We know that across Europe, immigrants who do not speak the language of their adopted country as a first language do not do as well in vocational education and training as native speakers. There are many reasons for this and, as educators, trainers and employers, we cannot solve all the problems. This partnership has brought together research and practical experience to tackle issues in vocational education and training that can hold migrants back from reaching their full potential.

The European Commission has published a number of documents detailing the role of intercultural awareness and the recent UNESCO publication ‘Intercultural Competencies, Conceptual and Operational Framework (2013) emphasises the importance of developing intercultural skills in all educational settings. This model contributes towards the intercultural understanding and respect that is necessary to achieve this objective. 

The project is aimed at vocational trainers and teachers who work with migrants. The Intercultural Training Model is presented in three parts: the training framework, the guidebook and additional national support material.

The materials have been produced for use within the training framework and we strongly recommend that they be delivered in this way to maximise learning through discussion and group interaction. The framework consists of a half day workshop, a period of self directed study (supported by a mentor if appropriate) and then a further half day workshop.

The guidebook has been produced and made freely available for those who train vocational teachers and workplace trainers to allow them to use the background information and the practical exercises it contains. Many of the exercises can be used as they are but they can also be adapted to meet local needs and situations.

1. Intercultural Competence


People in Europe are increasingly in touch with other cultures not only due to new methods of communication (emails, Internet, social media) or easy transport systems but also due to migration. It is usual for most of us to work with or teach people who are new to the UK. Adjusting to a new culture doesn’t happen overnight. A migrant comes to a new home country with established beliefs values and cultural conventions. They are in-built - a person’s normal way of seeing things. A migrant may need support (from teachers, colleagues, neighbours) to adjust to the new culture. 


Anyone who has lived in a foreign country will understand that adjustments concern little things and big things. The further you go, the more adjustments you need to make. Imagine migrating to a very different culture from your own and think how many cultural mistakes you would make every day. Are there things you would not know how to do? How long would you survive without help? 

The Iceberg model


Culture can be pictured as an iceberg: Only the top of the iceberg can be seen above the water line. What is underneath is invisible. It is a much larger part and the powerful foundation. Visible elements of a culture are things like dress, music, food, gestures, greetings and architecture. Invisible elements of a culture are values and beliefs, world views, rules of a relationship, approach to the family, gender differences, attitudes to rules - just to name a few.


The Iceberg model implies that the visible parts of culture are just expressions of its invisible parts. It also points out that it can be hard at times to understand people with different cultural backgrounds. We may spot the visible parts of their “iceberg”, but we cannot immediately see what the foundations that these parts rest upon are.

a) In order to be interculturally competent

  • you have to be aware of your own culture and its specific phenomena

  • you have to be aware that your culture is not known all over the world

  • you have to understand that there is always a possibility of cultural misunderstandings when you are dealing with other cultures

  • you have to be open-minded

  • you have to be willing to adapt and adjust

Take time to think about your qualities. Is it easy for you to interact with people from different cultures or do you need to develop your intercultural skills?

Questions to think about

How differences and similarities between your own and other people’s cultural behavior may change or affect attitudes, expectations, communication and working practices?

  • conception of time
  • decision-making process
  • perceptions of status and role
  • attitudes to men and women
  • communication style
  • conventions
  • attitudes to emotion
  • levels of hierarchy and formality

To discuss in group about intercultural competences

Exercise 1

A migrant employee comes late for work. You are a supervisor. What is your reaction when he is late for:

a) two minutes

b) five minutes

c) fifteen minutes

d) an hour 

And how would the employee respond? What might be his excuse? What kind of excuses would be acceptable?

Exercise 2

You are a supervisor. An employee new to the UK agrees with everything you say and it looks like he has understood your instructions but after a while he is doing everything in his own way. What do you do? What may cause this kind of behavior? How will you proceed?

Exercise 3

You work closely with a new migrant but you are not friends with her. You don’t tell her anything about your private life because you want to separate work and socializing. Your migrant colleague asks frequently about the well-being of your parents and your children. You don’t like her questions because they seem too private to you. What do you do? Why do you think she is asking?

Exercise 4

You are a cleaner and you are working with a migrant as a pair. You have finished your work for today when the supervisor comes to see you. Your migrant colleague starts working again even though everything has been done already. What do you think is the reason for her reaction? What should you do?

Exercise 5

You are a teacher in vocational education. You know that there has been a misunderstanding between a migrant student and some other students. The migrant student has often been absent after the incident. When you talk to the migrant student, he just smiles and says that everything is okay. You don’t think this is true. What do you do? What do you think might cause his behavior?

b) How people's values and beliefs may change as they are exposed to a different culture?

  • by growing up in a country that is not their parents' native country

  • by having a childhood friend whose cultural background is different from theirs

  • by working abroad

  • by working with people from different cultures

  • by travelling abroad

Discuss in group about socialising with other cultures

Exercise 1

Imagine a situation where you have to move to another European country. What should you take in account when you are working and living there? What would be the biggest differences between the countries? What do you think would be most difficult for you?

Exercise 2

You are a teacher and you have a student with a migrant background in your class. Your student doesn’t have any problems with the language but there are problems based on cultural differences from time to time. You think that the problems are caused by his parents. What kind of problems can have their origin in the different cultural background of the parents?

Exercise 3

You work closely with a migrant. What can you learn from your colleague? 


c) Cultural stereotypes. Pros and cons?

  • Do we need cultural stereotypes?
  • Situations where cultural stereotypes may be a source of misunderstandings


Stereotype is a thought that may be adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things, but that belief may or may not accurately reflect reality.


Discuss in group about cultural stereotypes

Exercise 1

Talk about stereotypes. What are different nationalities like?

  1. German         7. Russian

  2. French            8. Iraqi

  3. Finnish           9. Chinese

  4. Swedish         10. Thai

  5. Greek           11. Jamaican

  6. English           12. Indian

What are the pros and cons of having stereotypes? What are the situations when stereotypes come in useful? What are the situations when stereotypes cause difficulties and misunderstandings?  

Exercise 2

You start working abroad. Your colleagues have never met a person from your country. What is the stereotype of your nation they may have? How are you different? What would be the most irritating presumptions your colleagues might have? How would you react to presumptions of you?

Exercise 3

Look at the picture and discuss.

  • Where does she come from?

  • Where does she live?

  • How old is she?

  • What is her occupation?

  • Is she married?

  • Does she have children?

  • What is her religion?

  • What is she interested in?


Did your group have one or more answers to the questions? Which question was the most difficult one? Where did you agree? What do your answers tell you about presumptions and stereotypes in general?

d) Interactions

  • use of language

  • speed of speech

  • use of dialect or slang

  • body language

  • gestures

  • tone of voice

  • intonation

  • pauses

  • touching and distance


Discuss in group about interactions

Exercise 1

Describe your way of interaction. Compare it with the others’ in the group. Talk about things you find uncomfortable during interaction.

Exercise 2

You have a migrant as a colleague. You get along with her and like working with her. From time to time you get bothered because you feel that she is coming too close to you and she is interrupting you all the time. You have mentioned this to her a couple of times but she hasn’t changed. What do you do? What might cause this kind of behaviour?

Exercise 3

You are a supervisor. One of the employees comes to you and tells you about problems in communication with a migrant employee. You don’t see there any problems. You understand him perfectly and he understands you. What is your advice to the employee? How can you help him?

e) Politeness

  • greeting rules

  • use of person's name during interaction

  • please and thank you

  • gestures

Discuss in group about politeness

Exercise 1

You are a supervisor. A migrant employee complains about the rudeness of the other employees. You think that they don’t treat him any differently. How do you solve the situation?

Exercise 2

You are a teacher. You have two migrant students with the same ethnic origin in your class. They often use gestures which are not understandable to you. You have noticed that the other students are bothered too. What do you do?

Exercise 3

List five things you consider rude and then compare your answers with other members of your group.

Exercise 4

Have you experienced a situation where someone was over-polite? What was the situation? What was confusing?

2. Simplified Language

When do you need simplified language?


  • Simplified language is needed in situations where one participant’s ability to communicate is significantly weaker than the other’s.
  • Simplified language enables someone without good language skills to take part in conversation and become a full member of a community.

Simplified language is…

  • easy to understand

  • clear and simplified spoken or written language

  • structurally uncomplicated

  • adapted to the recipient’s language skills

  • easier than common language

  • not ambiguous

How to write a text in simplified language


  • use familiar and common words and expressions

  • avoid slang, dialect, work jargon, symbolic and abstract expressions

  • explain any difficult word you have to use

  • use short sentences

  • avoid difficult grammatical structures

  • avoid metaphors

  • proceed logically in your writing

  • avoid changes when indicating place and time

How to speak simplified language

  • speak about one subject at a time

  • speak as short and systematically as possible

  • take the language level of the person you are talking to into account

  • do not speak as to a child, if you are talking to an adult

  • don’t use slang or dialect

  • when speaking about place and time or cause and consequence make
    sure that you are understood

  • ask checkup questions

  • use familiar, everyday words

  • if you need to use difficult, abstract words, expressions or metaphors,
    explain them

  • explain acronyms

  • enhance the core words

  • use correct technical terms

  • pause before a new subject

  • speak slowly, but not unnaturally or exaggeratedly

  • give time to listen, understand and ask questions

  • use facial expressions, gestures, appropriate accent and tone of voice
    (do not exaggerate)

  • draw or show pictures and point at objects, if possible

  • do not panic if you are not immediately understood
    (give the person time to get used to your way of speaking and vice versa)

  • show that you really want to understand and it is important to you that you
    are understood, as well

  • don’t hesitate to look up difficult words in a dictionary 


Example 1: Dialogue during baking class


Teacher: You still need to add some sugar.

Student: Sorry?

Teacher: Add some sugar.

Student: Add?

Teacher: Yes, add - put more sugar.

Student: Extra sugar?

Teacher: Yes, that’s right.

Example 2: Dialogue about explaining an idiom


The grass is always greener on the other side

Student: I’d love to live in Helsinki, because it has everything and it is so much nicer to live there.

Teacher: Well, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Student: What grass? Where?

Teacher: Well, it is an expression. It means that things always seem better somewhere else, like a place you cannot go.

Example 3: Dialogue about time confusion

Teacher:  Ok, tomorrow you are going to have a shorter day, since yesterday we were here until 6 pm. And make sure you do this exercise by the day after tomorrow since we are going to go through it then. Is this clear?

Students: Yes……… So may we go now?

Teacher: No, of course not. We will finish at four.

Student: Not at two o’clock?

Teacher: Today we will finish at four o’clock. So today is a normal day. Tomorrow we will finish at two o’clock because we had a longer day yesterday. Ok?

Students: And the exercise?

Teacher: The exercise has to be ready the day after tomorrow, which is Thursday.

Example 4: How to say it differently

Instead of:

"In case you happen to see my misplaced, blue-covered and oh, so hackneyed book, I’d be ever so grateful if you could return it back into my possession."

It is better to say:

"I have lost my book. It is old and blue. Please bring it to me if you see it."

Example 5: Chocolate chip cookies

Common language

Chocolate Chip Cookies: Preheat oven to 190 degrees C with rack in centre of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the white, vanilla and brown sugars and beat until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Beat in eggs, one at a time, making sure to beat well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and beat until incorporated, adding the chocolate chips and nuts (if using) about half way through mixing. If you find the dough very soft, cover and refrigerate until firm (from 30 minutes to two hours).

For large cookies, use about a 2 tablespoon ice cream scoop or with two spoons, drop about 2 tablespoons of dough (35 grams) onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake about 10 - 14 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges. Cool completely on wire rack.

Makes about 4 dozen - 3 inch round cookies


Simplified language


Chocolate Chip Cookies (about 50 cookies)

1. Preheat the oven (190 degrees C)

2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

3. Beat the butter in a bowl until it is smooth and creamy.

4. Add white sugar, vanilla sugar and brown sugar and beat until it is fluffy (2 minutes).

5. Add eggs one at a time. Beat well.

6. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl.

7. Add the mixture of flour, baking soda and salt into the egg mixture.
Stir well.

8. Add the chocolate chips (and nuts). If the dough is very soft,
put it in the fridge (30 minutes - 2 hours).

9. Drop about 2 tablespoons of dough onto the baking sheet.

10. Bake 10 - 14 minutes.

11. The cookies are golden brown when they are ready.

13. Cool the cookies before eating .

3. Intercultural Counselling

Intercultural counselling in work-based learning situations


Counsellor and counsellee

  • have different cultural background

  • don’t have the same first language; one of them communicates in a foreign language

  • may have different values, believes and cultural conventions

Counsellor should

  • respect counselee’s expertise and skills gained in the native country

  • discuss cultural differences as a part of the counselling process

  • consider that different roles of a man and a woman, a teacher and a student or an
    employer and employee may affect the counselling process

  • take into account that the counsellee’s stage of integration affects his/her ability to adopt

  • use simplified language to achieve better understanding

  • have enough time for the counselling process


Feedback in intercultural counselling should be

  • encouraging and guiding

  • clear and precise

  • fair and personal

  • given by using the hamburger method (good – to improve – good)

  • directed at the goals and provide information

  • frequent and include self-assessment


The hamburger method



When offering a critique, you begin with a constructive compliment on something the person does well (the fluffy bun part). You then get to the meat of the matter, which is the constructive criticism part. Finally, you end with another constructive compliment (the other half of the fluffy bun). This is an effective technique for giving constructive criticism between compliments. It helps people to receive criticism without being defensive.