Those who are fluently bi-lingual or multilingual are generally more apt in scenarios where intercultural communication is needed. This is because they have already internalized the social cues, cultural difference, and communication norms for two communities, actively have the ability to code switch, and understand that different cultures communicate in different ways. This difference in aptitude or ability can be more clearly understood by considering some of the primary concepts of the relationship between language and culture.
More specifically, individuals go through a process of Identity Management, via which they make sense of their personal image, as it relates to different social groups or context (Martin & Nakayama). What this means is that they are actively managing both their sense of self, and the way they present themselves to others, when interacting within different social or cultural groups. This is one of the ways that bilingualism or multilingualism supports and individual’s ability to engage in intercultural communication. They already understand how to manage their personal identity, while also meeting the need of diverse audience, and how to shape the presentation of their identity to the confines of a given communication situation or social context.
From a theoretical perspective, Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that language has the ability shape an individual’s ideas, and to create a framework for the way they understand their social reality (Martin & Nakayama). Sapir and Whorf studied language as relative, and considered the way language alters social perception. Keeping this theory in mind, it is easy to see that someone who is bilingual or multilingual already has the ability to understand their social reality in two or more ways. They must, necessarily, have the ability to understand how language has informed their ideas, and because they know more than one language, there is more than one culture impacting their world view.
Somewhat similarly, the social science approach to the way that communication is tied to culture, assumes that reality is described, human behaviors can be defined, and culture is a variable that impacts those realities. As such, current communication, within the culture, shapes the way a person views reality, and so helps to predict what will be communicated in the future Martin & Nakayama). Again, this connection between communication and social values, or culture, is seen. So, because the bi-lingual individual’s communication experiences are multi-lingual, they must necessarily also be multi-cultural.
Overall, it can be more simply summarized that the individual who speaks two or more languages identifies, in some ways, with more than one culture. Intercultural communication is constantly occurring inside of them, as they move between one language and the next, depending on their social setting. This also means that they have the ability to differentiate between the needs of two cultural groups, with whom they communicate via these two separate languages. This gives them the foundation that they need to be excellent intercultural communicators, because they have already engaged in the establishment of their identity, as it relates to a multicultural setting, and how to move between different communication scenarios, based on the needs of those they are communicating with. It is possible for those that are not bi-lingual multi-lingual to learn these things, however, they do not have the head start on understanding and applying the principles that the bilingual individual has intuitively established.