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Intercultural communication & intercultural learning

Intercultural communication

Intercultural communication has become indispensable in today’s world. As an educator, in particular, you often have points of contact with different cultures and problems in communication can quickly arise. It is important to know that it is usually not the original reason for the conversation that causes a conflict, but rather problems in intercultural communication lead to transmission errors, which then trigger discussions.

Example : An educator wants to tell a parent of an African family who has been living in Germany for two years that she should please hand over her child on time in the morning. The educator’s reason lies in the daily routine of the daycare center. However, the respective parent could misinterpret the statement due to the different cultural background. This is due to other cultural influences in the past.

In order to deal more closely with intercultural communication, one must have a basic knowledge of communication. Because in communication there are different levels, which are divided into verbal (pronunciation) and non-verbal (including facial expressions, gestures) areas. So-called receptive and productive skills are also a basic requirement for communication. While receptive skills include listening and reading, productive skills include speaking and writing.

With reference to the Schulz-von-Thun model, there are other areas that affect intercultural communication. To this end, the levels of the information and relationship function as well as the expression and appeal function should be mentioned.

A basic problem, especially in intercultural communication, is the wrong understanding and assessment of the behavior of the other person. Due to different experiences and cultural imprints, there are differences between the communicating people, since each person organizes experiences and knowledge in a culture-dependent manner and stores them in the brain. Such communication problems are called interference problems in technical jargon. (cf. Grosch and Leenen 2000, p. 31ff)

Intercultural Competence

Intercultural competence is necessary in order to be able to manage intercultural communication without disruption. Thanks to intercultural competence, misunderstandings, resentments and ethnocentrisms can be overcome. Intercultural learning always aims to ensure that interlocutors act appropriately and effectively in intercultural communication.

But which areas does intercultural competence affect and how do I deal with my interlocutor within an intercultural dialogue? Basically, intercultural communication touches four dimensions:

  1. Conducive attitudes
  2. Cultural knowledge & intercultural skills
  3. Reflection on intercultural issues
  4. Constructive interaction

The personal attitude to interculturality fundamentally determines how much a person deals with the topic and how this acquires new knowledge. Respecting the other culture, which usually has different attitudes and norms, is part of the dimension of constructive interaction, whereby cultural rules are to be protected. Self-reflection after intercultural dialogues and constellations have taken place increases the likelihood of an increase in intercultural competence.

It is important to know that every situation and every contact can lead to positive as well as negative experiences that touch and influence the dimensions mentioned above. Therefore, intercultural competence is a lifelong process that takes place continuously and will never be completed. (cf. Boecker and Ulama 2008)

Intercultural competence can be achieved through intercultural learning, with the aim of achieving communication across cultures without interference. (cf. Grosch and Leenen 2000, p. 29)

In order to be able to achieve the goal of intercultural competence, there is, for example, a 7-phase model of intercultural learning developed by Harald Grosch and Wolf Rainer Leenen, which is discussed in more detail below.

Intercultural learning according to Grosch and Leenen

The 7-phase model by Grosch and Leenen is a detailed model of intercultural learning and is based on the so-called culture-centrism theory. The phases of the model build on each other, so that phase 1 must be ended in order to get to the other phases. The model does not provide for any disruptions or interruptions during intercultural learning. In the course of the learning process, the person learns new skills in order to improve intercultural communication. These qualifications increase from phase to phase. (cf. Schulze 2010, p. 5ff)

After going through the learning process, the person has acquired the ability to enter into “constructive & mutually satisfactory relationships” (Grosch / Leenen 1998, p.40).

In the following you can see the individual phases according to Grosch / Leenen:

The seven phases of intercultural learning according to Grosch and Leenen
Book: Working aids for political education. From the Federal Institute for Political Education in Bonn. Grosch, Harald / Leenen, Wolf Rainer (2000)

The 7 phases of the Grosch and Leenen model

Phase 1

Original statement :

Recognize and accept the general culture-relatedness of human behavior

Meaning :

Recognize and accept cultural peculiarities and desires of a person, even if you do not like them yourself. Example: The other party is listening to Balkan music. I don’t like this myself, but I accept his taste in music, as he comes from the Balkans and is probably associated with home.

Phase 2

Original statement:

Being able to perceive foreign cultural patterns as foreign without having to evaluate them (positively or negatively) (low degree of cultural centrism)

Meaning :

A Japanese person comes from a different culture than a person who grew up in German culture. The Japanese are reluctant to address problems directly because of their culture. A German person recognizes this behavior, but evaluates it neither positively nor negatively.

Phase 3

Original statement :

Identifying your own cultural standards & being able to assess their impact when encountering a foreign culture (own-culture-awareness)

Meaning :

Germans, for example, react differently to jokes or small frauds than people who grew up in other cultures. These activities can have a completely different meaning for them. In phase III, a person can recognize their own cultural standards and assess the likely unfolding effect on their counterparts.

Phase 4

Original statement :

Expand interpretative knowledge about certain foreign cultures; Identify relevant cultural standards and be able to create further meaningful connections in the foreign culture

Meaning :

In phase IV, a person asks why something is the way it is in the other culture. This allows the person to see a bigger context in order to better understand the other culture.

Phase 5

Original statement :

Being able to develop understanding and respect for foreign cultural patterns

Meaning :

A person in Phase V develops understanding and respect for patterns that a person possesses due to their different culture. This could be different patterns in communication or action, for example.

Phase 6

Original statement :

Expansion of your own cultural options:

  • be able to deal flexibly with cultural rules
  • be able to selectively adopt foreign cultural standards
  • be able to choose between cultural options that are appropriate to the situation and are justified

Meaning :

During intercultural communication, in phase VI a person selectively adopts foreign cultural standards or, depending on the situation, chooses different options in order to achieve the goals of intercultural communication.

Phase 7

Original statement :

Build constructive and mutually satisfactory relationships with and with members of a foreign culture, be able to deal with intercultural conflicts in a practical way

Meaning :

A person in phase VII of the model can react constructively and depending on the situation during intercultural communication, so that both interlocutors can build a satisfactory relationship. The person also deals with conflicts in a practical manner and resolves them.


  • Boecker, Malte; Ulama, Leila (2008): Intercultural Competence – The Key Competence in the 21st Century? Bertelsmann Stiftung and Fondazione Cariplo. Available online at https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/fileadmin/files/BSt/Presse/imported/downloads/xcms_bst_dms_30236_30237_2.pdf , last checked on December 30, 2020.
  • Grosch, Harald; Leenen, Wolf Rainer (2000): Intercultural learning. Work aids for political education. 2nd ed. Bonn: Federal Agency for Political Education.
  • Schulze, Annegret (2010): Stage and phase models of intercultural learning. A critical examination of three models for analyzing intercultural learning in the film “Stranger Friend”. Munich: GRIN Verlag GmbH.
Sebastian Götz
Sebastian Götzhttps://krippenzeit.de
"Ich lerne für den besten Job der Welt und möchte euch hier auf Krippenzeit daran teilhaben lassen."
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