Culture surrounds each and every one of us, just like the air we breathe. We are so embedded in our own cultures that we oftentimes take our own culture for granted. It usually isn’t until someone or an event makes us realize that our beliefs about the world and how we behave are not universal. That person or event opens our eyes to other cultures. It’s hard enough for adults to adapt to a new culture, so one can imagine how difficult it can be for children. English Language Learners (ELLs) in the U.S. not only have to learn a new language, but they also have to learn how to live in a new culture.
The term acculturation refers to the process through which a person from one culture adopts the practices, values, and beliefs of a culture other than their own, while that person still retains their own culture. Most frequently, this process occurs when a minority culture adopts elements of the majority culture. This is typically the case for immigrants that are ethnically and/or culturally distinct from the majority in the place to which they have immigrated.
Acculturation is a two-way process that can happen at the individual or group levels. Sometimes people from the majority culture adopt elements of the minority culture in the process. This can occur as a result of in-person contact or contact through media, literature, or art. First generation immigrants often engage in the acculturation process, while they are trying to settle into their new community, so that they can succeed socially and academically.
School administrators and teachers can help first generation ELLs navigate the process of acculturation. The Latino Literacy Project offers school administrators and teachers webinars and in-person workshops that prepare them to guide ELL students throughout the process of acculturation. Additionally, these educational opportunities can be used to help ELL parents understand and navigate through the acculturation process as well. That way, ELL students can receive guidance from their teachers and parents.