Acculturation – John Schumann’s acculturation model states that some L2 learners do not progress beyond the early stages of linguistic acquisition with a target language because of social and psychological distance between the speaker’s culture and the target culture. H. Douglas Brown defines social distance as “the cognitive and affective proximity of two cultures which come into contact within an individual” (159). Schumann believed that “the more positively the person identified with and is psychologically integrated into the target language group, the more likely the learner is to succeed in L2 acquisition” (Jia et al. 253). Conversely, a lack of acculturation or cultural adaptation, according to the model, can lead to linguistic fossilization or pidginization (Ellis 40).

Early notions of acculturation frame it as a one-way street affecting learners as they experience and adapt to the new culture, shedding their own cultural identity in the process (Jia et al. 253). Later notions of acculturation posit that 1) heritage culture is not displaced by a target culture and 2) adaptation to a new culture actually creates bi-directional change. According to David L. Sam and John W. Berry,

“Acculturating individuals and groups bring cultural and psychological qualities with them to the new society, and the new society also has a variety of such qualities….No cultural group remains unchanged following culture contact; acculturation is a two-way interaction, resulting in actions and reactions to the contact situation” (473).

In other words, even as learners adapt to a new culture, they are actively reshaping and modifying it through their presence, engagement, and adaptation.


Teachers need to keep in mind and be sensitive to the fact that becoming acculturated can result in varying levels of acculturative stress, “as manifested by uncertainty, anxiety, and depression” (Sam and Berry 473), in their students.


Cornell, Audra. “The Role of Acculturation.” Prezi, 17 Apr. 2018,


Brown, H. Douglas. “The Optimal Distance Model of Second Language Acquisition.” TESOL Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 2, 1980, pp. 157–164. JSTOR,

Ellis, Rod. Second Language Acquisition. Oxford, 1997.

Jia, Fanli, et al. “The Role of Acculturation in Reading a Second Language: Its Relation to English Literacy Skills in Immigrant Chinese Adolescents.” Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 49, no. 2, 2014, pp. 251–261. JSTOR,

Sam, David L., and John W. Berry. “Acculturation: When Individuals and Groups of Different Cultural Backgrounds Meet.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 5, no. 4, 2010, pp. 472–481. JSTOR,