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Language and Culture
How to Learn a Language and a Culture

Thoughts on Culture Acquisition in Language Learning

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

In culture acquisition, the foundational theme for me is sharing experiences.  Common "culture" derives from shared experiences.  Much of a newcomer's alienness derives from the different set of shared experiences between the home society and the host society.

To "close the gap" with those of another society – to become dealienized, or dealienated (Dr. Donald Larson's word)– the newcomer must share certain key experiences that members of the host society have shared.  One term for a program of orientation that facilitates in-community culture learning is Entry Orientation.

Entry Orientation
A major purpose of an Entry Orientation program, it seems to me, is to make sure that the process of dealienation and acculturation begins.  Entry Orientation should facilitate and require that certain miniexperiences occur, in the culture and society.  This series of experiences, encounters, and communication events builds a cultural context for the newcomer.

Cognitive Culture and Experience
This cultural context and foundational set of experiences provides the "model" from which the newcomer creates a cognitive culture similar to that of the locals.  However, this takes time, since the member of the host society have had several years, built on decades and centuries of group experience.

A part of the dealienation process is also being involved in experiences that are not only experienced differently, but that are actually different from the home culture.

The process of dealienation is fostered by the sequence of situations in Larson’s book Guidelines for Barefoot Language Learning, which is based on a fairly universal pattern of human society and communication.  This enables the newcomer to share some similar experiences with the host people in the way that the host people have shared them.

Social Knowledge
In 1984 I helped facilitate a training conference for cultural orientation coordinators in Africa. One work group of this conference produced a practical manual for use by companies to provide their foreign workers with initial training in African culture.  This manual, called Getting Acquainted with Your New Home, provides practical, reportable investigation assignments in the community.

This manual fosters the practical process of cultural acquisition, or dealienation, helping the foreigner become competent, knowledgeable and comfortable in the new country, culture and language.  It guides the new personnel in experiencing the local culture as learners and systematically experiencing common situations in the society.  This includes investigation into cultural worldview, beliefs and social practices, learning these from the people themselves, not just formal authorities or happenstance.

Getting Acquainted focuses on practical matters foreigners should know and provides guidance on investigating the local social, government and economic spheres.

Social Skill
I developed a series of activities called “Individual Learning Assignments” (ILAs), which have been used in various language and cultural orientation programs in countries of Africa.  These were initially developed for use in learning programs for missionaries.  Thus some are specific to their needs or activities, like observing a worship service for cultural insights or memorizing Bible verses in the target language. Most are general experiences for anyone.

Many of these activities are common encounters in any society.  These can be used by any learner.  The important thing is to engage in a common activity in the community, in the local language to the degree possible.  Cultural worldview is developed around Shared Significant Experiences.  In order to understand and appreciate the worldview of the target culture, the foreign learner needs to go through some of the basic shared significant experiences of that culture.  The language is inextricably related to the shared cultural knoweldge of a social and ethnic group.

These ILAs are now available for download.  [Click here to download ILAs in PDF format.]  In additiona to these ILAs, there are several Learning Activity Guides. These will assist any learner in planning and organization various aspects of the learning process.  [Click here to download LAGs in PDF format.]  For other resources on learning a culture and a language click here.

If there is indeed some fairly universal sequence of social situations, encounters or topics a learner can expect, it make sense to outline those into a sequence or category of expectations.  This should enhance the cultural acquisition process.  The same sequence of encounters and situations can be evaluated for mastery.

This is the practical genius of Larson's Guidelines and various implementation resources, like Language Acquisition Made Practical (LAMP).

More Techniques for Language and Culture Learning

[PDF] Menu of Learning Guides and Evaluation Instruments – PDF

Also related:
[TXT] Cognitive and Social Culture (Worldview Perspectives)
Culture By Generation
[TXT] Culture and Shared Experiences
[PDF] Getting Acquainted with Your New Home – PDF
[TXT] Proficiency as Progress:  Defining Cross-Cultural Communication Competence
Self and the World, Knowing Reality
[blog] Shared Significant Experiences
[TXT] Socialization and Self-Identity
[TXT] What is Worldview?
[TXT] Worldview Investigation Questionnaire

Related on the Internet:
Getting Acquainted with Your New Home
    A Practical Guide to Learning African Culture and Becoming Socially Competent
Guidelines for Barefoot Language Learning by Donald Larson
Language Acquisition Made Practical


Based on a paper entitled “Thoughts on Dealienation or Culture Acquisition” originally presented in October 1992 at a Workshop for Entry Orientation Coordinators, facilitated by Dr. Donald Larson in Richmond, Virginia
Original version published January 1993 in ENONet Notes, a Newsletter of the Entry Orientation Network, Nairobi, Kenya
Rewritten and posted on OJTR 9 June 2006
Revised September and October 2007
Last edited 7 June 2014

Author with wife Edith in Johannesburg, South Africa, 2006

Copyright 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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