In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Intercultural Competence

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Conceptual Frameworks
  • Different Perspectives on Intercultural Competence (ICC)
  • ICC Disciplinary Contexts
  • ICC Development—Tools and Activities
  • ICC Development—Resources
  • ICC Assessment
  • ICC Textbooks

Communication Intercultural Competence
Darla Deardorff
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0293


Intercultural competence is a theoretical construct which has seen over sixty years of scholarly work, with over thirty different terms being used for this construct depending on the discipline, such as global competence, intercultural effectiveness, plurilingualism, transcultural competence, intercultural sensitivity, intercultural maturity, cross-cultural awareness, intercultural adaptation, intercultural readiness, and so on (and see Oxford Bibliographies Online in Management Cultural Intelligence and in International Relations Global Citizenship), that can be linked even more broadly within intercultural or cross-cultural communication. Given that many of these terms already have associated bibliographies, this article focuses almost exclusively on intercultural competence as the key term and listings here do not imply endorsement. Regardless of the terminology used, definitions generally center on the individual with a focus on knowledge, skills, and attitudes—and, in some cases, motivation and values—needed to interact successfully with those from divergent backgrounds. Recent definitions of intercultural competence have broadened the concept beyond interactions across solely cultural differences to include interactions across any difference, including those resulting from religion, gender, generation, geography, language, socioeconomic background, and so on. Some of the earliest intercultural work can be traced to the 1930s with much of the intercultural competence literature stemming from work in the 1960s followed by efforts in the 1970s to begin conceptualizing, studying, and assessing this construct, with particular emphasis on intercultural adaptation. The 1980s and 1990s saw further refinement and study of intercultural competence, with publications of theories and frameworks as well as assessment tools. Research continues on the development and assessment of intercultural competence, which is a lifelong process. Resources on intercultural competence continue to grow, in part due to the emphasis on intercultural and global competence at the global level through the United Nations (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO]), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Council of Europe, and such focused groups as the World Council on Intercultural and Global Competence. Further, wide interest remains in intercultural competence in multiple disciplines and sectors, spurred, in part, by the recent emphasis on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in various contexts as well as the increasing societal divides and continued need for an interculturally competent workforce.

General Overview

One of the first comprehensive publications on intercultural competence is Deardorff 2009 which is a foundational volume that brings together leading scholars across disciplines to focus on intercultural competence within various contexts. Several years later, SAGE published Bennett 2015, which includes several hundred related concepts to intercultural competence. Global organizations, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), also produce intercultural competence resources that often serve as helpful overviews of this construct, including UNESCO 2013, which provides a framework for how various intercultural terms fit together within the broader intercultural competence concept. Arasaratnam 2016 not only discusses theory but also provides a historical context and an overview of methods and future directions for intercultural competence.

  • Arasaratnam, Lily A. 2016. Intercultural competence. In Oxford research encyclopaedia of communication. Edited by J. Nussbaum. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This article provides a reasonably comprehensive summary of topics covering the history, theories, methods, and future directions related to intercultural competence.

  • Bennett, Janet M., ed. 2015. The SAGE encyclopedia of intercultural competence. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    This extensive volume contains over 300 entries on many related concepts and terms to intercultural competence, with contributions from leading scholars in a variety of disciplines.

  • Deardorff, Darla K., ed. 2009. The SAGE handbook of intercultural competence. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This is one of the first comprehensive and foundational works on intercultural competence, which includes contributions from leading intercultural scholars and features sections on conceptualizing intercultural competence, including perspectives from non-Anglo cultures, applying intercultural competence in different disciplines, and assessing and researching intercultural competence.

  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 2013. Intercultural competences: Conceptual and operational framework. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

    This open-access UNESCO publication outlines a conceptual vocabulary related to intercultural competences, mapping these terms and providing an operational plan for clarifying, teaching, promoting, enacting, and supporting intercultural competences within various contexts, including within public and private cultural organizations, civil society organizations, educational institutions, and media.

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