Culture Shock and Language Learning

We know that adjusting to doing academic work in a second language is difficult. And we know that it gets easier with time. However, we don’t think a lot about how culture shock affects how our students process language. It does, though, and that means that our understanding of culture shock can color how we see our international students’ adjustment.

Culture shock is rarely looked at closely in independent schools. Vital English’s PAL orientation materials include information about culture shock to help our students understand what they might find themselves going through. In some ways, culture shock mirrors the adjustment every new student makes when they come to our schools for the first time, but culture shock can amplify any feelings that students are experiencing. It’s up to us to realize that, in addition to all of the teenager stuff that’s going on in any student’s brain at any time, culture shock may affect the way our international students adjust to our schools.

In addition to the psychological effect culture shock can have on students, there can also be an effect on language learning. As students experience the downswings of culture shock, their ability to function in a second language can suffer. A stressful phone call from home can have a significant effect on a student’s ability to process language the next day. While all of us experience the distractions that negative emotions can have on our ability to do academic work, those emotions generally don’t interfere with our ability to understand what’s going on around us. However, international students can experience this kind of interference, and they will likely be unable to articulate what’s happening.

Having an understanding of culture shock can allow adults to sympathize with students who are experiencing it, and it can give us tools with which to help those students. An understanding that language learning can be affected by factors other than linguistic comprehension is also necessary for those who teach international students. While a student’s difficulties can sometimes be explained simply by “I didn’t study,” it’s also important to know that there may be other factors afoot.

To learn more about how Pre-Arrival Learning can help prepare international students for culture shock, please contact Vital English.

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