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Difference between cross-cultural, multicultural and intercultural communication

This post discusses the difference between multicultural, intercultural, and cross-cultural communication. To start, it’s important to know what culture means before diving into the specific details.

Culture encompasses a set of values, practices, and beliefs shared by a group of people. It is a dynamic concept that manifests internally and externally, shaping our interactions and changing over time. It is essential to recognize that we often participate in multiple cultures in different moments and contexts of our lives.

Communication, as a cultural practice, is strongly influenced by personal experience and tradition. Each culture tends to employ a particular language, but there is no single correspondence; for instance, English is used by diverse cultures. So, what happens when individuals from different cultures interact?

The definitions of communication and its contexts, whether multicultural, intercultural, or cross-cultural, offer perspectives to understand these situations. Understanding these distinctions is fundamental when delving into an unfamiliar cultural environment, a common situation in human experience.

Multicultural Communication vs Intercultural vs Cross Cultural

What’s the difference between multicultural, cross-cultural and intercultural communication?

Multicultural Communication

Multicultural communication means different cultures living together without much interaction in the same place.

This type of communication aims to include everyone, promote tolerance, and help different cultures get along. It recognizes that having diverse cultures in a community or organization is valuable.

Often, groups remain separate, and some may have higher social prestige. This kind of communication is important because it’s the first step, but it doesn’t often lead to very meaningful experiences because it doesn’t involve deep connections or interactions between cultures.

Intercultural Communication

Intercultural communication focuses on productive interactions between these cultures and although it can occur between individuals with common languages, it particularly stands out when occurring across different languages.

It also highlights the importance of linguistic and cultural training to adapt to unfamiliar environments, not just in terms of vocabulary and grammar but also in understanding different cultural perspectives.

This type of communication involves a deeper level of connection, respect, and understanding of other cultures, leading to stronger and more effective communication.

Cross-Cultural Communication

Cross-cultural communication refers to the process of communicating and interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds. It involves understanding different cultural norms, values, and beliefs, as well as adapting one’s communication style and behavior to effectively engage with people from diverse backgrounds.

This type of communication is important in a globalized world because it helps to bridge cultural differences, promote mutual understanding, and enhance collaboration and cooperation between people of different cultures.

Cross-Cultural vs Multicultural vs Intercultural communication

So basically, the key difference between multicultural, intercultural, and cross-cultural communication is that:

Multicultural communication refers to communication between people from different cultural backgrounds. This term emphasizes cultural diversity and involves people from varying backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and religions.

Intercultural communication is a type of communication that occurs when people from different cultures interact with each other. In this form of communication, individuals are moderately aware of the differences between their own culture and the culture of the person with whom they are communicating.

Cross-cultural communication, on the other hand, goes a step further than intercultural communication, emphasizing interactions between people who have significant cultural and social differences. Unlike the other type of communication, which may involve communication between individuals from different cultures but sharing some similarities in values, beliefs, and practices, cross-cultural communication emphasizes communicating across different nations and regions. Thus, cross-cultural means understanding and adapting communication to enable engagement in diverse backgrounds.

In short, multicultural communication emphasizes diversity, intercultural communication deals with moderate awareness of cultural differences, and cross-cultural communication concerns interactions between people who have significant cultural and social differences.

Cultural adaptation in communication

It is essential to understand that any interaction can transition through these three frameworks, depending on the participants’ behavior. Mastering these forms of communication involves practice and exposure, allowing the adaptation of communication styles to find common ground, even without sharing a language.

With the right training, like our Intercultural Training services, you can learn to approach these moments with the most appropriate mindset to communicate effectively.

You can adapt your own style of speaking and acting to find common ground, even without a common language. If there’s one thing all cultures share, it’s the expectation of being acknowledged, which is the basis for being understood.

Interested in learning more?

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4 Responses

  1. Hej
    Could you please send me professional litterature that defines the differences between multiculture, cross-culture and interculture. I read a lot about the differences, but can’t professional litterature to back up these understandings.
    I need it for a professional presentation for some pædagogs.
    Thank you.
    Marie-Helene Pedersen

    1. Hello Marie-Helene, apologies for the late response. The professional literature that we used is mostly paid content. However, we can share an open resource in this link – We hope this is something that you would consider interesting for your research.


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