Biculturalism leads to Bilingualism
In “Bilingualism vs. Biculturalism” (https://bilingualkidsrock.com/bilingualism-vs-biculturalism/) you mention that bilingualism (knowing two languages) is different than biculturalism (being immersed in two cultures). This is true!
In the article you also mention that bilingualism can unlock the door to another culture. However, does the relationship go the other way?
In other words, does immersing yourself in a different culture also pave the way for helping learn the language? The answer, unsurprisingly, is yes.
In an innovative study in Canada (where multiculturalism is a strong value), some researchers sought to see whether acculturation vs. enculturation in a group of Chinese-Canadian immigrants predicted English-speaking skills.
- “Acculturation” is defined as “the process of adapting to the norms of the dominant group.” This is when a group of immigrants comes into contact with a new culture, and learns how to navigate and identify with the behaviors, values, identities, and attitudes of the new culture.
- “Enculturation” is “the process of retaining the norms of the indigenous group.” This is the ability for a minority group to retain their original cultural heritage.
- In many small minority groups, the battle between acculturation and enculturation produces lots of tension.
The researchers were trying to see whether the immigrants who acculturate more tend to speak English better.
To do this, they had a group of Chinese-Canadian students fill out surveys regarding how much they identify with Canadian culture (acculturation), and how much they still identify with their original Chinese culture (enculturation). Then, the students took some literacy assessments to determine how well they had learned English.
It shouldn't be a surprise that the students who had come to identify more with Canadian culture also tended to speak English better.
- The researchers suggested the explanation: “Language aptitude and attitude toward the majority cultural group play a key role in supporting an individual's motivation to speak and learn the language through a high level of interaction with the mainstream language community…Thus, this immersion in the dominant culture could act as a motivator to learn English and enhance English literacy skills.”
- In other words, immersing one's self in the new culture INCREASES motivation to learn the language of that culture, which in turn INCREASES proficiency in that language.
But what about enculturation? The answer might surprise you: enculturation was not related (one way or the other) to English proficiency.
- What does this mean? It means, in the words of the researchers, “Getting closer to the dominant society is not necessarily achieved by separating from one's ethnic group. Specifically, the lack of a relationship between heritage enculturation and the key variable of reading comprehension supports the argument that a degree of engagement in Canadian society is achievable regardless of whether the immigrant does or does not identify with Chinese culture.”
- In plain English? It means that the students did not have to give up their original Chinese culture in order to identify with Canadian culture (and the new culture's language).
- This means some students were truly bicultural – they had learned how to engage with a new culture (thus, helping them learn the new language) while still retaining their original cultural identity.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
As was stated in the original article, learning a new language can open the doors to a new culture.
However, it goes the other way, too: immersing yourself in a new culture can help you learn that culture's language.
AND, immersing yourself in a new culture (or even identifying with that new culture) does not automatically mean giving up your original culture.
Thus, learning about a new culture and learning a new language go hand-in-hand. One can aid the other, and vice versa. And you don't have to give up your heritage to do it.
Jia, F., Gottardo, A., Koh, P. W., Chen, X., & Pasquarella, A. (2014). The role of acculturation in reading a second language: Its relation to English literacy skills in immigrant Chinese adolescents. Reading Research Quarterly, 49(2), 251-261. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/rrq.69/abstract