Questions related to upbringing and formal education for intercultural communication

Author: Dr Aneta Stojić

Published on 16 September 2015


In order for successful intercultural communication to be a part of our everyday lives, it is necessary to educate the participants of an intercultural encounter, i.e. prepare them for such interaction. To accomplish this, it is necessary to train those working with small children and engaged in formal education. An interculturally competent teacher should be familiar with his own and other cultures, respect cultural differences, understand and accept students belonging to other cultures, establish an interactive relationship with those different than him, continuously learn about himself as an individual and a member of the group in order to become more open-minded, flexible and critical, understand the consequences of discrimination of those culturally different, and form and express opinions free of stereotypes and prejudice.

An interculturally flexible identity needs to be developed in students. A person who has developed such an identity does not identify himself only with his own social group, but with other social groups living in the community, thus developing the ability to understand the viewpoints of others and identify with those viewpoints. Such a person changes the view and understanding of the world around him, has the ability to adapt and is more ready to learn about different cultures. Intercultural competence can be considered not only an additional qualification, but a necessary precondition for everyday interaction.

The goals of intercultural upbringing and education are: (a) becoming aware of differences, (b) become aware of one’s own attitudes, (c) identifying similarities and (d) finding common ground. A possible model of intercultural upbringing and education consists of three levels. The first level includes raising awareness of one’s own identity, developing self-respect and observing differences between one’s own and other cultures. The second level relates to developing understanding (empathy) and interest for the unknown, changing the perspective and accepting the differences. The third level involves mutual understanding, finding ways for peaceful coexistence, showing solidarity and exhibiting the willingness to reach an agreement.

In line with the guidelines provided by UNESCO, programmes which encourage dialogue between students of different cultures, beliefs and religions may, along with upbringing and formal education, provide an important contribution to sustainable and tolerant societies.


Further reading:

Mrnjaus, K., Rončević, N., & Ivošević, L. (2013). (Inter)kulturalna dimenzija u odgoju i obrazovanju. Rijeka: University of Rijeka – Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Translation from the Croatian language: Vanja Slavuj


Intercultural competence

Author: Dr Aneta Stojić

Published on 6 June 2014


Language and culture are inextricably linked. Differences between cultures are manifested in, for example, rules governing behaviour on meeting someone for the first time, discussion of certain issues, or the acceptable physical distance between interlocutors. Members of a culture acquire such rules unconsciously while growing up.

Growing up with two languages also means being exposed to two cultures. This leads to biculturality, i.e. belonging to two cultures. Biculturality involves what is termed intercultural competence in academic literature. This is a type of competence related to understanding the other, and hence seeing views characteristic of a particular culture as just one perspective among many. This is reflected in behaviours exhibiting tolerance toward the other. Differences between cultures are understood as "normal" rather than something to be judged as good or bad according to one's own standards. An awareness of the need for different cultures to co-exist is also developed. In consequence, we accept even those cultures that we cannot completely comprehend, having understood and accepted the limits of our own interpretations and understanding processes. Intercultural competence is thus the ability to accept others in their difference, or an ability to manage in different worlds, and is particularly strong in bicultural, bilingual people.

Intercultural competence can be acquired not only through growing up bilingual, but also through learning a second or foreign language: by learning a second or foreign language we not only enrich our linguistic repertoire, but also learn about a new culture. In this manner we broaden our worldviews, as we become aware that there exist different ways of life and seeing the world. This certainly does not mean that we are renouncing our own identity – on the contrary, we are thereby expanding and enriching it. Learning about the culture that is tied to the language we are acquiring helps us avoid potential misunderstandings stemming from an ignorance of culturally determined rules of behaviour and language use.

Directed intercultural education and upbringing should therefore be included in the process of second or foreign language teaching. In a broader sense, intercultural education and upbringing aim to develop tolerance, empathy and co-operation, all of which support being open to the existence of other cultures and languages. In a narrower sense, intercultural education and upbringing broaden the ability to perceive the foreign, to interact with the foreign, and to recognise the foreign inside oneself, as well as the ability to resolve potential misunderstandings or even conflicts. These skills can be acquired already from an early age, when the attitude towards a foreign culture plays an extremely important role. Already from a preschool age, and particularly during primary schooling, children develop conceptions of other cultures. At this age using stories, images and media such as photography, film and theatre is recommended as indirect ways of discussing prejudices. This also enables emotional inclusion of children, as imaginary worlds provide a certain distance and allow a greater scope for individual interpretations, projections, and reactions. Since in Croatia this approach is still developing, one of our main goals is to make everyone involved in the education and upbringing of children realise that developed intercultural competence is an important and necessary precondition for successful communication between members of different cultures.



Bilingualism Matters was founded by Professor Antonella Sorace at the University of Edinburgh.


Bilingualism Matters@Rijeka has been established within the „Advancing the European Multilingual Experience (AThEME)” project.


This project has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no. 613465.