Are you teaching cultural awareness or intercultural awareness?

‘the study of intercultural communication begins as a journey into another culture and ends as a journey into one’s own culture’   Peter Adler, Social Psychologist (1975)

Adler’s comment draws attention to the difference between cultural awareness and intercultural awareness. We can be introduced to cultural awareness in the ELT classroom with quizzes like this:

Tick the correct answer for each place.


1 Bangkok

Don’t forget to remove your __________ at   someone’s house in Bangkok.

A shoes                                B   socks                 C belt

2 Rio

You arrive for   dinner in Rio. Do you kiss your host on ____________?

A one cheek       B both cheeks   C their hand

3 Egypt

You are eating in   Egypt. Your host offers you a second helping. You should _____________.

A not accept any   more. It’s rude.              B accept   more   C ask what’s for dessert and then   decide

4 Scotland

Do not refer to your   host as being __________. They will be upset.

A Scottish            B British                C English


You are in a   restaurant. You normally tip the waiter __________ of the price.

A 5-9%                  B 10-14%              C 15-20%

6 Germany

You go to a party.   Take the host _________.

A flowers             B chocolates       C either A or B

(Quiz taken from Aspire Intermediate Student’s Book,   National Geographic Learning)


This quiz is fine at one level (I would say that as I wrote it) because it helps raise awareness of behaviour and values in other cultures. But if the student doesn’t then step back and consider the behaviour and values of his/her own culture, we aren’t developing INTERcultural awareness. Without this step, we are in danger of reinforcing stereotype images of other cultures. After all, I know of and have met exceptions to most of all the so-called ‘correct’ answers in the quiz above.

Gibson in his book ‘Intercultural Business Communication’ (Oxford) illustrates how by offering an image of ‘most people’ from a certain country, we then go on to assume that all people from this place will be the same (and so creating steretypes). By doing this we ignore the many individuals at the edges of his graph:

culture 1

However, when we introduce activities which then make students reflect on their own culture (such as writing a similar quiz about their own country), we are more likely to develop attitudes in our students which approach different nationalities as large groups of people made up of many individuals and many cultures. An approach which I’ve adapted from Gibson to look more like this:

culture 2

I’ll be saying more on this topic at 6pm on Friday at the APAC conference in Barcelona (if you happen to be passing).

Categories: Culture

Tags: , ,

4 replies

  1. Thank you for your post on cultural awareness, this will help greatlyraining course in my teacher training course


  1. How to Develop Cultural Intelligence? Intercultural Dimensions | Anne Egros, Intercultural Executive Coach

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