Recognizing Intercultural Competence

Cards for Democracy
Published on
May 30, 2017
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Recognizing Intercultural Competence

Ildikó Lázár

How do we know if we are interculturally competent?

Intercultural competence (ICC) has been defined in different ways in the literature but many ICC frameworks and models are compositional (see for example Byram, 1997, Fantini, 2006, Deardorff, 2009, Barrett, Byram, Lázár, Mompoint-Gaillard, and Philippou, 2013). Authors strive to detect and describe the components that collectively comprise ICC. Obviously, knowing the components to be developed in ourselves and in our learners will help the teaching-learning process. Nevertheless, the assessment of ICC still presents quite a few challenges, as is the case with so many other rather complex constructs. In the last few decades there have been attempts to design tests and tools that help us measure someone’s intercultural competence. Some argue that educators should strive to improve (standardized) pen and paper tests. However, when writing about intercultural competence, Kramsch (2009) argues that:

We should measure what can legitimately be measured and refuse to measure the rest, even though it is important that we teach it.

Examining the issue from another perspective, the OECD’s international review on evaluation and assessment (2013) claims that the fundamental purpose of assessment is to support and improve student learning. This entails that “students should be placed at the centre. They should be fully engaged with their learning and empowered to assess their own progress (which is also a key skill for lifelong learning)” (OECD, 2013, p. 3). Many national curricula and education acts mirror these purposes but they often fail to provide explicit guidelines as to how versatile assessment methods can be implemented in practice in order to support student learning.

In addition to the lack of explicit guidelines referred to above, another problem seems to be that the assessment literacy of teachers is far from ideal. In a large-scale European study, over 70% of the participating teachers claimed to have received no or very little training in what the purposes of assessment are, how to give grades, how to use formative assessment tools and what kind of meaningful feedback promotes learning (Vogt & Tsagari, 2014). Considering all of the above, the tendency to use traditional assessment methods is not surprising but we have to admit that current assessment practices rarely provide the promised support to the fully engaged, empowered, motivated and autonomous learners that we teachers expect to see.  

How can assessment support the development of key competences then? Perhaps by revising our practice when it comes to assessment. The Intercultural Competence Tool (ICC Tool) is an attempt in this direction. It was originally developed by a group of teachers, school principals and experts from all over Europe in a three-day Think Tank in Norway, drawing on the shared expertise of the participants and trainers as well as on research results and project work within the Council of Europe and other international organizations. The work was organized by the Pestalozzi Programme and the Intercultural Cities project of the Council of Europe and the event was hosted by the European Wergeland Centre in Norway. The first draft of the tool was tested and piloted by 50 teachers and school heads in 14 countries and it was finalized in 2012, taking into account the rich feedback received during the testing period. The final version of the ICC Tool was edited by the author of this blog. The result is not a standardized test but a self-assessment tool that can help users reflect on how appropriately they react in a variety of intercultural situations and recognize their strengths and weaknesses.

Thanks to the commitment and active involvement of the members of the Pestalozzi Community of Practice of the Council of Europe, the ICC tool is now available in 19 languages here.

It is amazing how participative work with attitudes, skills and knowledge culminated with the development of the ICC Tool, a valuable resource for every educator. A colleague of mine who helped me proofread the Albanian version was amazed by the document “I could never imagine before that I can reflect about my behavior this way” she said. V.S., trainer in Prishtina, Kosovo*

I helped to pilot the ICC tool and was also in the team who translated it into Hungarian. This tool helped me to reflect on my beliefs and practices concerning intercultural diversity. It made me think about issues I had never really had on my mind before. G. M., teacher in Budapest, Hungary

In addition to the pdf versions available in many languages, a web-based application was also developed by the Pestalozzi Programme and the Intercultural Cities project in 2014 in order to help teachers and learners assess their own intercultural competence in a playful way. The application has already been translated into Estonian, French and Greek.

Are you intercultural?

How interculturally competent are you? This handy online quiz is one way to find out! Through fun cartoons and questions, it’ll help you test your intercultural competence with the aim of improvement. The quiz, which takes about 15 minutes to complete, is based on the three main (and interconnected) components of intercultural competenceattitudes, skills and knowledge.

I’ve done the quiz several times through the years and my score changes each time, depending on my experiences or life stage. (…) And remember: no one but you can see your results, and every result is okay! If your score is low, don’t get discouraged – use this as an opportunity to gain insight. Because it’s through understanding ourselves and our perceptions that we can grow and move forward as individuals and global citizens… V. C., Trainer, Expat Nest**, Netherlands

Perhaps if we take Kramsch’s advice and refuse to try and measure intercultural competence by standardized tests but still pay attention to developing it in our teaching, we might help our learners by encouraging them to use this self-assessment tool or the application based on it in order to reflect on and recognize where they are on the journey towards intercultural competence.

*All references to Kosovo, whether the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.
** Expat Nest ( is a professional online counseling service for expats.


Barrett, M., Byram, M., Lázár, I., Mompoint-Gaillard, P. and Philippou, S. (2014). Developing intercultural competence through education. Pestalozzi Series No. 3. Strasbourg: Council of Europe

Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Deardorff, D. K. (ed.) (2009). The Sage Handbook of Intercultural Competence. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Fantini, A. E. (2006). Exploring and assessing intercultural competence. Retrieved May 1, 2017, from

Kramsch, C. (2009). Discourse, the symbolic dimension of intercultural competence. In A. Hu and M. Byram (Eds.) Intercultural competence and foreign language learning. Models, empirical studies assessment. (pp.107-122) Tübingen: Gunter Narr.

OECD (2013). Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment. Executive Summary. OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Vogt, K. & Tsagari, D. (2014). Assessment Literacy of Foreign Language Teachers: Findings of a European Study. Language Assessment Quarterly.

All images come from Luigi Serafini “Codex Seraphinianus”. All rights reserved.

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