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Rubric: Intercultural Competence - Global Citizenship Program


  • The four components of language are semantics (the study of meaning), syntactics (the study of structure or grammar), pragmatics (the study of how meaning is constructed in relation to receivers), and phonetics (the study of the sound system of the language).

  • There are different positions on the relationship between language and our perceptions.  The nominalist position feels that our perception is not shaped by the language we speak.  The relativist position argues that our perception is determined by the language we speak.  The qualified relativist position argues that language influences how we perceive.

  • Communication styles can be high context (more indirect, expected to read between the lines such as in Asia) or low context (more direct and explicit like in the U.S.), more elaborate or understated styles.

  • We use language from our social positions, and the power of our language use and labels come from that social position.

  • People can be bilingual or multilingual, and they may engage in code switching (taking on the characteristics of speech of the person or group to whom they are speaking for more credibility).

  • Translation refers to expressing what was said in another language in the written text.  Interpretation is the same process but is oral rather than written.

  • Language policies are instituted with different goals.  Sometimes language policies are meant to encourage assimilation into a language and national identity.  Sometimes language policies are meant to provide protection to minority languages.  Sometimes language policies regulate language use in different parts of a nation.

  • Globalization has meant that English has become more important world-wide but also has created other intercultural communication conflicts.

Discussion questions

1-Why is it important for intercultural communications scholars to study language?


2-What is the relationship between our language and the way we perceive reality?


3-What does a translator or an interpreter need to know to be effective?


4-Why is it important to know the social positions of individuals and groups involved in intercultural communication?


5-Why do people have such strong reactions to language policies, as in the “English-only” movement?


6-In what ways is the increasing and widespread use of English around the world both a positive and negative change for U.S. Americans?


1-Regional Language Variations.  Meet in small groups with other class members and discuss variations in language use in different regions of the U.S.  (accent, vocabulary, and so on.)  If there are students from different regions ask them to say words or phrases they use or say differently.  Identify perceptions that are associated with these variations.

 2-“Foreigner”  Labels.  Meet in small groups with other class members and generate a list of labels used to refer to people from other countries who come to the United States – for example, “immigrants” and “aliens.”  For each label, identify a general connotation (positive, negative, mixed).  Discuss how connotations of these words may influence our perceptions of people from other countries.  Would it make a difference if we referred to them as “guests” or “visitors”?  Do we treat people differently depending on the country we believe they come from depending on their accent?  (such as someone with a Spanish accent, an Asian accent, a French accent)

 3-Values and Language.  Although computer-driven translations have improved dramatically over earlier attempts, translation is still intensely cultural.  Communication always involves many layers of meaning, and when you move between languages, there are many more opportunities for misunderstanding.  Try to express some important values that you have (e.g., freedom of press) and see how they are translated in different languages.

4-Proverbs.  Proverbs contain little bits of practical wisdom accumulated in a national culture over the ages. This activity gets students to compare these in different cultures.

If you have a multinational class, ask individuals/groups students/groups from different countries to think of a proverb in their language, then translate it literally (word-for-word) into English. The others have to guess its meaning. (Sometimes you’ll find that completely different national cultures have rather similar proverbs, in the sense of the message which is being conveyed and sometimes even in the metaphors which are used.)

Recommendations from Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs