Intercultural learning and competence have been both been defined in a number of ways. We find this one, based on the work of Darla K. Deardorff, particularly helpful:

“Intercultural competence is the ability to behave and communicate in appropriate and and effective ways in intercultural situations, based on one’s attitudes, knowledge and skills.”  

Effectiveness can be determined by the individual while the appropriateness can only be determined by the other person, as appropriateness is directly related to cultural sensitivity as it is perceived by the other.

Intercultural learning thus refers to the process of acquiring knowledge, attitudes and skills that are are needed when interacting with different cultures. However, intercultural learning can also be seen in a larger context: it is the process that is needed to resolve global challenges and to build a just, inclusive society, where people with different backgrounds live peacefully together.

In the end, intercultural competence is about our relationships with each other and ultimately, our very survival as humankind, as we work together to address the global challenges that confront us in this century.
— Darla K. Deardorff

Intercultural competence consist of attitudes, skills and knowledge

According to Intercultural Competence Framework (Deardorff 2006), intercultural intercultural competence consists of attitudes, knowledge and skills.


Attitudes of respect, openness, curiosity and discovery are foundational to the further development of knowledge and skills needed for intercultural competence. Openness and curiosity imply for example willingness to risk and to move beyond one’s comfort zone, being aware of one’s own ignorance and. In communicating respect to others, it is important to demonstrate that others are valued.


The skills such as observation, listening, evaluating are necessary to identify and minimize ethnocentrism, as well as to seek out cultural clues and meaning. Analyzing, interpreting, and relating are needed in order to compare and seek out linkages. Critical thinking is also crucial – viewing and interpreting the world from other cultures’ point of view and identifying one’s own.


In regard to knowledge necessary for intercultural competence, for example the following are needed: cultural self-awareness (meaning the ways in which one’s culture has influenced identity and worldview), culture-specific deep cultural knowledge, including understanding other world views, and sociolinguistic awareness.

Links and literature:

Darla K. Deardorff, 2006: Theory Reflections – Intercultural Competence Framework/Model (pdf)
Vulpe, Kealey, Protheroe & Macdonald, 2000: A Profile of the Interculturally Effective Person (pdf)