Multilingualism and Intercultural Communication

Helsinki Summer School 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kindly note that Helsinki Summer School 2021 will not be arranged due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


This course is suitable for Bachelor's and Master's level students interested in interculturality. Ideal academic backgrounds include anthropology, social sciences, social psychology, psychology, postcolonial studies, linguistics, area and cultural studies, and communication.


The three main themes to be covered during the course are:

Intercultural Communication as a field of academic reflection – foundation to working in an intercultural context
This theme will cover the historical background, and the reasons for current interest in the phenomenon of intercultural communication. It will also give definitions and general features as well as the main research themes currently covered in Intercultural Communication. Key concepts in the field will be introduced, including ‘language’, ‘multilingualism’, ‘culture’, ‘communication’, ‘miscommunication’, ‘misunderstanding’, and others.

Intercultural Communication in social interaction – Intercultural Communication in the workplace
This theme will be introduced by means of specific case studies which illustrate communicative features that mark multilingual contexts, as well as the linguistic aspects of intercultural, multilingual phenomena and communicative practices in the following four domains:

  • education, including choices of medium of instruction and how to integrate local (minority) languages, as well as global foreign languages such as English, French and Spanish.
  • public health care, including attention to accommodating minority language speakers in treatment
  • practising law, including courtroom communication
  • economic activity and business communication, including intercultural negotiation practices.

Theoretical approaches to the study of Intercultural Communication phenomena and methods of research in Intercultural Communication
This theme will, in the course of looking at specific social contexts, introduce a number of theoretical approaches and the associated methodologies within the field. These will include the contrastive approach; the interlanguage approach; the interactive-intercultural approach; pragmatic approaches; sociolinguistic approaches; ethnographic approaches, (critical) discourse analysis; and linguistic analysis (e.g., structural features of code-switching and pragmatic features such as irony and truism).


The course is lead by Christine Anthonissen, Professor Emerita, Stellenbosch University.


  • To provide a comprehensive overview of Intercultural Communication as a contemporary field of linguistic and scholarly interest;
  • To introduce theoretical and methodological approaches to studying currently interesting aspects of multilingualism and intercultural communication;
  • To raise awareness of the difference between popular (often overgeneralised) conceptions of intercultural difference and real experiences of success and failure in what is described as 'intercultural communication';
  • To encourage engagement with selected texts which count as core readings in the field of Intercultural Communication;
  • To allow critical reflection on linguistic practices in various multilingual contexts, such as the workplace or public state facilities, in which intercultural communication is the only means of verbal interaction.


The course will take the form of lectures, interactive discussion of texts and participant presentations. Social and linguistic practices highlighted in the course will be investigated and critically discussed with a focus on workplace interaction, and with a view to improving understanding of current, evolving multiculturalism and suggestions for improved quality of services in selected contexts.


Course evaluation will be based on:
Class participation & presentation 30%
Written assignment 70%


City Centre Campus

Preliminary schedule

The course will take the form of lectures, interactive discussion of texts, as well as participant presentations. Social and linguistic practices highlighted in the course will be investigated and critically discussed with a focus on workplace interaction, and with a view to improving understanding of current, evolving multiculturalism and suggestions for improved quality of services in selected contexts.

Detailed content description:

Session 1 Introduction
Set readings will be introduced; division of topics for case study presentations
Introduction to ‘culture’ and the study of Intercultural Communication
Definitions and key concepts in Intercultural Communication (ICC)
Overview of research methodology used in linguistic approaches to ICC

Session 2 Essentialist approaches to ICC
Defining ‘essentialism’, cultural values, communicative styles
Non-verbal communication as an important element in ICC
Methodology continued: Non-essentialist/constructivist approaches to ICC
Defining ‘constructivism’
Approaches to studying culture from a non-essentialist point of view

Sessions 3 & 4 Theme 1: Theoretical approaches to studying global economic mobility – migration of the elite vs the destitute
Discourses of migration in the media
Testimonies and narratives in discourses of migration
Social Corporate Responsibility in business communication

Sessions 5 & 6 Theme 2: Multilingualism in public health care, considering
(i) the place of language and communication in health care
(ii) strategies in dealing with ‘language discordance’ in multilingual health care in HIV care, and
(iii) intercultural communication in mental health care – using interpreters

Sessions 7 & 8 Theme 3: Multilingualism in education, considering
(i) global multilingual educational contexts, and
(ii) education policies and practices in bi- and multilingual education
Discussion of readings
Interactive session on local multilingual classrooms

Sessions 9 & 10 Theme 4. Relationships with colleagues in the workplace
Multilingualism in legal settings and courtroom communication

Student presentations


The list given below represents only a very small volume of what has been published on the various themes.
These texts have been chosen as a foundation for this course to relate to local and international scenarios of intercultural communication, to show some of the complexities of working in contexts of 'intercultural communication' and 'multilingualism' in different workplaces and among speakers with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

For the assignments, students are advised to extend this list.

  • Sessions 1 & 2 Readings: Silverman 2006; Berg-Sørensen et al. 2010; Nathan 2015, Bridge & Baxter 1992
  • Sessions 3 & 4 Readings: Verschueren 2008; Lawson 2017; Adanhounme 2011; Duarte 2010; Mitra 2012
  • Sessions 5 & 6 Readings: Pavlish et al. 2010; Anthonissen 2010; Kilian et al. 2014; Hunt & Swartz 2017; Visser 2011
  • Sessions 7 & 8 Readings: Genesee 201;, Nordberg 2017; Harden Fritz & Omdahl 2006 Sessions 9 & 10 Readings: De Fina 2009; De Fina 2011; Maryns 2012; Sias et al. 2004

Other readings:

  • Adanhounme, A.B. 2011. Corporate Social Responsibility in Postcolonial Africa: Another Civilizing Mission? Journal of Change Management 11(1), 91.
  • Anthonissen, C. 2010. Managing Linguistic Diversity in a South African HIV/AIDS Day Clinic. In Meyer, B. & Apfelbaum, B. (eds.) Multilingualism at Work:From Policies to Practices in Public, Medical and Business Settings.
  • Berg- Sørensen, A., Holtug, N. & Lippert-Rasmussen. 2010. Essentialism vs. Constructivism: Introduction. Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory 11(1), 39–45.
  • Bridge, K. & Baxter, L.A. 1992. Blended Relationships: Friends as Work Associates. Western Journal of Communication 56, 200–225.
  • De Fina, A. 2009. Narratives in Interview – The Case of Accounts. Narrative Inquiry 19(2), 233–258.
  • De Fina, A. 2011. Researcher and Informant Roles in Narrative Interactions: Constructions of Belonging and Foreignness. Language in Society 40, 27–38.
  • Duarte, F. 2010. Working with Corporate Social Responsibility in Brazilian companies: The Role of Managers’ Values in the Maintenance of CSR cultures. Journal of Business Ethics 96, 355–368.
  • Genesee, F. Myths about Early Childhood Bilingualism. Canadian Psychology 56(1), 6–15.
  • Harden Fritz J.M. & Omdahl B.L. 2006. Problematic Relationships in the Workplace. Peter Lang.
  • Hunt, X. & Swartz, L. 2017. Psychotherapy with a Language Interpreter: Considerations and Cautions for Practice. South African Journal of Psychology 47(1), 97–109.
  • Kilian, S, Swartz, L, Dowling, T, Dlali, M, Chiliza, B. 2014. The Potential Consequences of Informal Interpreting Practices for Assessment of Patients in a South African Psychiatric Hospital. Social Science & Medicine 106,159–167.
  • Lawson, M. 2017. Narrative Positioning and ‘Integration’ in Lifestyle Migration: British Migrants in Ariège, France. Language and Intercultural Communication 17(1), 58–75.
  • Maryns, K. 2012. Multilingualism in Legal Settings. In: Martin-Jones, M., Blackledge, A. and Creese, A. The Routledge Handbook of Multilingualism. London, New York: Routledge.
  • Mitra, R. 2012. 'My Country’s Future': A Culture-Centered Interrogaton of Corporate Social Responsibility in India. Journal of Business Ethics 106, 131–147.
  • Nathan, G. 2015. A Non-essentialist Model of Culture: Implications of Identity, Agency and Structure within Multinational/Multicultural Organizations. International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management 15(1), 101–124.
  • Nordberg, C.C. 2017. Education of Migrant Children in Finland. In J. Han (ed.) A Multi-Country Study on the Education of Migrant Children. WISE: Qatar.
  • Pavlish C.L., Noor, S., Brandt, J. 2010. Somali Immigrant Women and the American Health Care System: Discordant Beliefs, Divergent Expectations, and Silent Worries. Social Science & Medicine 71, 353–361.
  • Piller, I. 2016. Why a Multilingual Imagination Matters. Oxford Scholarship Online.
  • Sias, P.M., Heath, R.G, Perry, T., Silva, D. & Fix, B. 2004. Narratives of Workplace Friendship Deterioration. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 21, 321–340.
  • Silverman, D. 2006. Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analyzing Talk, Text and Interaction. London: Sage.
  • Verschueren, J. 2008. Intercultural Communication and the Challenges of Migration, Language and Intercultural Communication 8(1), 21–35.
  • Visser, I. 2011. Trauma Theory and Postcolonial Literary Studies. Journal of Postcolonial Writing 47(3), 270–282.