Intercultural Communication & Intercultural Learning

Intercultural communication

Intercultural communication has become indispensable in today’s world. As an educator, you often come into contact with different cultures, and communication problems 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 that lead to transmission errors, which then trigger discussions.

Example: A teacher wants to tell a parent of an African family who has been living in Germany for two years that she should please drop off her child on time in the morning. The reason of the specialist lies in the course of the Kita everyday life. However, the respective parent might misconstrue the statement due to the different cultural background. The reason for this is different cultural imprints in the past.

In order to study intercultural communication in more detail, 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. Likewise, so-called receptive and productive skills are a basic requirement of communication. While receptive skills include listening and reading, productive skills touch on speaking and writing.

Referring to Schulz-von-Thun’s model, there are other areas that touch upon intercultural communication. The levels of the information and relationship function as well as the expression and appeal function should be mentioned here.

A basic problem, especially in intercultural communication, therefore lies in the misconception and misjudgment of the other person’s behavior. Due to different experiences and cultural imprinting, there are differences between communicating persons, because each person organizes experiences and knowledge in a culture-dependent way 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 manage intercultural communication without disruptions. Through intercultural competence, misunderstandings, resentments as well as ethnocentrisms can be overcome. Intercultural learning always has the goal of the interlocutor or the interlocutor acting appropriately and effectively in intercultural communication.

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

  1. Conducive settings
  2. Cultural knowledge & intercultural skills
  3. Reflection of intercultural topics
  4. Constructive interaction

The personal attitude towards interculturality decides fundamentally how much a person deals with the topic and how much he or she acquires new knowledge. Respecting the other culture, which usually has different attitudes and norms, belongs to the dimension of constructive interaction, whereby cultural rules are to be protected. Self-reflection after intercultural dialogues and constellations have taken place can increase the likelihood of enhancing intercultural competence.

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

Intercultural competence can be achieved through intercultural learning, with the goal of managing 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 will be discussed in more detail below.

Intercultural learning according to Grosch and Leenen

Grosch and Leenen’s 7-phase model is a detailed model of intercultural learning and is based on the so-called cultural centrism theory. The phases of the model build on each other, so that it is mandatory to complete phase 1 in order to move on to the other phases. The model does not provide for disruptions or interruptions during intercultural learning. During the learning process, the person learns new skills 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 gained the ability to enter into “constructive & mutually satisfying relationships” (Grosch/Leenen 1998, p.40).

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

The 7 phases of intercultural learning according to Grosch & Leenen
The 7 phases of intercultural learning according to Grosch & Leenen

The 7 phases of the model according to Grosch and Leenen

Phase 1

Original statement:

Being able to recognize & accept the general culture-bound nature of human behavior.


Recognizing and accepting a person’s cultural characteristics and wishes, even if you don’t like them yourself. Example: The other person listens to Balkan music. I don’t like it myself, but I accept his or her taste in music because he or she comes from the Balkans and probably associates this 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)


A Japanese person comes from a different culture than a person who grew up in the 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:

Identify own cultural standards & be able to assess their effect in the encounter with a foreign culture (own-culture-awareness)


Germans, for example, react differently to jokes or small fibs than people who grew up in other cultural circles. For them, these activities can have a completely different meaning. In Phase III, a person can identify his or her own cultural standards and assess the likely unfolding effect on the counterpart.

Phase 4

Original statement:

Expand interpretive knowledge about specific foreign cultures; identify relevant cultural standards and be able to establish further contexts of meaning in the foreign culture.


A person questions in Phase IV why something is the way it is in the other culture. This allows the person to see a larger context to better understand the other culture.

Phase 5

Original statement:

Be able to develop understanding & respect for foreign cultural patterns


A person in Phase V develops understanding and respect for patterns that a person possesses because of his or her different culture. These can be, for example, different patterns in communication or action.

Phase 6

Original statement:

Expanding 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 in a way that is appropriate to the situation and justified


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

Phase 7

Original statement:

Establish constructive & mutually satisfying relationships with and to members of a foreign culture, deal with intercultural conflicts in a practical way.


A person in Phase VII of the model can respond constructively and situationally during an intercultural communication so that both interlocutors establish a satisfying relationship. Likewise, the person now deals with and resolves conflicts in a practical way.


  • Boecker, Malte; Ulama, Leila (2008): Intercultural Competence – The Key Competence in the 21st Century ? Bertelsmann Foundation and Fondazione Cariplo. Available online at, last checked Dec. 30, 2020.
  • Grosch, Harald; Leenen, Wolf Rainer (2000): Intercultural Learning. Working aids for political education. 2nd ed. Bonn: Federal Agency for Civic 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.

Suggested Citation

Götz, S. (2021). Intercultural Communication & Intercultural Learning. Communication can succeed across borders. ISSN: 2748-2979. Accessed 08.01.2021. Available at:

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