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Barnga - a culture game
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Barnga -  a culture game

The description below of an example of a culture game is taken from the  report of the sub-project Intercultural Activities Working Party.

The full report, entitled "Raising Intercultural Awareness in preparation for periods of residence abroad" can be downloaded (approx 210K).

"Barnga" (Thiagarajan and Steinwachs 1990) is a simulation activity developed for a variety of contexts of intercultural awareness-raising programmes. It is available through Intercultural Press and the International Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research (SIETAR). Its description, provided by Intercultural Press is as follows:

In Barnga participants experience the shock of realizing that despite many similarities, people of differing cultures perceive things differently or play by different rules. Players learn that they must understand and reconcile these differences if they want to function effectively in a cross-cultural group.

 Participants play a simple card game in small groups, where conflicts begin to occur as participants move from group to group. This simulates real cross-cultural encounters, where people initially believe they share the same understanding of the basic rules. In discovering that the rules are different, players undergo a mini culture shock similar to actual experience when entering a different culture. They then must struggle to understand and reconcile these differences to play the game effectively in their "cross-cultural" groups. Difficulties are magnified by the fact that players may not speak to each other but can communicate only through gestures or pictures. Participants are not forewarned that each is playing by different rules; in struggling to understand why other players don’t seem to be playing correctly, they gain insight into the dynamics of cross-cultural encounters.

 Some key features which contribute to the simulation’s effectiveness are:

  • As few as nine players—or large groups—can play it. At least three and preferably four groups are needed, with three to six players in each group.
  • The game and debriefing can take as little as forty-five minutes.
  • Participant instructions are provided in French and Spanish as well as English.
  • Barnga lends itself easily to effective experimentation. Several variations are suggested in the manual.

Directions and master copies of handouts are included. Standard playing cards must be purchased for use in the simulation.

The discussion guidesheet poses the following questions to the participants after they have played the card game:


  1. What specific real-life situations does this game remind you of?

  2. Choose one of these real-life situations. What are the underlying causes of the problems or difficulties?

  3. What does the game suggest about what to do when you are in a similar situation in the real world? What did you do during the game which "worked" for you?
  4. Prepare to report your best idea to the whole group.


The simplicity of "Barnga", together with its straightforward debriefing guidelines, make this simulation game easily-applicable to preparation programmes for MFL students. It requires little research on the part of the tutor, yet, if the dynamics of the activity are conducted well it raises awareness of the covert nature of some cultural differences. Furthermore, it raises awareness of the necessity to adapt behaviours and adopt strategies to overcome differences. Much of the effectiveness of the activity comes from its memorable format: a simple card game, the playing of which will stand out from more "seminar-like" activities.