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3.1 Essential elements of transcultural communication

Drawing on the work of Kim (1992), Gerrish et al (1996) identified two elements of transcultural communicative competence: a) cultural communicative competence; and b) inter-cultural communication.

  • Cultural communicative competence, requires the nurse to learn to understand the cultural values, behavioural patterns and rules for interaction in specific cultures. This means developing specific knowledge and insights into a specific culture; and being prepared to draw upon that knowledge to guide one’s understanding of the patient or colleague.
  • Intercultural communication is the generic ability to recognize the challenges of communication across cultural boundaries. It invites us to stay in touch with our own sense of authenticity, to recognize our anxiety about ambiguity in the situation, to recognize the potential and real challenges to our own values and expectations, and to remain committed to making the interaction effective.
Intercultural communication is not only about language (grammar / vocabulary), it is also about:
  • Paralinguistics/sociolinguistics such as accents, tone of voice, volume, pauses, body language, eye contact etc.
  • Having a body of knowledge about the culture in which we live and work such as customs, traditions, etiquette of the health service and the hospital.


Kim YY (1992). Intercultural communication competence: a systems-theoretic view. In Gudykunst WB, Kim YY (eds) Readings on communication with strangers. McGraw-Hill, N. York

Gerrish K et al (1996) Nursing for a multi-ethnic society. Open University Press, Bucks.

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