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    Intercultural competences

Intercultural competences in cross-border vocational education

In this section, we focus on intercultural competences and their relevance for language education in cross-border vocational education. We give a short introduction on the topic and suggest some concrete practical activities about the following topics:
• Why is it so important to talk about intercultural competences in language learning contexts?
• How to be polite and respectful and behave appropriately in social situations at work and outside the workplace?
• Should I shake hands or just nod when I greet people?
• How to deal with intercultural diversity at the workplace?

A few words on intercultural competences

In the mid-eighties of 20th century, a new tendency appeared in teaching foreign languages - the intercultural approach. Its aim is building comprehension and establishing communication between members of different cultures by raising awareness also of cultural aspects in language teaching.

Intercultural competence is described as a complex of analytic, strategic and affective abilities like tolerance and respect for otherness in contact with representatives of other nations. One must gain knowledge about culture and forms of cultural behaviour, be able to make analysis without prejudices and raise awareness of otherness. Intercultural learning includes developing both: language and psychological skills.

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Relevance of intercultural competences for language education in cross-border vocational education

Intercultural competence is of special importance in cross-border working environments and, thus, also in vocational education. Working or learning in multilingual teams goes along with meeting people from different cultural backgrounds. Interculturality is complex and has a variety of facets.

In the following chapters, we provide above all practical ideas and impulses for the integration of intercultural competence in language learning and teaching in cross-border vocational settings, e.g. with regard to non-verbal communication.

In this context, we want to critically highlight three aspects:


Our Guide’s activities and contents do not cover the whole complexity of intercultural competence and its role for language education in cross-border vocational education. But they might help to make the first steps for specific language learning and teaching scenarios in cross-border vocational settings.


Intercultural competence – very generally speaking – compares one’s ‘own culture’ with the ‘other/foreign culture’ and seeks differences and similarities. But 'cultures' are never homogeneous. We want to raise awareness of the fact that comparing two ‘cultures’ can never be enough. We live in a globalized world, which is characterized by various (migration) movements. Keeping this in mind, it may even be difficult for one person to say that he/she belongs to ‘one culture’ - individuals usually also belong to more than one culture. We expect that future discourse on intercultural competence will be expanded to a ‘multi-‘ or ‘pluricultural’ perspective as  is already done in some recent publications.


We give examples from the border regions of our expert team, but they cannot – and should not - be generalized. They vary from region to region and they can vary e.g. in different social groups, professional contexts, hierarchical levels. This also shows how important border region-specific knowledge is.

Take away

  • Working or learning in multilingual teams goes along with meeting people from different cultural backgrounds.
  • "Culture" does not necessarily mean "national cultures". There may be regional cultures, cross-border cultures, but also cultures of an enterprise, cultures of social groups, etc. It is important to be aware of both differences and similarities between cultures.


References in Polish and German: