutions that little can be accomplished. A multicultural team is to have a broader perspective, more balanced and interesting approach to team-work, for the students to learn from one another.

The programme is used as an introduction to the Lewis model for the people to be trained. (Gates, Lewis et al, p.55)

The key takeaways for the sessions on culture and team dynamics are:

Certain behaviors can be attributed to certain cultures.

No one is a perfect representative of a national culture.

Stereotypes are convenient lies.

National culture is not a determinant of individual behavior

Diversity must be managed so that it produces creativity, innovation and sound decisions.” (Gates, Lewis et al, p. 56).

The Lewis model encompasses cultural differences among the nations in their views on the world and in diverse behaviour (cf: Gates, Lewis et al, 2009, 55). The idea is to help trainees to focus on the common ground in their assessments, while minding their native culture.

This model has references to Hall’s concepts of high and low context cultures, of “indirect communication and contextual meaning, and of the dependence of verbal meaning on context” (Gates, Lewis et al, 2009, p.56).

Case study of the application of the Lewis model at The World Bank.

The goal: success of the Bank’s mission of support in the developing parts of the world.

The focus: to contextualize the Bank’s efforts socially and culturally in work toward poverty reduction; to make its mission effective, and so to train the multinational staff to be a “culturally competent workforce”.

The point of departure: the idea that culture influences what is valued in a society and it does influence “how individuals communities and institutions respond to developmental changes” (p.57)

The starting point: “The World Bank, in collaboration with Richard Lewis Communications has developed a cross-cultural framework which aims to raise cross-cultural and inter-cultural awareness of Bank staff, to provide knowledge on various cultures, and to build a foundation for continuous learning.” (Gates, Lewis et al, 2009, 57).

A result of this collaboration was “a scalable, versatile and team building resource” which is based on the Lewis model and consists of three integral parts:

web-based self-assessment/learning/evaluation tools (multimedia intro;;

face-to-face experiential learning exercise (a two-hour multi-group simulation);

face-to-face team profile analysis/action planning session (a four-hour team building session)

The components in this framework were based on the data “collected through individual and group assessments in” (Gates, Lewis et al, 2009, 57).

The framework of this resource was successfully used as:

1) “an on-line self-paced learning program, with learning assistance provided as a follow-up by a qualified coach (usually two hours). It contains three sequential steps:

a multimedia introduction to the basics of intercultural communication,

an on-line assessment tool for individuals and teams,

an interactive database of national and regional profiles with quizzes and tests.

2) a customized blended module (on-line self assessment, a two-hour session) embedded into various behavioral training activities (organizational team work, change and management courses). This activity “created a common denominator for previously very differently approached courses.””

3) “a stand-alone blended cultural workshop offered either through open enrollment or to intact teams (on-line self-assessment, a two-hour simulation, a four-hour team building session).”

(Gates, Lewis et al, 2009, 58)

It is stated in the quoted article that this resource became “one of the most requested types of  training or team building.” More than 3,000 of World Bank staff had “a unique opportunity to examine cultural preferences in the work environment” and suggested “how to work with others in a diverse cultural setting capitalizing on others’ values and beliefs while getting better insight into others’ behavior patterns.” They also learned  to distinguish between appearance and reality, to to know about various cultures and “to compare their own cultural style with a “national cultural profile” of a country of region of interest.” (Gates, Lewis et al, p.58).

Both the Fuqua Business School and the World Bank acknowledged that the resources and method used were effective in training the students and the staff “through using personal cultural type and individual value and belief assessments – rather than national stereotypes – as its starting point.” (Ibidem).

An extra case of the application of the Lewis model has been a report on the training of “mindful leadership in a multicultural environment” (Ebermann, 2012). This author used the “Onion Model” of culture, which combines Basic Assumptions as the centre, Norms & Values as the first concentric circle and Artifacts & Products as the Outer circle, and enphasises the pervasiveness of cultural strands and values. She also used Lewis’s diagrams of Cultural Categories and National  Characteristics. She reported success of the coaches who “navigated the uncertain waters of  intercultural management” (Ebermann, 2012).

A few goals are clearly visible in the practice I have reviewed. The Schools and the World Bank have had a clear pragmatic goal which is to train the students and the staff to work effectively and with profit in new intercultural environments. The programmes have been based on specific courses of cultural character and on the practice of self-assessment, team work exercising simulation, shared knowledge, on prediction of the character of the people and problems in possible encounters.

6b. On Pearson Longman Days 2010, Rob Dean considered culturally embedded language learning while raising the question whether culture and language is not one and the same. His starting point was the focus on the culture the learner knows well. This is his own culture, which  the person cannot “understand unless he knows a different one”( – 2 September 2013). So the suggestion was that a learner should first focus on his own culture in the idioms like ‘to get from the bed on the wrong side”, in a few vivid concepts that he relates to his own kind and in the typical behaviours of his or younger contemporaries. Rob Dean also suggested building exercises and involving such intrinsic concepts for the start.

He further suggested focusing on some typically British modes of expression, such as: discussing the weather as a different  way of saying ‘Do you want to talk to me?’,  perceived politeness the British way when people apologise an extra time or thank you even when giving you something, implied meaning in a lengthy talk from a shop assistant in shops so that the initial question from a customer “implies much more than in some other cultures”. By the same token, “the British can be very indirect in asking things”, which “can cause confusion for the unwary” and in fact do not mean that British people are strange in their winding verbal preliminaries.

The fourth point in Rob Dean’s overview of verbal communication of the British is self deprecation. This is related to reactions to a compliment by “a more humble type of response”, such as: ‘It was nothing really’ or ‘I wasn’t so sure if it was any good’, than a standard ‘Thank you.’ While this may be seen as a device “to elicit compliments”, it may also relate to “the insecurity characteristic” of the British or their “ironic humour”. (Language and Culture – One and the Same? Rob Dean –

Without any reference to intercultural communication, Rob Dean concluded that “to use language effectively, an understanding of the target culture is essential for effective communication.

6c. In a study of intercultural communication critical discourse analysis is a tool and a resource for studying communication within socio-cultural contexts when “a multidisciplinary approach to the study of language” is involved. It is related to the work of Van Dijk, who assumed it was possible to establish relationships of language with the context while being interested in decoding and interpretation of the text.  This presupposes “relations between ideology, society, cognition and discourse” for the categories of which his term was ‘schema’. He differentiated between short-term memory which was responsible for decoding and interpretation, and long-term memory which “serves as a holder of socio-cultural knowledge” and consists of knowledge of language, of communication, persons and events in the form of “scripts”. These concepts may be relevant when analysing intercultural communication for behaviours, assumptions and implications.

6d. The older resources which may be relevant to a study of intercultural communication would be a textbook by Fred E.Jandt (2001), in which all the concepts mentioned so far are defined while discussing culture as context, communication variables, cultural values and varieties. The Psychology of Interpersonal Behaviour by M.Argyle (1967) may also throw some light on participants in intercultural communication as this author discusses social motivation, social techniques, organizations and skills while focusing on the person (self-image and self-esteem) and society.

6e. These less discussed references have been mentioned to turn to an extra idea for intercultural communication. It derives from intercultural communication of smaller European countries with the larger countries, primarily with English and French-speaking countries and stems from an assumption that success in intercultural communication in this case derives from excellent knowledge of the language plus a profound concept of the culture and social customs in the broadest context and of those embedded in the language and internalized by its users. Familiarity with these concepts and customs may lead to effective communication through their generality. But knowledge of  cultural concepts and social customs should be delivered to the learners by a very  well informed, knowledgeable and cultured teachers who are aware of their ethical not only pragmatic value.

In short, probable courses in education for intercultural communication should be introduced through essential gists and essential concepts for the learners to investigate some of the topics on their own. It is impossible to train or educate a person for every particular situation. It is possible to prepare him for any. The key is the focused knowledge of different areas of culture and language, while the tool is to be the book and socialisation. This would reduce somewhat modern fascination with technologies and the Internet but the proposed turn can be motivated by emphasis on qualified instruction, on a well-timed individual study and viewed critically because of the critical thoughts on technologies that keep recurring. To be accepted in the old cultures in international communication, the learner has to take in both the language, its culture and living history.

The sample courses might be – Politeness and Verbal Style, Polite Conversation in British/American English, in Parisian French, Style in Speech, in Writing and in Literature, The Use of Analytical Skills in a Spoken Foreign Language, etc.(cf.: Drazdauskiene, 1983, 1990).

Any of these courses would have to have a general introduction in the form of a close-up on the phenomenon. It should also take the student deeper into the verbal idiom and meaning, which is the language aspect and its knowledge and which has to be as good as can be in intercultural communication.

Considering Politeness and Verbal Style as a specimen course, I would suggest that the students should be informed on it in the most general and therefore guiding categories. For example, one principle of polite conversation (in any culture) requires not only to talk agreeably but also to listen politely. This is an old rule. But it has recurred in very recent publications. For example,  a very modern Encyclopedia (Schemet, 2002) has a long article on listening in the Chapter on “Interpersonal Communication, Ethics and”. Listening here is defined also in very modern terms borrowed from Pragmatics, such as: listening stimuli and their filtering, interest and attention as psychological aspects of listening, feedback and response, attention and inattention, accurate and inaccurate inference, modes of responses and reactions – verbal, nonverbal or silent, etc (pp. 484-489, esp.488-489).

As is obvious, the old principle remains true in modern understanding and behaviour, but its explanation is much more verbose presumably designed for a tense competitive mind hot from involvement in electronic communication and with little feel for a direct social contact, its sense and implications. Few would disagree that the concise old rule switches the mind on to thinking and analysing situations and behaviour rather than learning categories and transforming them into semi automatic reactions. The old is also more pleasant. Politeness is a sensitive and current topic judging by how the Internet reacted to the publication of a booklet for people in service in Paris in about a year after an assessment of the rudest nations (French, Russian, British, German, other) in the world had been announced last year and reiterated this year ( – 4 May 2012;… - 19 June 2013).

Politeness itself could open the course in the form of the good old rule. In her book (1903) Lady Colin Campbell quoted Montesquieu for this concept: “I consider the spirit of politeness to be one which will govern our behaviour, so that by our words and actions others may be pleased with us and with themselves” (Campbell, 1903, p.36).

Politeness today is a whole field of study in pragmatics. Compare, for instance, Grice’s Maxims of Conversation which require 1) to “make your contribution as informative as is required but not more than is required” (Maxim of Quantity); 2) not to say “what you believe to be false” or lacks “adequate evidence” (Maxim of Quality); 3) to “be relevant” (Maxim of Relation); 4) to “avoid obscurity of expression and ambiguity”, to “be brief and orderly” (Maxim of Manner) (Verschueren, 1999, 32).

But is it not a greater liberation of the mind and a broader view that Montesquieu’s definition suggests rather than the modern concepts? So, I would begin all courses this way: I would give the very gist of old wisdom and then elaborate for the requirements of the modern man with reference to the newer sources. This would be no misdemeanour as publications known to me (Lunceford, 2009; Thornbury, 2012) discuss the uses and value of “”outdated” material” for modern instruction and give a firm Yes for them. Moreover, all courses, in my concept, would have to be internalized by the lecturer so that he could grace the students with grounded and consolidated essential knowledge.

Making use of such resources as Critical Discourse Analysis, it would be required for the teacher to have a fundamental consolidated knowledge of this field to begin instruction. Thinking of online materials and the Internet, I would cautiously mention quite recent opinions. The Internet is a resource but the computer is only a machine. They should be exploited with reason and economically. On the basis of general introductions, a student may use this resource within his technical literacy and skill. But the student should not be directed just to use the Internet with the title of the course in mind. He has to be informed what particular questions may be profitably researched with the help of the Internet. An essential summary of the subject like the one proposed for politeness is likely to guide the student by its general concepts.

Moreover, the Internet has been assessed critically in recent sources (cf.: DiMaggio, Hargittai et al, 2001; Joinson, 2003; Bargh and McKenna, 2004). For example, an American author, Patricia Wallace (2000) mentions general negative attitudes to the Internet and its uses and emphasises that the Internet is “a time sink”, which is also minded by a British educator and author Nickey Hockley who makes a note of the management of time in her recommendations to exploit only those social networks in which students are involved on their own (A CET Webinar, 3 July 2013). Patricia Wallace (2000) states more pointedly on the limitations of the Internet: “We have spent untold millions wiring schools to ensure students have access, and then we begin to learn that too much computer and Internet time could hinder learning” (Wallace, 2000, xxviii). Students have to be guided in concrete directions (cf.: Coulmas, 2013) or by the most general concepts rather than sent to roam the Internet, while the book is to be placed on the front shelf where it used to be.

7. To conclude, I have to say that I see two possible and profitable directions in a study of and teaching for intercultural communication: one intense, logically and technically stringent direction developing according to a design for competitive and highly strung people determined to move on and win financially and socially in the new East and Africa, and another designed for peaceful intelligent minds and rooted in deep insights into the language, culture and customs of old Western cultures, with fair knowledge of their history and with dignified respect for one’s own culture. The first is committed to training, the second to education.


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1 Culture is best and relevantly defined for this purpose as „the way of life of a people, including their attitudes, values, beliefs, arts, sciences, modes of perception, and habits of thought and activity“ (Blackburn, 1996, 90). The same source particularises further by saying that „cultural features of forms of life are learned but are often too pervasive to be readily noticed from within“ (Ibidem).

2 Hall described the handling of space during conversation: „A U.S. male... stands 18 to 20 inches away when talking face to face to a man he does not know very well; talking to a woman under similar circumstances, he increases the distance about four inches. A distance of only 8 to 13 inches between males is considered... very aggressive. Yet in many parts of Latin America and the Middle East, distances which are almost sexual in connotation are the only ones at which people can talk comfortably.“ (Hall  (1955) concluded: „If you are a Latin American talking to a North American at the distance he insists on maintaining is like trying to talk across a room.““(Rogers, Hart, Miike, p.10-12).

3 „Freud also relied heavily on the communicative significance of our acts rather than words. Freud sistrusted the spoken word, and a good deal of his thinking was based on the assumption that words hid more than they revealed.“ (Hall, 1959, 59-60. Cited in Rogers, Hart, Miike, pp. 6-7).