Intercultural communication for university classrooms

Culturally diverse classrooms can pose specific challenges for university professors. Highlighting ideas from the field of Intercultural Communication, this lecture focuses on cultural differences that instructors can expect to see among international students, which can lead to miscommunications and other challenges in the context of American Higher Education.

Access the slides from the presentation below:

Keep reading below for a summary of the video.

Tips for better classroom communication with international students

  • Try to see the positive potentials of cross-cultural perspectives rather than focusing only on the challenges of intercultural communication. This includes encouraging international students to share their unique insights.
  • Be careful of your wording in lectures, especially when giving instructions. Avoid slang expressions and try to use clear, explicit language.
  • Say things in various ways and anticipate misunderstandings, as many international students will be very reluctant to speak up and ask for clarification.
  • Repeat ideas and, when possible, make lessons and reference lists available for students.
  • Use a multimodal approach to convey information — words, images and gestures.
  • Communicate your expectations clearly, for example, punctuality and due dates. Some international students mistake the casual style of some US professors for leniency.

Advice for group work

  • When designing group work activities, it is good to take into account that group work is unfamiliar to many international students. When international students are put into groups with domestic students, they will often have a hard time participating and this can be from cultural assumptions about leadership.
  • When assigning group work or organizing group discussions, include instructions regarding turn-taking. For example, have groups begin discussions by requiring each student to contribute to the conversation. This simple strategy has been shown to even out participant contributions among diverse groups.
  • Appoint roles in group discussions. Some cultures find the egalitarian style of group work in the US disorganized and alienating.
  • In peer feedback activities, model and teach polite uses of language and encourage the use of the pronoun ‘I’ instead of ‘you’ which can be used in a confrontational way.

Expectation about leadership roles

In activities requiring group decision-making involving both American and East Asian participants, East Asians reported feeling less included in the decision-making process than their American counterparts. This difference was attributed to the different expectations about leadership roles.

Americans reported valuing “decisive and task-oriented” leadership, while East Asians tended to value and expect leadership qualities like “involves others in decision making” and “status-conscious and procedural” and “modest and compassionate” (Artitz & Walker, 2014). Briefly put, Americans (especially males) show a preference of a directive style of leadership whereas East Asians preferred a more cooperative styles of leadership and value benevolence, harmony with others and self-restraint in leaders. These are especially important qualities for people from Confucian-influenced cultures.

While you probably can’t change your students’ culturally-based views about leadership and group work, the tips listed can mitigate some of the communication and participation problems that are often reported by teachers.

This lecture is part of the The University of Idaho Global Student Success Program Spring 2019 Lecture Series. For more information about this lecture, please contact


  • Aritz, J., & Walker, R. C. (2014). Leadership styles in multicultural groups: Americans and East Asians working together. International Journal of Business Communication, 51(1), 72-92.