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Remember that new kid at school from the country your mates hadn't heard of and couldn't pronounce? The kid made fun of because of their "weird" choices in food and stilted English? The one who eventually ended up being voted "most likely to succeed" and went from outcast to popular athlete?

In this explanation, imagine you're that kid or someone similar. Time for acculturation!

Acculturation Meaning

Taking on a new culture is one of the most daunting experiences anyone can ever have.

Acculturation: The multi-step process of adjusting to a new culture.

Nevertheless, many people attempt to fit into new cultures, whether by choice or out of necessity. There are four possible results of acculturation (we describe the steps in another section).


In this case, you assimilate into another culture and, in the process, basically abandon your own. This is the "melting pot" scenario, and it may be necessary and beneficial for you.


Cultural separation is the opposite of assimilation. You maintain your culture and transplant your cultural landscape to a new place, in an ethnic neighbourhood or other type of enclave. Conservative religious communities often do this (from the Amish in North America to Orthodox Jews and many others), but so do diplomats, military personnel, and others, for a variety of reasons.

Acculturation Alcohol StudySmarterFig. 1 - Drinking alcohol is encouraged, accepted, frowned upon, or prohibited, depending on the culture. Refusal to drink alcohol can be part of cultural separation

The common thread here is a choice NOT to "go native" or have one's children do so. This does not mean "no engagement" except in cases where ethnic enclaves are so large that it is not necessary to interact with the wider local culture. Separation doesn't mean that you can't learn the language, go shopping, have pleasant conservations with local people, and so forth. But it DOES mean you can't change your religion, abandon your native language or style of dress, and so on.


Integration is the happy medium: you assimilate some parts of your cultural identity and not others, or (as many children do) you become bi-cultural. You speak one language at home and another at school. You are part of the hybridization and hyphenation of your culture: Mexican-American. Indonesian-Australian. Lebanese-Venezuelan. Ideally, you become accepted as part of an ethnic sub-culture AND as part of the dominant culture.


In practice, this is what happens when integration doesn't work out. You TRY to assimilate or at least integrate, but something about you does not allow this. Most fundamentally, a characteristic you can't change: skin colour. The new culture bases acceptance on this, so you will never be "one of them." Other characteristics could include refusal or inability to join (or abandon) a religion, act in a certain way, learn the language fluently, or any other number of non-negotiable cultural traits you can't or won't adopt.

The result may be a turn to separation or to membership in a hybrid culture that is not the same as the one back home, and different from the new culture as well.

Acculturation Theory

John Schumann's Acculturation Model is derived from his Acculturation Theory. He developed the theory based on studies of second-language (L2) acquisition among schoolchildren. It states that the more second-language learners are immersed in the L2 culture, the faster and better they will become acculturated.

This is why children become acculturated far quicker than their parents. Parents are already "set in their ways" and fully enculturated (see below) in their own culture; children are not fully enculturated yet and so can be more open to hybridizing their L1 home culture and the L2 culture they encounter at school.

The hours children spend at school in a foreign culture every day, and their social need to fit in and become accepted, are driving forces of acculturation, combined, of course, with specific instruction and practice in acquiring the L2 language.

Meanwhile, if mom stays at home, she may go a very long time without acculturating; in ethnic enclaves, this might never happen. Similarly, even if mom and/or dad both work out of the home, they may be in circumstances with little meaningful contact with people of the local culture as peers, and continue to associate primarily with people of their own culture, halting acculturation.

Difference between Enculturation and Acculturation

Though you will sometimes find the two terms used interchangeably, they actually have distinct meanings.

While acculturation refers to the adjustments one makes to a new culture that is not your own culture, enculturation is the process of becoming a member of your own culture.

Enculturation is very close in meaning to "socialization" and signifies the process whereby children become members of their native culture as they grow up. This includes not just learning a language but also what is acceptable in terms of cultural mores, what foods to like and dislike, what music to listen to, how to dress, and so forth.

A child is typically enculturated into a dominant culture as well as numerous subcultures as they grow up. Thus, they may become a part of British culture, as well as an ethnic subculture, as well as subcultures associated with school, sports, hobbies, and so forth.

Stages of Acculturation

If you've ever lived in a foreign country, perhaps even without your family from back home, this will all seem familiar. If you haven't, you might recognize the stages of acculturation from correspondence you received from someone else who did.

It goes something like this:

  1. They prepare for months.

  2. They arrive overseas.

  3. It is incredible! Everything they ever imagined and more! The people are friendly (more so than back home). They find out their grasp of the language isn't that good, but everyone is helpful and they are progressing quickly. The food is different and takes getting used to, but that's part of the experience.

  4. They're actually thinking of staying overseas. Back home seems so dreary and ordinary now.

  5. Silence for a couple weeks.

  6. A sad, angry, or detached correspondence claiming that most people in their new home are liars and some are thieves. It's a backward country. They all want to be like the culture back home, but they're lazy/unimaginative/back-stabbing/(fill in the bank). They don't really like foreigners anyway: it was all a façade!

  7. Your friend wants to come home.

This might even have been you. And it's all normal: it's all part of culture shock as you acculturate to the new surroundings. Some don't make it and come home; others stick it out through what has been termed a "roller coaster ride" of emotions.

The Honeymoon

Above, we described the first phase, which is often called the "honeymoon." As the name suggests, it is short-lived and based on preconceived notions of what another culture should be like. These notions may come from friends who had tourist experiences there (in which acculturation does not happen) and from people from that culture whom you met in your home country.

The Negotiation

We also described this phase. This is the first major down on the roller coaster and can take place weeks or even months after arriving. By this time, you have made enough cultural faux-pas that people have begun calling attention to your mistakes rather than overlooking them (e.g.: you insulted their national sport and you thought it was a joke!). You either can't make headway in the language or are beginning to understand it well enough to overhear negative comments about yourself, your culture, and your country.

Depending on the culture, it is becoming obvious that its members are not planning on making accommodations for your idiosyncrasies. If it is a conservative, male-dominated culture, they will likely not take kindly to your Western styles of dress, where you choose to hang out, and even how you look at people, for example.

Acculturation Tuareg StudySmarterFig. 2 - Men in the nomadic Tuareg culture of Mali must cover their heads and otherwise abide by many practices they were enculturated into; acculturating to Tuareg culture would be extremely difficult

You try fitting in but realize that your very existence implies privilege that local people may never have. Some may criticize you for trying to "go native," while others do the opposite. You find that, particularly in public, you are not much more than a stereotype.

You realize that you are NOT a member of the culture; you were not enculturated into it, and you can't become a member of it overnight. This can bring feelings of intense loneliness and pushes some into deep depression. This can be heightened if they don't have other foreigners to hang out with and compare notes with.

The Adjustment

A third phase is reserved for those who stick it out, either through pride or lack of choice. You can't go home, or you WON'T go home. You don't give up so easily!

The adjustment phase is filled with ups and downs as language barriers fall and your frame of reference and depth of experience deepen. There are good days and bad days. With time, perhaps you make local friends who are able to help you negotiate the culture and find your place. This may be as a permanent outsider: some cultures are like that. You have to find out what is acceptable to do in public and realize that because you were not enculturated, you will likely never be seen as "one of us."

The Accommodation

Accommodation, if you recall from above, may be assimilation, separation, integration, or marginalization.

Those who have lived in various places overseas learn that eventually culture shock wears off when you live in a new culture, and isn't as unexpected as it was the first time around. Everyone experiences it differently and it is always relative to how different the new culture is from the culture one is enculturated into.

Acculturation Examples

Here are some brief examples for each category of acculturation.

The Amish (Separation)

This North American ethnoreligious group has maintained its apart-ness from mainstream US society ever since emigrating from Europe in the 1700s. This religiously conservative Anabaptist group decided to carefully negotiate what it would allow and not allow its members to do in terms of the wider culture.

Acculturation Amish StudySmarterFig. 3 - Amish schoolchildren

Russians in Estonia (Marginalization)

Ethnic Russians left in former Soviet Union republics inherited a legacy of cultural separation during the USSR. When countries like Estonia became independent, Russians were seen as representatives of a despised ruling class who hadn't wanted or needed to fit in, so they were not easily accepted when they desired to integrate.

Arabs in Honduras (Integration)

Upon the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, many Arabs, primarily Christians, emigrated to Latin American countries such as Honduras. They started as humble shopkeepers and through the course of the 20th century their descendants rose in socioeconomic status until Arab families formed up to half of the high-net-worth individuals in the country.

Known disparagingly as "turcos," their willingness to integrate culturally, without major barriers, did not wane despite a fair amount of discrimination. As in many other Latin American countries, Honduras's Arabs have proudly maintained their Arab ethnicity, foods, and some other cultural practices, while freely marrying outside of their own ethnicity, speaking Spanish at home, and otherwise partially assimilating.

Spanish in the Philippines (Assimilation)

The last vestiges of separate Spanish culture in the Philippines ate fading more than 120 years after the country gained independence. Spain controlled the Philippines for over three centuries, and Spanish cultural separation was valued. Now, most people of Spanish heritage are part of the Filipino melting pot of peoples from Southeast Asia, China, and elsewhere.

Acculturation - Key takeaways

  • Acculturation is the process of adjusting to a new culture.
  • Acculturation is different from enculturation which is the process of adjusting to one's own culture as one grows up.
  • Four results of acculturation are assimilation, integration, separation, or marginalization.
  • The stages of acculturation are: honeymoon; negotiation; adjustment; accommodation.
  • Examples of acculturation include the Amish in the United States, Spanish in the Philippines, Arabs in Honduras, and Russians in Estonia.


  1. Fig. 1 Alcohol (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beer_%26_Bourbon_-_Hazard,_KY_(2009-11-27_by_Navin75).jpg) by Navin75 (https://www.flickr.com/people/23597588@N00) is licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 2 Tuareg (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tuareg_with_a_sword_in_Timbuktu,_Mali.jpg) by Dr. Ondřej Havelka (cestovatel) is licenced by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  3. Fig. 3 Amish schoolchildren (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amish_-_On_the_way_to_school_by_Gadjoboy-crop.jpg) by Gadjoboy ( https://www.flickr.com/photos/gadjoboy) is licenced by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Acculturation

Acculturation is the process of fitting into a new culture.

An example of acculturation is the experience of Overseas Chinese who may assimilate, separate, integrate, or be marginalized as they attempt to acculturate.

Assimilation is a possible outcome of acculturation wherein one gives up one's own culture and becomes a full member of a new culture. This is particularly common in children.

Enculturation means become a member of one's own culture (the culture of one's home); acculturation involves joining a new culture.

Acculturation is a fundamental dynamic for all migrants and others who leave their "comfort zones" and live in other places.

Final Acculturation Quiz

Acculturation Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


You refuse to learn the language of the country you moved to because you don't want to mix it with your own language, which you feel is superior. This stance is associated with:

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Show question


You enthusiastically learn new languages when you live overseas, but you make sure to speak your native tongue to your children at home. This is an example of:

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Your immigrant parents forbid you to learn their native tongue and insist you only speak English, the native language of the country you live in. This is an example of

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Your brother got beat up in school today for speaking your home language; the bullies called it "gibberish." This is an example of:

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Show question


"Everyone is so nice to me here" is characteristic of what stage of acculturation?

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The honeymoon.

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"They are only pretending to be nice to me here" is something someone in what stage of acculturation would utter?

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The negotiation.

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"Some days I love it here and some days I hate it, but it's my home now" is associated with what phase of acculturation?

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The adjustment.

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You are an immigrant from Lithuania to the UK. You speak fluent English and have forgotten your Lithuanian. What acculturation stage are you at?

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The accommodation.

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Who devised Acculturation Theory?

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John Schumann.

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The process of learning one's native culture as one grows up is ________.

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