Frameworks for Intercultural Learning


Key idea

Cultures are complicated and have many contradictions.

What’s the point?

Multiple perspectives have the potential to deepen our understanding.

Culture, as we use the term, is not a proxy for race and ethnicity and so it can be equally applied to groups at a range of scales from families and communities to organisations and nations. A culture is derived from the beliefs, practices and wisdom of a group people often accumulated over a long period of time.

Language is perhaps the most prized cultural achievement of all as it is central to thought and our sense of identity. It is not surprising therefore that language plays a central part in notions of nationhood. Cultures are not fixed but are continually evolving and changing.They are also full of tensions and contradictions.


One of the best ways of appreciating these contradictions is by encountering differences through intercultural interactions. Not only will this involve contact with another set of beliefs, it will also help to highlight things which we take for granted in our own practices. Such experiences will also be valuable in illuminating stereotypes. 


Crude simplifications can sometimes enable us to see larger patterns but grouping people together conceals significant differences and can be highly misleading. We need to resist the temptation to adopt a single story.



Read the extract on culture and interculturalism by Fran Martin and Helen Griffiths. »

  • Make a note of what thoughts this raises for you and then watch the Chimamanda Adichie video referred to in the extract.

Watch Chimamanda’s TED talk ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ »

  • In what ways does this affect how you think about culture and how we ‘read’ each other in intercultural conversations?


Research vignettes

(a) Can you think of an example when you have had a misunderstanding resulting from different cultural backgrounds? What caused this?

(b) Can you think of an example of traditions and customs in your own family that you assumed were common to other families? What caused you to first question this assumption?


(a) Indian voice
"This was a learning for me, attentive learning and those kind of things. … Also the multi-cultural understanding of an ordinary thing, whatever happening.  How we understand and how they understand, that kind of thing was really another learning.  How a thing can be perceived differently by different people, having different cultural background like."


(b) UK voice
"I think for me, the international dimension of it is really important...(Relational positioning) happens most starkly when you’re in a culture that is completely different... I think what happens is, you get a mirror held up to you, because you see that there are lots of different ways of doing things. There’s no one way right way of schooling, or traffic management of whatever it is. I think that’s when you start asking questions."

Going further

Griffiths, H. and Allbutt, G. (2011) ‘The Danger of a Single Image’ in Primary Geography 75 16-17
Holliday, A. (2011) Intercultural Communications and Idealogy, London: Sage

Said, E. (1978/2003) Orientalism, London: Penguin Books