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16.1: Intercultural Communication Overview

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    What is Intercultural Communication? If you were to ask Russel Arent, author of Bridging the Cultural Gap he would tell you that, “Intercultural Communication is the sending and receiving of messages across languages and cultures. It is also a negotiated understanding of meaning in human experiences across social systems and societies.” This provides not only a concise definition but it also describes the importance that understanding has in intercultural interactions.

    In this TedTalkX, Pellegrino Riccardi, a man who spent 27 years traveling the world to experience different cultures, refers to culture as, “A system of behavior that helps us act in an accepted or familiar way.”

    In efforts to explain the world’s population to young children, David J. Smith asks children to imagine the world as a small village so they can understand the vast population figures in a more comprehensible way. In 2016, the world’s population was 7.5 billion (Smith 7). Instead of talking about numbers of this magnitude, he represents the world as 100 people. Using Smith’s model, we can examine what nationalities make up the world’s population, what languages they speak, how old they are, and how wealth and education are globally distributed.

    Here are some interesting facts from Smith’s global village, including the most recent update from:, a website dedicated to keeping this idea alive! If the world were made up of 100 people:

    • 50 would be female
    • 50 would be male
    • 25 would be children
    • 75 would be adults,
    • 9 of whom would be 65 and older

    There would be:

    • 60 Asians
    • 16 Africans
    • 14 people from the Americas
    • 10 Europeans
    • 31 Christians
    • 23 Muslims
    • 16 people who would not be aligned with a religion
    • 15 Hindus
    • 7 Buddhists
    • 8 people who practice other religions
    • 12 would speak Chinese
    • 6 would speak Spanish
    • 5 would speak English
    • 4 would speak Hindi
    • 3 would speak Arabic
    • 3 would speak Bengali
    • 3 would speak Portuguese
    • 2 would speak Russian
    • 2 would speak Japanese
    • 60 would speak other languages
    • 86 would be able to read and write; 14 would not
    • 7 would have a college degree
    • 40 would have an Internet connection
    • 78 people would have a place to shelter them from the wind and the rain, but 22 would not
    • 80 would live in substandard housing
    • 50 would be malnourished and 1 dying of starvation
    • 33 would be without access to a safe water supply
    • 39 would lack access to improved sanitation
    • 24 would not have any electricity
    • 48 would live on less than US$ 2 a day
    • 20 would live on less than US$ 1 a day

    To see a large scale of diversity around the world check out World Diversity Patterns!


    If each villager earned a similar annual income, each one would have $10,300 per year. Instead, the richest 10 people in the village earn more than $87,500 a year, the poorest 10 villagers earn less than $2 a day, while the remaining 80 earn somewhere in between. As the average annual cost of food and shelter in the village is more than $5,000, many people go without these basic necessities (Smith 22).

    Moreover, the people with less money are also less likely to have electricity and education. Besides simple cultural differences such as language or food preferences, cultural identity impacts individuals’ accessibility to certain resources such as shelter, electricity, running water, health care, education, and political and legal systems.

    If we return to the United States from our look at the global village (Moore):

    • 25 percent of black youth ages 16-19 and 11 percent of 20-24 year olds are neither in school nor working. Compare this to 11 and 6 percent of their white peers. (E-16. Unemployment)
    • Black infants have double the infant mortality rate than white infants in the US. (CDC)
    • Black levels of unemployment have been roughly twice those of white since 1954 (E-16. Unemployment.)
    • Women hold 102 seats in Congress (Women in Congress.)
    • 475 of the top 500 companies are run by men (Fortune.)
    • Women’s earnings average 81 cents for every $1 earned by men (Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
    • The United States is one of the few countries in the world that puts to death both the mentally retarded and children. The other five countries in the world that execute their children are Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

    Think about culture and communication as a reciprocal process: culture affects communication and communication affects culture. Both work together to shape how we identify as belonging to one culture or another, how we feel about belonging to a particular cultural group, how we communicate with other cultural groups, and how that group is regarded in the larger social system. As you will see, this is often a reflection of the language used to refer to a particular group of people, or the relative value placed on their communication practices. In the U.S., political and economic power is not equally distributed among cultures. We can see this power imbalance reflected in various linguistic practices such as the dominance of English, terms used to refer to different groups of people, and lack of bilingual signs or documents.

    Contributions and Affiliations

    This page titled 16.1: Intercultural Communication Overview is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Scott T. Paynton & Laura K. Hahn with Humboldt State University Students.