Living abroad is good for your personal development


In contrast to the majority of early and some recent literature which see culture shock as a negative construct, a positive view is offered by Juffer (1987) who considers culture shock to be caused by a “growth experience” in which change and transition are synonym of potential growth and personal development (cited in Pedersen 2005). Most of the recent literature tends to support this positive assumption. As a matter of fact, Furnham and Bochner (1986) state: “The implication is that although it may be strange and possibly difficult, sojourning makes a person more adaptable, flexible and insightful”(p.47).

In addition, recent empirical research about growth the potential of the sojourn demonstrate that although the visitor faces difficulties to adapt to the new environment, there is also an increase in awareness and understanding of oneself (Kauffmann et al., 1992 cited in Pedersen 1995), in the interest towards cross-culture issues, and a more critical attitude toward one’s culture (Carlson & Widaman, 1988, cited in Pedersen 1995). Kim (2001), asserts that the difficulties faced when experiencing culture shock lead the individual to make a greater effort in changing their old ways to carry out daily activities, achieving a better quality of life in the new environment.

Gudykunst and Kim (1984) identified the stress related to the initial culture shock a characteristic of the intercultural transformation theory, according to which an individual goes through a stress-adaptation-growth dynamic which over time becomes cyclic and continual. This initial stress the individual faces living in the new culture, which is named in the literature as acculturative stress, is believed to be not necessarily unconstructive and might in fact lead to positive results. After all, the acculturation process is a step towards assimilation as the individual makes a great effort to change their cultural patterns  in order to make them suitable to the new environment.


Culture Shock – A Study Case


As a result of a new pattern developed by recent research, emerges a new model of culture shock; an educational, growth model which emphasises the potential positive consequences of culture shock. An anecdotal illustration to this new concept of culture shock is the experience of a friend who came in the UK to stay only for a few months. When she first arrived in London her language skills were very low and it was the first time she had left her home country.

After the initial month, when she experienced a high sense of enthusiasm and curiosity towards the new environment, she soon experienced and came to terms with the feeling of uncertainty, ambiguity and loss. She started feeling lonely and was missing her home friends and family. She would tell me, she found people to be distant and individualistic not placing the right significance on the values of family and friendship.

In addition, she perceived the weather to be one of her main concerns as she was used to a Mediterranean climate. As she had to support her studies of the English language she had to look for a part time job. When she started looking, she felt terribly stressed as she could hardly speak the language and people did not seem to be sympathetic with her situation.

Soon she felt anger towards the host people and the new way of doing things which she had to learn in order to carry out daily life activities. She would feel totally lost when taking the bus and the underground. Sometimes, she told me the bus did not even stop because it was too crowed and she was left standing outside in the rain in disbelief as in her home country buses would stop anyway to try to get as many people on. Moreover, she did not pay attention to the queue lines and found getting shouted at for jumping the queue.

The work interviews were a complete failure as her language skills were not good enough. As a result of these incidents, she considered going back home as the stress was too much to bear. Confronted with a sense of failure, she then decided to stay and undertake the challenge of fitting in the new environment, no matter how hard it would have been to succeed. At this stage, she focused more on her language studies and prepared a speech for the interviews. After many rejections, she was so stubborn that she found a job in a fast food chain in central London. She felt reborn, she made friends at work and felt her language skills were improving day by day. She felt part of the host country’s social life and began to embrace those cultural differences which previously made her feel stressed and miserable.

At times she would still experience a sense of loss and uncertainty but she would cope with difficulties in a much better way which did not result in major crises. Over time, this cyclical process of adjustment became more and more rewarding until when she was actually able to master the host country language and deal with people from different backgrounds. Believing in her abilities, she decided to further her studies and ended up going to University and working in a office. Eventually, what it was supposed to be a sojourn of one year resulted in a stay of several years during when she developed valuable new skills and improved her existing ones.

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Moving abroad? No worries culture shock is not a disease



Some researchers preferred referring to culture shock with the terms of “culture fatigue” (Guthrie, 1975), “language shock” (Smalley, 1963) and “role shock” (Byrnes, 1966) (all cited in Pedersen 1995). From these definitions and early literature emerges a model where culture shock is considered to be a “disease” a specific pathology which generates temporary disabilities, but which might be possibly cured. Furnham (1988), criticised this kind of model after reviewing relevant literature and found eight flaws in this kind of approach. First of all, he argued that the grief-reaction previously described as an unavoidable reaction to culture shock does not always occur and it is not the main focus of the construct. Second, the concept of believing culture shock to be inevitable, does not take into consideration the different levels in which culture shock affects different people and therefore does not provide an explanation why some sojourners somehow do not experience it. Third, he disagreed with the view of culture shock explained as a process of natural survival which suggests that only the strongest individual is able to survive. Indeed, he argued that this kind of concept is simplistic and not supported by research. Fourth, Furnham (1988) argued that there is still no tested relationship between unfulfilled expectations, poor adjustment and culture shock experience and therefore it is not proven that culture shock derives from  sojourners’ distorted expectations. Fifth, the disease model blames culture shock for negative life events which disrupt daily life activities. Furnham (1988), believes that it is complex to measure life events and even impossible to establish causality. Sixth, he argues that the clash of values and conflicts considered the cause of culture shock, are not sufficient to explain this construct. Seventh, culture shock is blamed on a lack of social skills where inadequate or unskilled individuals have a hard time adapting. About this concept, Furnham (1988) argued that the role of personality and socialization is not investigated enough in the literature. Eighth, culture shock is blamed on lack of social support, however Furnham (1988) concludes by saying that is difficult to quantify social support and even more difficult is to create a model able to test this explanation. Despite recognising the negative aspects of culture shock, other researchers also criticised this kind of pessimistic approach and urged other researchers to focus on the potential that culture shock can bring to one’s self-development and growth (Alder 1975, 1987). As a matter of fact, Alder (1987) explains that culture shock, experienced by the individual when sojourning in a foreign country, increases the visitor’s cultural awareness and describes culture shock as an experience which helps the individual to better understand themselves as well as preparing the individual to undertake necessary changes (cited in Milstein 2005).

Acquiring two languages at the same time; children can without problems

Portrait of Hispanic boy

Despite the general belief that bilingualism in young children is burdensome, intellectually challenging and even causes language delay, empirical research reveals that such assumptions are absolutely unfounded. Indeed, dual language development takes different patterns from monolingual development at cognitive and linguistic levels, however, such differences mainly result in advantages of bilingualism in early childhood. It remains of crucial importance for educators and professionals to become familiar with recent research in order to rightly assess pre-school and school-age bilingual children. In fact, the wrong assessment could have negative consequences which affect the children not only in their childhood, but also in their adulthood. In order to avoid such a counter-productive prospect, the specific circumstances of each bilingual child must be taken into serious consideration.  Empirical research suggests that even children with language impairment have the capacity to acquire two languages at the same time. Bilingualism at early childhood should not be cause for concern, but a reason to rejoice as the child has the privilege to experience such a unique phenomenon. Future research should focus on whether school-age children will ever attain the identical native speaking fluency in their L2.

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False: children do not learn a second language overnight

Children do not acquire a language overnight.

Children do not acquire a language overnight.

A popular belief is to think that children who are exposed to another language at late stage of bilingual development or after the age of 3 acquire a language overnight; indeed some people have the certainty that children “soak it up like a sponge”. Conversely, there is an extensive body of research revealing this myth to be false and that sequential bilingual children go through stages the lengths of which vary from child to child. According to Tabors (2008), second language learners (L2) experience 4 stages in early L2 development: 1) use of home language, 2)nonverbal period, 3)formulaic language use and finally 4)productive language use. The first stage refers to children speaking their home language in the host language environment; this stage is often very brief. During the second stage, the nonverbal period, children are elaborating the input in the L2 but produce a very few utterances or no words in L2; this stage can last for a few weeks to a few months with younger children usually experiencing this stage longer than older children. The social interaction and the L2 exposure have a major impact on L2 children at this stage. Follows stage 3 with the formulaic production of L2; children at this stage use very short utterances which most of the times are not original. Only at stage 4, children can use their L2 productively, however, the majority will not sound as native speakers as even young children can have a foreign accent and make mistakes in vocabulary or grammar. The lapse of time in second language development between when the learner begins to use the language productively until the learner attains a similar fluency as a native speaker, is usually referred to as Interlanguage, a term coined by Selinker in 1972. Interlanguage consists of a rule-governed linguistic system which exists on its own right and evolves over time; it is formed of developmental and transfer patterns which in the past were considered to be errors. In fact, transfer from L1 to L2 was seen as very detrimental to L2 learning, whilst most recently the effects of transfer have been also found to result into the right patterns and not only into errors. Despite the fascinating nature of Interlanguage, this review does not have the capacity to include a detailed research showing its characteristics, whilst it will carry on with exploring a controversial question which seems to be at the core of parents and professionals’ concerns; how long is needed for L2 children to reach native-speaker proficiency? The answer to this question is crucial, above all for those parents who are concerned when their child appears to acquire the L2 rather slowly. According to recent research sequential children acquire the L2 at different rates as they are influenced by internal and external factors. These factors are accountable for individual variations with the internal factors including motivation, personality, language aptitude, cognitive maturity and language distance typology.  External factors refer to the outside context where the child learns the L2 and consist of quantity and quality of L2 exposure at home and in the school environment; with the socioeconomic status (SES) of the family also playing a major role in predicting L2 competence. Johanne Paradis (2011), investigated how numerous internal and external child factors, predict the L2 acquisition of L2 children in terms of vocabulary size and accuracy with verb morphology. The scholar examined 169 children with an age between 4 and 7 years old, exposed to the English language for an average of 20 months. The children were members of families recently moved to Canada. Paradis (2011) found out that both factors were significant predictors of different outcomes in L2 children. However, she also discovered that internal factors such as language aptitude, age and L1 structure had a more substantial impact on individual variations than external factors.  Another study conducted by Chondrogianni et al, (2011), investigated the effects of child internal and external factors on the development of L2 English and Turkish speaking children belonging to a low socioeconomic status. Forty-three children were tested on the acquisition of vocabulary and morphosyntax; the data once again revealed that both language domains were influenced by both factors whilst, there was no significant impact of external factors on the development of tense morphology. To sum up, some children might be able to carry on an articulated conversation in L2 after only one year of schooling, whilst some  others might find themselves producing simple sentences after the same period of time. Whether L2 children will ever reach an identical fluency as native speakers remains still an open question that future research needs to investigate. Most importantly, parents and professionals should take the child’s internal and external factors into consideration before fearing language impairment. Above all, professionals should gather as much information as possible in order to rightly assess the child’s L2 competence.

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Bilingual children acquire vocabulary using the same mechanisms as monolingual children.

Bilingual Children

Bilingual Children

A diversity of dynamics can influence the child’s dual language development, which do not seem to cause delays in early language development milestones. Also, beyond the early months, language development generally occurs in bilinguals within the normal range, as determined by monolingual children, for some language aspects, whilst it could lag behind monolinguals’ development  in some other aspects. Nevertheless, these differences do not lead to any difficulties in the child’s development and can be explained by examining, in most instances, the relationship between the child’s dominant and non-dominant language. In fact, it is unlikely for pre-school bilingual children to achieve a balanced proficiency in both languages, whilst most probably they will be dominant in one language. Also school age bilingual children could maintain a dominant language depending on the amount of language input they receive. Empirical research demonstrates that bilingual children could lag behind monolingual children in their non-dominant language in the vocabulary acquisition as bilingual children tend to have smaller vocabulary compared to their monolingual peers. This appears to be logical considering that bilingual children possess identical cognitive abilities and limitations related to memory capacity as monolingual children. Recent research confirms that language exposure influences bilingual children’s performance with regards to the acquisition of vocabulary. In fact, Thordadottir (2011) studied the performance of receptive and expressive vocabulary in 5 year old children of Montreal who were learning English and French simultaneously and compared their performance to monolingual children. The children had the same age, socio-economic status and non-verbal cognition. Also, the bilingual children spoke languages with equal status. The only variable was the amount of exposure to each language the children received across the bilingual process. Children exposed to both languages equally, achieved the same results as their monolingual peers in receptive vocabulary, whilst a greater exposure was required to attain the same monolingual’s outcomes in expressive vocabulary. In contrast to several previous studies, the bilingual children examined did not show a significant gap correlated to monolingual children in receptive vocabulary. This optimistic result could be attributed to the positive language-learning conditions for English and French in Montreal, but it could be also related to the fact that there is not a great typological distance between the two languages. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that bilingual children acquire vocabulary using the same mechanisms as monolingual children. Even though, their word repertoire in each language might be smaller, parents and professionals need to bear in mind that the size of their vocabulary will vary depending on the level language exposure they receive; influenced by the home, school and social environments. Another language domain subject to language exposure in young bilingual children, is morphosyntax, the process in which children start to use word combinations and produce simple utterances to express themselves. A widespread measure of children’s early morphosyntactic  development is “mean length of utterance” (MLU), (Paradis et al, 2011). Such a measure consists of establishing the average length of a child’s utterances, and it is calculated across a number of utterances produced by the child in a spontaneous speech. Most recently researchers have been interested in whether bilingual children’s MLUs augment with age at the same rate as monolinguals. Several studies have been conducted on the topic and they resulted in varied outcomes; showing a similar growth in MLU in bilingual children when they lived in favourable language learning environments, while the MLU appeared to be lower when the bilingual children’s non- dominant language lagged significantly behind their dominant language.

Bilingual Code Mixing is not a sign of confusion










A distinctive behaviour of bilingual speakers is Bilingual Code Mixing (BCM), which usually takes place when two languages are mixed in the same or in two different utterances in the same conversation. The amount of code-mixing varies in bilingual children, with some who code-mix frequently, some others a little and some children code-mix at different rates with different family members. Virtually all bilingual children code-mix even if their parents adhere to the “one-parent, one-language” principle; that is when each parent communicate to their child in one language only. Empirical research extensively supports BCM, which appears to be a normal phenomenon in dual language development. Furthermore, code-mixing does not occur only in bilingual children as it is common among adult bilinguals and highly proficient language learners. In this field, a vast body of research demonstrates that such individuals are able to create a flawless conversation when mixing both languages. Therefore, given the above conditions, code-mixing is believed to be a sign of proficiency in adults. Nevertheless, among children BCM has been thought to be, by parents and some professionals alike, a signal of confusion and cause of concern. In order to debunk this bilingual myth, it will be helpful, once again, to look into the Unitary Language System Hypothesis, according to which bilingual children are not able to differentiate their evolving languages at early development stages. Parents and professionals who believe in the validity of such a hypothesis, interpret code-mixing as a symptom of confusion, and in some instances as a sign of incompetence. As previously mentioned, such a hypothesis has been discredited by research that has exposed numerous shortcomings in the design methodology applied to these early studies. In fact, early research focused exclusively on how often bilingual children code-mixed and overlooked how frequently they could use their language in a sensitive context manner. A study conducted by Genesee et al, 1995  examined bilingual children between the ages of 22 and 26 months during naturalistic interactions. All the children were English-French bilinguals from Montreal, raised by their parents following the cited one-parent, one-language rule. The children were observed in three different contexts; alone with their mothers, alone with their fathers and in presence of both parents. In the latter context, the children were able to separate the two languages according to which parent they were interacting with. In this way, even at early ages, children were able to adjust their languages according to different contexts. These findings are incompatible with the Unitary Language System Hypothesis which would have expected the children to use random language despite diverse contexts. Furthermore, such results do not support the confusion hypothesis according to which children are not capable of becoming bilingual without experiencing language confusion. An integrative review of the subject is provided by Guiberson (2013), who did not find any evidence in the literature analysed to support such an assumption. Moreover, a recent study conducted by Greene et al., 2013, sustains the Lexical Gap Hypothesis (Paradis et al, 2011), according to which bilingual children code-mix not because they experience confusion or are not able to differentiate between their languages, but rather because they are filling the gaps in their lexical or syntactic knowledge in order to satisfy their communication needs. The scholars analysed code-mixed responses of 606 five-year old English and Spanish speaking children, and compared their prevalence, frequency and accuracy on expressive semantic items. The children were divided by language dominance established, based on the amount of language exposure and usage. In addition, they were allocated to a no-risk or at risk of language impairment group according to individual performance achieved in an English-Spanish screening battery. The results showed that the children used code-mixing to fill lexical gaps, which is consistent with other studies on children and adults. This study demonstrated once again that lexical choice and language preference requires linguistic competence in more than one language. To close, in most cases BCM should not be regarded as evidence of language delay or impairment; parents and educators should not admonish children for using it. Further, it is recommendable for language development specialists and educators to desist from advising parents to restrict their communication exclusively to one language on the postulation that this will correct any language learning problems.

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