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Acculturation: Definition, Theory & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition of Acculturation
  • 1:38 Theories of Acculturation
  • 5:17 Examples of Acculturation
  • 7:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica McCallister
The following lesson explains how individuals and groups experience acculturation by discussing four main factors associated with acculturation: language, immersion, assimilation, and integration. A quiz is provided to assess your understanding of the topic.

Definition of Acculturation

The base word of acculturation is 'culture'. What is culture? Simply stated, culture means a way of living and a way of life. Culture means that there are certain ways and reasons in which individuals and group of people speak, conduct themselves, celebrate holidays, and express their belief systems. As you can imagine, there is a tremendous diversity of cultures around the world.

Some of these cultures include American, Hispanic, Asian, and European cultures. When discussing cultures, we can break down the larger geographic areas into smaller regions. For example, if you were asked to discuss the American culture, you might explain that there is a difference between those living on the West Coast versus those living on the East Coast. Perhaps a difference might be in the food that people eat, the clothes that people wear, or the customs and activities that they participate in.

Perhaps you are asked to discuss the Hispanic or South American culture. In doing so, there are many subcultures such as Mexican, Brazilian, Chilean, Honduran, and so on. There are as many cultures in the world as there are countries, states, and regions!

Understanding the term 'culture' can lead us to more fully understand the terms associated with the theory of acculturation. So what does acculturation mean? When individuals or groups of people transition from living a lifestyle of their own culture to moving into a lifestyle of another culture, they must acculturate, or come to adapt the new culture's behaviors, values, customs, and language. The word 'acculturation' is the act of that transition.

Theories of Acculturation

The theory of acculturation can be broken down to include a few different topics; these include learning a new language, immersion, assimilation, and integration. Let's take a look at each of these terms more closely.

Language and immersion can be some of the most important parts of the acculturation process. In fact, social theorist John Schumann proposed that language is the largest factor in successfully acculturating. For example, if you are a Hispanic or South American native and you move to the United States, you would have to learn to speak English in order to fully understand and even feel comfortable living and communicating in the American culture.

As you can imagine, transitioning into a new culture might often require learning a new language. While you can learn a new language by using audio CDs or taking lessons from an instructor, one of the most effective ways to learn a new language is through immersion, or surrounding yourself entirely in a new culture.

A great way to acculturate is to move from your native country into the new country, and live with and learn directly from the natives. When you immerse yourself, you learn first-hand what that new culture is all about. Immersion doesn't only include practicing the language directly with native speakers, but also includes coming to understand the customs, traditions, acceptable behaviors, and so on.

The immersion phase of acculturation can be very challenging and stressful. Why? As you can imagine, growing up and living your own culture is easy; you don't know any different from what you have learned your entire life! However, being open and willing to set aside your own cultural background and beliefs, as well as learn a new language, can come with hesitation, confusion, and can often be time-consuming.

Sometimes the process of acculturation doesn't necessarily include learning a new language, but instead includes learning the meaning of certain words or adjusting to the local dialect. For example, if you were an American native moving to British Columbia, Canada, you could continue to speak English, but would also want to learn the different meanings of words that are associated with the Canadian culture.

In the United States, the term 'bathroom' is used as opposed to the term 'washroom', which is used in British Columbia. The language and word choices spoken by the native people are referred to as the vernacular. Even though Canadians speak English, some of the word choices they use have to be learned by a non-native as part of the acculturation process.

In Great Britain, the bathroom is referred to as the loo. In Australia, a friend or acquaintance is referred to as a mate. As you can see, not only does acculturation include learning a new language or immersing yourself into the culture, it also includes learning the meanings and associations of new words and phrases.

Assimilation involves the accumulation of information about a new culture and resulting adaptations to match the new culture. Generating new knowledge about a culture might include learning how food is prepared, understanding types of acceptable clothing worn in the new culture, or picking up new habits. A person who fully assimilates has picked up all the habits and traits of their non-native culture.

Similarly, integration is often used in acculturation theory and includes participating socially in an environment to be considered an equal among the society. You do not have to fully assimilate in order to integrate into a new culture. To integrate into society, you might want to participate in social events, community events, and perhaps engage in local clubs or groups. The processes of assimilation and integration take time and are often experienced as part of the entire acculturation process.

Examples of Acculturation

Here's one example of acculturation:

A young husband and wife who were raised and grew up in Mexico their entire lives have decided to move to the United States. They have decided to move in order to attend school, acquire a professional job, and eventually, start a family. In order to do so, they must learn the English language, study up on the United States educational system and research job opportunities and requirements for those jobs.

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