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    why teach

Why do we teach intercultural competences?
Why is it so important to talk about intercultural competences in language learning contexts?

There are many situations in daily life when we follow specific communicational 'patterns'. They can vary from one culture to another and are characteristic of the communities concerned. Of course, also within a country's culture, various ways of communicating and interacting coexist, depending on e.g. the social, regional and situational context (e.g. people behave differently when greeting their boss at work or their best friend at a party). Awareness and knowledge of those 'patterns', as well as the ability to reproduce them facilitate communication in intercultural contexts. 

Intercultural competences make our communication more effective and help to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. That is why language teaching should also focus on typical ways of communicating and behaving that go further than just the correct linguistic construction of a sentence - students should be made aware of particularities of interaction in specific contexts in order to make interaction more successful, trying to prevent uncomfortable misunderstandings. Typical situations with particular ways of behaviour and communication that may be addressed in language teaching - and especially in the context of cross-border vocational training - may include greetings and goodbyes, telephone calls, requests, invitations, presentations, etc.

Learn why thinking about (our) language learning is important. Get to know strategies for language reflection for teachers and learners.

Look at the following two examples:

Example 1: Greetings

Image by Freepik

Every conversation must properly begin and end. There are many different ways of greeting each other, in work contexts as well as social and personal settings. The 'greeting-code' depends on various factors, for instance, the hierarchy between the people involved and their relationship, the level of organizational structure of the company, the vocational context of the company and its culture or just the degree of formality when two people that don’t know each other meet. In order to initiate or sustain communication with a person who is working in a neighbour country, it is good to know official and unofficial ways of greetings and goodbyes. Nevertheless, some country-specific differences and tendencies can be observed. 

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Example 2: Telephone calls at work

Image by Freepik

Making phone calls often is daily business. Have you ever called a colleague in another country? Perhaps you may have noticed that the call was different to what you expected. Did the person answer the call using first name, surname and job title or with the last name and the company or differently? Already the beginning of a phone call can be confusing and hinder the conversation.

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To go further

  • Think about more communicative intercultural situations at work and how they are solved in your border region, e.g. starting a business meeting, writing an email or letter, making a request…
  • The tasks above can also be used in class. It also gives you the chance to compare different ways of greeting, for example, because the students contribute experiences from different situations.
  • You can also switch into the students' perspective and ask yourself: What is important for them to know in a certain vocational context? Which aspects can you integrate in your language teaching?

Take away

Awareness and knowledge of ‘patterns’ of (linguistic and cultural) behaviour and the ability to behave appropriately make communication in 'foreign' cultural situations or intercultural professional contexts easier and more comfortable. 

Promoting intercultural competences is important, especially in cross-border vocational educational settings. 

Thinking about and discussing simple everyday situations, such as greetings or telephone calls, raises awareness of intercultural aspects. It helps learners to be more confident in communication, to support mutual understanding and to avoid misunderstandings.