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CAR 3: Acculturation and Learning a New Language

Dr Raksha Kartik

PY2018: Intercultural Psychology and Cross Cultural Communication

1st December 2018


According to Schwartz, Unger, Zamboanga, and Szapocznik (2013), acculturation refers to the changes in the original culture patterns of an individual or a group as a result of being contact with other groups of individuals that are culturally dissimilar. Conflict between groups and the need for negotiation to achieve outcomes that are adaptive for all the groups involved can arise during acculturation (Berry, 2005). Acculturative stress (i.e., a form of stress that is triggered by the challenges faced in cross-cultural exchange settings, such as discrimination, language barriers, opportunity deprivation, and identity threat) can also arise in an individual (Schwartz, Montgomery, & Briones, 2006; Yu et al., 2014). Studies have indicated that international students and immigrants experienced acculturative stress due to the pressure to assimilate while maintaining their cultural roots and the difficulties in adapting to a new social and cultural environment (Sandhu & Asrabadi, 1994; Silva, Dillon, Verdejo, Sanchez, & Rosa, 2017; Yu et al., 2014). This can lead them to experience several psychosocial, behavioural, and health problems associated with stress. However, past literature has also implicated the role of ethnic identity in immigrants’ psychological well-being (Balidemaj, 2016; Matsunaga, Hecht, Elek, & Ndiaye, 2010). During acculturation, the intercultural orientation toward the host culture (i.e., integration, assimilation, separation, and marginalisation) is important to immigrants’ ethnic identity development. Furthermore, past studies have also suggested that ethnic identity is positively correlated with general well-being (Syed et al., 2013; Umana-Taylor & Shin, 2007).


To further investigate the process of acculturation and observe the challenges faced during this process, I attempted to learn how to introduce myself in Japanese from a friend who is a native Japanese speaker. The introductory speech consists of six sentences: “Hello, my name is Jing Yi.”; “I am from Singapore.”; “I am a university student, majoring in Psychological Science.”; “My hobbies are playing the piano and drawing.”; “I like to read comics.”; and lastly, “Nice to meet you.”


For this activity, I chose Japanese language as part of my learning experience and reflection because learning this language would allow me to narrow the social distance between me and my Japanese friend. As my friend and I have been communicating in English which is not her first language, I had no idea what kind of challenges she has been facing while communicating with me and other English speakers. However, through this activity, I learnt that learning a new language is indeed challenging and it took a lot of courage to speak in a foreign language that I am not proficient in to a native speaker.

One thing that I feared while reciting my introductory speech in Japanese was being seen as rude and incompetent if I said the wrong words or pronounced the words wrongly. However, this concern made me reflect on a hypothetical scenario in which I was immersed in the Japanese society. Being rejected, discriminated, and deprived of opportunities and privileges due to my original cultural roots, my inability to speak Japanese, and the lack of knowledge about their culture would be some of the major concerns that might pressure me to adapt and assimilate or integrate into their culture in hope to be accepted by the societal members (Berry, 1997; Schwartz et al. 2006; Yu et al., 2014). This could lead to acculturative stress, similar to how international students and immigrants faced when they entered into a new social environment and faced language barriers, discrimination, opportunity deprivation, and identity threat (Silva et al., 2017; Yu et al., 2014).

As this activity is carried out within a short period of time with the learning of a few sentences from a native speaker, it is not possible to fully experience the process of acculturation, its challenges, and its impact on my ethnic identity development. To further improve on this activity, an immersion into a specific culture for a longer period of time would allow the participant-observer to actively engage in activities with the cultural members in naturalistic settings and document any challenges faced and acculturation strategies that are used to overcome stress during the acculturation process (Berry, 1997: Spradley, 2016).


Balidemaj, A. (2016).Acculturation, Ethnic Identity, and Psychological Well-Being of Albanian-American Immigrants in the United States(Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

Berry, J. W. (1997). Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation. Applied Psychology: An international review, 46(1), 5-68.

Berry, J. W. (2005). Acculturation: Living successfully in two cultures. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29(6), 697-712.

Matsunaga, M., Hecht, M. L., Elek, E., & Ndiaye, K. (2010). Ethnic identity development and acculturation: A longitudinal analysis of Mexican-heritage youth in the Southwest United States. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 41(3), 410-427.

Sandhu, D. S., & Asrabadi, B. R. (1994). Development of an Acculturative Stress Scale for International Students: preliminary findings. Psychological Reports, 75, 435-48.


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