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The Open University

An introduction to intercultural competence in the workplace

The Open University via OpenLearn


You might think that knowing about country facts or differences between cultures is the key to being interculturally competent – but that is in fact only a small piece of the puzzle! Intercultural competence is an umbrella term for a range of qualities, attitudes and skills that allow you to mediate and communicate appropriately and effectively with people from different backgrounds in your native or in a foreign language. Such attitudes include for example a strong sense of self, curiosity, respect and open-mindedness towards ways of being that are different from what you understand as ‘normal’. An ethno-relative instead of an ethno-centric mindset is also crucial: An ethno-centric leads people to think that their familiar ways are superior to others, whereas an ethno-relative view enables you to switch perspectives without such judgement. Intercultural competence is therefore not achieved by learning country facts, but through lifelong, holistic learning. The short course that this taster course is based on offers a foundation for this lifelong learning effort. The taster course examines three aspects that are highly relevant to intercultural competence: culture, communication, and identity. These three terms are used frequently by us in our everyday lives, but their meanings can seem ambiguous and broad. Have you for instance considered that equating culture with country can actually lead to more confusion and stereotypes than seeing the two as separate entities? The activities that you can try out here aim to give you a little more clarity on what such key concepts stand for and how they are used with regards to intercultural communication. The activities also aim to increase your cultural self-awareness, which is an important basis for building cultural knowledge, because if you start to understand how your own cultural values and beliefs are reflected in your behaviour, you can relate to and interpret the behaviour of others who might have different experiences and beliefs from you.


  • Introduction
  • Introduction
  • Learning outcomes
  • Open Centre for Languages and Cultures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Week1Week 1: Thinking about culture and communication
  • Introduction
  • 1 Reflecting on culture
  • 2 Ingrid Piller on culture
  • 3 Culture as a verb
  • 4 Properties of communication
  • 5 Communication is a process
  • 6 Communication is symbolic
  • 7 Communication is situated and contextual
  • 8 Communication is power infused
  • 9 Communication styles
  • 10 This week’s quiz
  • Summary of Week 1
  • References
  • Acknowledgements
  • Week2Week 2: Culture and identity
  • Introduction
  • 1 What is your identity?
  • 2 Socialisation processes and identity types
  • 3 Identity types
  • 4 Introducing national identity
  • 5 British, English, Scottish?
  • 6 Good and bad English in Singapore
  • 7 Banal nationalism
  • 8 Othering
  • 9 Belonging
  • 10 This week’s quiz
  • Summary of Week 2
  • References
  • Acknowledgements


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4 rating at OpenLearn based on 5 ratings

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    This course is very nice. Provides best conceptual topics and easy to understand, excellent concept course and helpful in gaining knowledge and improve the overall skills.

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