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Assimilation and Language

Assimilation and Language
Second Language Assimilation - Second Language Strategies

Linguistic assimilation vs cultural assimilation

Moving to a new country and adopting a new language often leads to the issue of losing oneself. Assimilation occurs as you begin to participate more and more in the local society. However, assimilation does not have to lead to you losing who you are. There are ways to bring your life, heritage, and culture into the new life you are living without being overbearing or making it feel like you're imposing yourself on your hosts.

Don't forget to take into account that the local culture likely has some things to teach you as well. It is worth your time to at least get out and experience some of what the country has to offer you. Learn the standard language that is used and try to master tone assimilation. Pick out one or more features of the language you feel you struggle with and focus on the particular sound segments that make up the words.

While you are out and about you might notice how difficult it is to absorb the local culture without being fluent in the local language. Believe it or not, the best way to maintain your own heritage as separate from the culture in which you are immersed is by learning the local language. When you aren't spending your time misunderstanding things, you will be able to not only accept other ideas, but explain your own more fluidly.

Language assimilation happens when you are only capable of using words provided to you by a single or limited group or resources. If you learn all your language at a church, you are likely going to speak like an evangelist. The ability to separate the language from the location will help in preventing linguistic assimilation.

friends, laughing, girls

At the end of the day, assimilation isn't inherently a bad thing, depending on your goals it may be precisely what you want. However, there is a difference between assimilation and integration and one does not necessitate the other. Language use is obviously important, but there are many more factors contributing to the integration of a person into a community than there are to language assimilation.

Is assimilation necessary for integration?

Assimilating and conforming are not necessary to integrate into a new community. Often those things will gain you superficial admittance into the community, but until it can be verified that you stand firmly by the values you are purporting to hold, it will only be superficial. What matters most when working on avoiding virtually all assimilatory changes is the ability to participate in and respect cultural events and give them the reverence they deserve.

meme, integration, languages

If you want to gain acceptance, you have to be accepting. As much of a cliché as it has become, treating people the way you would like to be treated has a profound return on investment. Doing things that you don't want to do simply because they are important to other people is a super power, especially when it comes to integrating into a community. The extreme of adopting a whole lexicon is rarely necessary, though it commonly occurs.

You will find, if you truly are invested, that both you and your new found community will begin to share a vocabulary or at least fall into something invariably adjacent. As soon as you notice your mannerisms or someone else's become part of normal speech, it is time to continue building. While the local language may be your main language in day to day life now, it is still not only possible, but important, to use your native language.

When you need to speak your native language but take a little too long to  remember the words - Andy Dwyer - Too Afraid To Ask | Make a Meme
meme, Chris Pratt, funny

Depending on what your native language is, there may be better or worse times to use it situationally. People actually love to learn new things and experience new ideas, often the success comes down to the environment more than the content. If you can successfully pick and choose the moments when you use your native language while abroad, you will find that integration is far easier than you first suspected. But there are few things to keep in mind when it comes to integration into a new community and using your native language.

When to use your native language when abroad

Using your native language while abroad is risky, but can pay off when done tactfully. The few rules that exist with regards to this are not designed to trap you, rather they are there to ensure you don't spend more time speaking your native language than your target language. The only rule when starting out is that you should only speak your native language as an absolute last resort. If you are really struggling to communicate with someone, it is worth it to bring out a few words in your native language. You never know how closely related they may be.

If it happens that you are talking to someone and need to default out of your target language to continue the conversation, it may be the perfect time to teach them something. People are often more curious than they get credit for and the opportunity to become a bit better at a new language is often all it takes to pique their curiosity. If you can do it well you may just find they are equally eager to learn your language as you are to learn theirs.

language meme, itchyfeet, funny

Finally, no one will fault you for defaulting out of your target language if you are only seeking clarification or answers. Most of the time, irrespective of what the primary language is, people are open to other languages. Many times, the most difficult thing to deal with is rapid speech and when you spend time with people, asking them to speak slower in your native language is not going to bother them.

Beyond that, asking for clarification is never the wrong thing to do. Irrespective of what the intended meaning of something is, many times words and tones can change the intended meaning. Much of what is generally considered an insult when learning a language is usually merely an accident. Asking for clarification is helpful and will deepen already existing relationships. Such a change results in even better integration without necessitating assimilation outright.

Language assimilation vs complete assimilation

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If you want to avoid assimilating your personality with the local community, it is vital that you learn the language. Without the ability to fight back and stand up for what you believe in, it can be easy to give up exactly what you seek to hold onto and, while it may seem trivial, knowing the language can prevent this. That said, it can also help you navigate situations in which you will undoubtedly find yourself.

By language assimilation, what I really mean is adopting the language used by the people immediately adjacent to you. Following their phonological patterning and discourse styles will help you integrate seamlessly. The psychological mechanisms involved during the early moments of integration are of the utmost importance and can only truly be appreciated when properly used. Such changes will reveal radical asymmetries, but irrespective of historical linguistics, mimicking the locals will give you a leg up.

Pay attention to the cultural and historical references the people around you make. Focus on the etiquette and the customs, figure out where you can insert yourself and seek to enrich the experience for others. You will find that you are enriching not only their experience, but your own. By learning the customs and traditions you are being exposed to you will be able to better speak no only to those who you find yourself around consistently, but also those who have similar backgrounds.

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Open people's minds

Something that comes with diving into the cultural events of others is the opening of the mind. That is their mind, not necessarily yours. An amazing thing that happens when you start integrating into a new community is that you end up opening the eyes of others, especially if you stand firm in your beliefs and you hold steadfast to your values. Most people do not see the path forward when it comes to merging two separate worlds. If you can see that path, you can change the lives of those around you in opening their mind to the possibilities if nothing else.

One final thing to mention is that it is possible to do both. You do not have to pick between cultures, traditions, or languages. You are free to pick and choose that which you love most from each particular community. Sharing and adopting cultures from around the world, especially where you know or are learning the language, is one of the best reasons to learn a language in the first place. People love to share, but once they've shared they become far more open to being shared with and that's when you can make some real connections.


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Spending time to learn a new language is always worthwhile, but there are things you can do to improve and accelerate the process. That said, many of the things that go into learning a language, especially while living in a country where your target language is spoken, can cause you to lose sight of who you are. So feel free to spread that beautiful American culture wherever you go! All that is required is the ability to accept and provide a semblance of reciprocal assimilation on your end.

However, learning a language and adopting a culture are no reason to give up who you are, even temporarily. You do not have to conform or assimilate in order to integrate. In fact, staying true to who you are in the face of new challenges and the necessity to adapt can ensure you build lifelong bonds. The number one rule of being interesting is the ability to remain genuinely interested. Master this and you will never struggle to make and maintain friends abroad.