What is the difference between cultural proficiency and cultural competency?

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vanertc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because our culture helps us function in and cope with the world around us, it takes effort to look beyond our own and understand the culture of others, which is referred to as cultural proficiency. Yet we know how important this is, especially in all aspects of American life, as we are “the great melting pot” now more than ever.  There is a continuum of cultural proficiency: destructiveness, incapacity, blindness, pre-competence, competence, and proficiency.  With the final two stages sounding so similar, one must distinguish the nuances between them in order to attain the most advanced stage of cultural understanding.

A definition of cultural competency from California State University is, “Acceptance and respect for difference, continuing self-assessment regarding culture, careful attention to the dynamics of difference, continuous expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, and a variety of adaptation to belief systems, policies, and practices.” Individuals at this stage of cultural awareness are adapting.  They accept and respect the variety of cultural beliefs and behaviors of others around them, whether it is their neighbors, coworkers, clients, students, or just those they encounter in public. They are are even willing to educate themselves about the cultural norms of others they encounter on a regular basis.  At this stage, although individuals may still see themselves as separate from those from other cultures, they are willing to function respectfully as a group.

California State University defines cultural proficiency as “Knowing how to learn and teach about different groups, having the capacity to teach and to learn about differences in ways that acknowledge and honor all the people and the groups they represent, holding culture in high esteem, and seeking to add to the knowledge base of culturally proficient practice by conducting research, developing new approaches based on culture, and increasing the knowledge of others about culture and the dynamics of difference.” Basically, it takes the attitudes of competency, steps them up a level, and puts them into action.  At the proficiency stage, people are seeking out new information and continually improving their interactions with others, not just for their own sake, but in order to strengthen the community as a whole. They speak of other cultures with respect, and use culturally inclusive language when talking in groups. They will take the time to provide verbal or written translations of important information, or perhaps facilitate a partnership or group composed of differing cultures in order to bring understanding.  And since cultures will blend and change over time, maintaining cultural proficiency requires ongoing self-assessment, active research, and personal interaction in order to bridge the cultural differences we experience every day. In this way, we can build on each other’s strengths with mutual high esteem.