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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Beat culture shock (Adaptation stage and U-Curve Hypothesis)

Confidence is the best remedy

Confidence is the best remedy

If an individual manages to overcome the stage of rejection, the adaptation stage begins. This stage is described by Oberg as an achievement as the visitor starts to communicate using the host language and interacts more with the country hosts. At this point, the visitor perceives the daily challenges with less anxiety and is able to crack a joke over the difficulties experienced. Therefore, the adjustment stage has taken place and the visitor feels confident in dealing with daily life situations and embraces the hosts traditions and customs. Sometimes when going back home, the visitor misses the country he lived in, its people and its culture. Other researchers such as S.O. Lesser and H.W.S. Peter (1957, cited in Pedersen 1995), developed a three stage theory regarding culture shock, identifying the first stage as the spectator phase on arrival, the second stage as when the individual cannot stand any longer outside the host culture and needs to get involved and third stage when the individual learns how to cope with difficulties in daily life activity. More recent is the cultural shock stage theory developed by I. Torbion (1982, cited in Pedersen 1995) where he describes the first stage as the tourist phase, the second stage as the culture shock phase, the third stage as the conformist phase and fourth stage as the assimilation phase. Although there are variations in the stages described, culture shock stage theories are largely shared among those writing about this construct. This succession of stages has been referred to a U-curve where the process of adjustment moves from a higher level towards a lower level to then return to a higher level when the ability to cope with the new culture increases. S. Lysgaard (1955) was the first to develop the U-curve hypothesis describing the adjustment process of international students sojourning in a foreign country (cited in Pedersen 1995). This initial curve was then modified into a W-curve by J.T. Gullahorn and J.E. Gullahorn (1963) who pointed out how the adjustment process taking place when back home, resembled the initial adjustment in the host country taking the name of reverse cultural shock (cited in Pedersen 1995). In support of the U-curve hypothesis are eleven empirical studies. However, the results of these studies, support only the general hypothesis but do not prove that a level of full adjustment, comparable to the one the individual experienced back home, can be achieved. 

Read the introduction to this article here

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Is there an ideal technique to learn a foreign language?

Have you ever wondered if does exist a magic technique to learn a foreign language?

magic globe

Besides the factors already analysed, SLA research has also focused on the impact that an individual’s preferred way of processing information and dealing with other people has on L2 and additional language acquisition and learning. This concept is referred to as learning style. There are several psychological models of learning style, but the difference that has received the greatest attention in SLA research is the one between field dependence and field independence. Field-dependent people tend to pay more attention to the general context but they have difficulty in identifying the single parts that constitute it. These individuals tend to enjoy social interaction. Conversely, field-independent people, are highly analytical, but less inclined to social interaction and more self-reliant. Researchers hypothesised that, given their better interpersonal skills, field-dependent individuals will achieve greater results in informal language learning, in contrast to field independent learners who supposedly will be more successful in formal learning given their higher analytic abilities. Nevertheless, early studies found weak evidence in support of these assumptions. However, Johnson, Prior and Artuso (2000) argued that such poor results were due to methodological problems used, and – above all – with the way communicative language was measured. Therefore, they concluded that dismissing the dependent/independent field would be premature and more research is needed in the area.

It has been observed that successful language learners employ different “techniques” than poorer ones. Learning strategies is the term frequently used in SLA acquisition literature to describe what individuals do to facilitate their learning.

The research in this area has been driven, above all, by the wish to identify effective strategies and train learners in pinpointing and using them. However, good language learners seem to choose among a range of strategies that vary according to their needs. Therefore, it might be the case that training learners in specific strategies might result in little improvement. Alternative views include the hypothesis that is the advance learners’ fluency which dictates which strategies they are able to use. Therefore, the overall picture on this subject remains blurred and gives space for further research to be undertaken.


Is language anxiety the cause of poor achievement?

How many times did we feel uncomfortable speaking a foreign language in front of people we hardly knew? Language anxiety might influence our performance.

Language anxiety

Language anxiety

In between the motivation and personality factors, seems to be situated foreign language anxiety. The anxiety construct is a very complex issue and extensive research has been carried out, resulting in the identification of a trait anxiety related to the individual’s personality and a state anxiety which is assumed to be a specific type of anxiety experienced in the foreign language classroom Horwitz (2001). The key issue surrounding this type of anxiety, is whether state anxiety is the cause of poor achievement, or the result. A study of Sparks, Ganschow and Javorsky (2000), claims that success in foreign language learning is mainly depending on the language aptitude factor and anxiety in L2 learners is a consequence of their learning difficulties. On the other hand, Horwitz vigorously argues that anxiety is also experienced by advanced and successful learners and, therefore, is not a consequence of learning difficulties in every L2 learner. A number of studies focusing on the impact of state anxiety on L2 learning, have found that anxiety is negatively related to L2 and additional language attainment; however, it would be too simplistic to assume that lower levels of anxiety would bring about successful L2 and additional language learning.

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Why individuals attain a different level of fluency when learning a foreign language? (Introduction)

I bet many of you have wondered why most adults retain a native like accent when speaking a foreign language and why some people become proficient while others lag massively behind. Here I start giving you the answers based on empirical research.

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Second language acquisition in adults

Second language acquisition in adults

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