Developing intercultural communicative competence amongst young people

Submitting Institution

Birkbeck College

Unit of Assessment

Modern Languages and Linguistics

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Education: Specialist Studies In Education
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Linguistics

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Summary of the impact

A `knowledge transfer' project, undertaken with Raleigh International (a youth and education charity), demonstrates the impact of Professor Zhu Hua's research in language and intercultural communication. The project used her research as the basis for designing and implementing a training programme and accreditation for volunteer programme managers to develop and support leadership skills, global citizenship and intercultural communicative competencies among young people. The success of the project subsequently influenced other organisations' work in intercultural communication.

Underpinning research

The research that underpins this case study comes out of Professor Zhu Hua's work, published since 2007 when she arrived at Birkbeck, in collaboration with a number of youth organizations and charities. Her research related to previous research in the Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication, on linguistic politeness, intercultural pragmatics, institutional communication and organizational discourse, sociolinguistics and multilingualism (Ref 1), and addresses issues of lingua franca communication amongst young multilingual and multicultural children (Ref 1, 2), intergenerational interaction in multilingual families (Ref 5, 6), language and identity (Ref 5) and the education of linguistically and culturally diverse children and young people in Britain (Ref 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). In particular, she has theorised the concept of `interculturality' through detailed, systematic analyses of empirical data from a hitherto under-explored context: lingua franca communication by multilingual children and young people (Ref 5).

Using data collected from diasporic families and communities (Ref 5, 6), she critically evaluated the methodological problems in studies of language and intercultural communication, and developed new ways of investigating the impact of participation of intercultural education programmes on the cross-cultural awareness and communicative competence of the young participants. She examined how intercultural differences or identities can be negotiated, affirmed or resisted through language practice. Following this line of enquiry, she investigated the role of younger or new members of communities in language socialisation and in developing their intercultural identities, and concluded that intercultural learning and the development of intercultural identities need to be explored through a language socialisation perspective.

Further research was based on field data collected by her and her project team from several international summer camps organised by CISV, a children's charity with children as young as 11 years old and young adults from over 10 countries (Ref 3, 4). Professor Zhu Hua examined strategies children used in communicating with each other when there are discrepancies in linguistic proficiencies and whether linguistic proficiency matters to children's active participation; and discussed their implications on the pedagogical rationale of educational programmes and ways of enhancing children's experience in summer camps (Ref 3). She found that the children employed a range of linguistic and interactional resources such as language alternation, clarification and repair, learning to negotiate and manage participation and to deal with tensions in group dynamics. She argued that competence is not a stable notion, but very much subject to negotiation between self and others. She also questioned the conventional ways of evaluating development of intercultural competence through questionnaires and self-reports and proposed an alternative way of measuring changes through a set of predictive and reflective ratings which is currently under further development (Ref 2).

References to the research

1. Jackson, S. (2010) Innovations in lifelong learning: critical perspectives on diversity, participation and vocational learning (edited book), London: Routledge


2. Zhu Hua, Jiang Yan and Jennifer Watson (2011) Children's perceptions of the impact of participation in an intercultural educational programme. Language and Intercultural Communication, 11(2), 143-161.


3. Zhu Hua and Jiang Yan, (2012) Do linguistic skills matter to active participation? In C. Baraldi (ed.) Participation, Facilitation and Mediation. Perspectives on Children and Young People Involvement in Social Contexts (pp.105-127). Routledge

4. Zhu Hua and Jiang Yan, (2010) Communicating in a lingua franca: children's interaction in an international summer camp. Sociolinguistics Studies, 4(3). 535-552 .


5. Zhu Hua, (2010) Language socialisation and interculturality: Address terms in intergenerational talk in Chinese diasporic families. Language and Intercultural Communication, 10(3), 189-205


6. Zhu Hua, (2008) Duelling Languages, Duelling Values: Codeswitching in bilingual intergenerational conflict talk in diasporic families. Journal of Pragmatics, 40, 1799-1816


Research grants

2004-7 Developing cross-cultural competence in young children, KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership, award no. KTP/ESRC 000505) grant, funded by ESRC/DTI in partnership with CISV (£125,000). (This grant was initially set up and led by Prof Zhu Hua at Newcastle University; transferred to Birkbeck with Zhu Hua in January 2007, it was completed in and main research outputs delivered from Birkbeck). The end of project report was rated "outstanding" by the KTP Board. The Research Associate of the project was shortlisted for the 2005 Business Leader of Tomorrow award by DTI.)

2009-11 Developing leadership skills, global citizenship and intercultural communicative competence among young people. KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership, KTP007060) grant, with Professor Sue Jackson from Birkbeck, funded by ESRC/TSB in partnership with Raleigh International (£122,818).

2009 ESRC Festival of Social Science. Learning by doing: developing Intercultural communicative competence and global citizenship from young age. (award no. RES-622-26-0110, £1,700)

Details of the impact

Raleigh International is a charity providing international expeditions for young people (aged 17-24) and volunteer managers (25+) since 1984. In 2008, the organisation approached Zhu Hua about reviewing their educational programmes, with a view to developing a process for accrediting learning outcomes which would recognise the unique learning experience gained through Raleigh expeditions. In 2009, an ERSC/TSB funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) (2009-11) was set up to develop Raleigh's pedagogical framework and an accrediting system. The project team was led by Professor Zhu Hua and included Professor Sue Jackson, Raleigh International representatives, and a KTP Associate. It reviewed training resources and systems employed by Raleigh before developing the project outcomes: 1) a training manual to support educational programmes in the UK and overseas; and 2) a new qualification for Raleigh's volunteer managers: a Post-graduate Certificate in International Field Leadership (IFL) which is provided by Birkbeck (Sources 1 & 2). The main impacts of this project were on the participating partner, Raleigh International, but broader impacts included benefits to CISV (see below).

The impacts on Raleigh International extended beyond the immediate development of the accredited training programme, enhancing its position as an organisation with intercultural communication at its centre:

  • Raleigh International established a coherent pedagogical framework for the charity's volunteer programmes, designed to suit participants' needs. Refocusing on quality of delivery contributed to the wider strategic plan to focus on accreditation for older volunteers. Following the creation of the accreditation system there was an upsurge in interest from prospective volunteers, wanting to enhance their employability potential through the expedition experience.
  • Raleigh created a new middle management role of Education and Development Officer to drive forward the education/accreditation and impact research agenda, better aligning the charity with stakeholders' interests at a national and international level.
  • A memorandum of agreement signed between Raleigh International and Birkbeck established the course for the Post-graduate Certificate in International Field Leadership in 2010. There were ten graduates from the programme in September 2011 (including four full-time members of Raleigh staff) and a further 11 are currently registered.
  • Raleigh International set up an Educational Advisory board representing employers, policymakers and international experts in leadership, cultural awareness, lifelong learning, experiential education, global citizenship, accreditation and youth education. The board provided strategic guidance for Raleigh, and enabled continued support and input from academics.
  • The project's outcomes informed Raleigh International's new bursary award scheme, ethical corporate engagement strategy and enabled Raleigh International to enter a new country of operations in Africa (Tanzania), in 2013.
  • Externally Raleigh International gained more visibility and support from stakeholders in the graduate employment and schools sectors and increased recognition of its programmes. The collaboration contributed to Raleigh International's success in recent years in winning funding from the Department of International Development (DfiD) for its Global Ambassadors' programme, and from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) for the Raleigh bursary award.
  • Raleigh International gained a stronger international profile, enabling it to engage in international debate and research on Leadership, Global Citizenship and Intercultural Communication and improve links and collaboration with local communities and new partners overseas.
  • The net effect of the partnership increased levels of synergy across the sites of delivery, far greater consistency and quality of delivery to all participants (circa 1400 a year).

The above can be corroborated through Sources 3 and 4. The Chief Executive, Raleigh International writes that the project created `a framework which allows partners to join together from different sectors with different cultures and to work together to develop genuine benefit for both parties.'

The impact of Zhu Hua's research on intercultural communication extends to other organisations:

  • CISV, an international volunteer organisation established in over 60 countries, participated in an earlier KTP with Newcastle University (2004-8) which Professor Zhu Hua brought to Birkbeck with her when she started her post in Birkbeck in 2007 and also participated in the Raleigh International project in an advisory capacity. The Secretary General of CISV International writes that the KTP project with CISV enabled them to develop a new website with intercultural communication at its heart. Subsequently Professor Zhu Hua was invited to become a member and deputy chair of the Education Committee of CISV. She has spoken at CISV's general assembly, advised them on the development of various training programmes, evaluation procedures, and research publications, Interspectives: A journal on Transcultural Education. A former UK branch Chair of CISV and Education Officer of CISV is now working on a PhD evaluating the work of the organization under Professor Zhu Hua's supervision. The Secretary writes, `The success of the new site and the added interest it is generating in CISV would not have been possible without the KTP work which helped us to crystallize and articulate our vision and values.' (Source 5)
  • To reach a wider audience and to promote dialogues between academics, professionals, and government policy makers, Professor Zhu Hua obtained funding to host a public seminar on the theme of `Learning by doing: developing intercultural communicative competence' (2009). Speakers included the Director of Diplomas Division, UK Department of Children, Schools and Family (DCSF) (keynote) and representatives from SIETAR UK (UK branch of the international Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research) and former Global Diversity Manager for Oxfam. About 40 intercultural consultants and researchers and representatives from charities and NGOs took part. The President writes: `The seminar brought together a wide variety of speakers and delegates from the academic community, from the commercial business world, from governmental agencies and from not-for-profit organisations. By establishing that intercultural competence is best achieved through activity, shared and negotiated in an atmosphere of openness and mutual respect, the seminar helped to reshape pedagogical rationales underlying many organisations active in Intercultural Education.' (Source 6)

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. The Final Report to ESRC of the KTP project (KTP7060) was accepted and approved by the KTP board. The report is available upon request. It is not available in the public domain, since it contains the company's financial benefit.
  2. Case study by Tim Pollington (graduate of IFL first programme)
  3. The Raleigh International webpage featuring the partnership Testimonials
  4. Testimonial 1 from The Chief Executive, Raleigh International (Factual statement)
  5. Testimonial 2 from Secretary General, CISV International (Factual statement)
  6. Testimonial 3 from President of the UK chapter of SIETAR (the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research) (Factual statement)