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Schumann’s Acculturation Theory. What are the components of the social and psychological distances? How are these elements related with naturalistic or untutored second language acquisition?

Schumann’s Acculturation Theory as presented in The Pidginization Process: A Model for Second Language Acquisition (1978) predicts that the degree of a learner’s success in second language (L2) acquisition depends upon the learner’s degree of acculturation.The social and psychological factors influence the acculturation process and the second language learning.According to Schumman the naturalistic or untutored SLA is a by-product of acculturation, which is defined by him as "the social and psychological integration of the learner with the target language (TL) group."



To Schuman ,the social distance consists of eight factors,which greatly hamper in the successful learning of SLA. The eight components of the social distance are discussed below.

Social dominance. The social dominanace considers the degree of equality (subordination or domination) between the host and guest cultures. If the second-language learning (2LL) group is politically, culturally, technically or economically dominant to or subordinate to the target language (TL) group, social contact between the two groups will tend not to be sufficient for optimal target language acquisition. If they are nearly equal in status, then there will be more contact between the two groups and thus, acquisition of the target language will be enhanced.

Integration pattern or  Assimilation, preservation, and adaptation: The best condition for L2 acquisition is obtained when the 2LL group wants to assimilate into the TL group. The second best condition occurs when the 2LL group wants to adapt to the TL culture for intragroup interaction without assimilating to it. The least favorable conditions obtain for acquiring the L2 when the 2LL group wishes to remain separated linguistically and culturally from the TL group.

Enclosure: The more the 2LL groups share social institutions such as schools, churches, workplaces, clubs, and others with the TL group, the more favorable the conditions will be for L2 acquisition. 
Cohesiveness: The guest community tends to stay as a cohesive group as seen in the avobe example. But the smaller and less cohesive the 2LL group, the more likely the contact with the TL group and the more favorable the conditions for L2 acquisition.

Size:  If the size of the learner’s group is large ,it tends to facilitate intragroup contact rather than inter-group contact. 

Congruence: The more similar the culture of the two groups, the more likely there will be social contact and thus language acquisition.

Attitude: The more positive the views of the 2LL group toward the TL group, the more favorable will be the conditions for L2.

Intended length of residence: The longer L2 learners plan to remain in the L2 environment, the more likely it is that they will feel the necessity of learning the TL.

Thus, the great social distance between the host community and the target language speakers and culture deeply affects their acculturation, and hence their second language acquisition.

How social distance hampers SLA is also seen from the famous research on Alberto,on which Schumman’s theory is based.

In the fall of 1973 a research project was undertaken to make a ten month longitudinal study of the untutored acquisition of English by six native speakers of Spanish-two children, two adolescents and two adults. Data collection involved the recording of both spontaneous and experimentally elicited speech.



The study on a 33 year old Costa Rican named Alberto evidenced very little linguistic development during the course of the project. It was felt that by attempting to account for his lack of learning, significant insight could be gained about what is involved in successful second language acquisition in general. Alberto spoke a reduced and simplified form of English in which the negative particle was held external to the verb, questions were uninverted, inflectional morphemes tended to be absent and auxiliary development was minimal. Three causes for his lack of development were considered: ability, social and psychological distance from English speakers, and age.

Psychological distance

The four affective variables included in Schumann's acculturation model are: 1) language shock, or the degree to which speaking the new language makes the learner feel foolish or comical; 2) culture shock, the extent to which the learner feels disoriented and uncomfortable with extended residence in a new culture; 3) ego permeability, the ability of the learner to accept a new identity associated with the belonging to a new speech community, and 4) motivation, the degree and type of desire experienced by the learner to acquire the L2. Of these, only motivation seemed particularly applicable to the situation involved in this research and therefore it will be the only one included in the data collection. In Schumann's model high levels of motivation, both integrative and instrumental contribute positively to second language acquisition.

Schumann  claims that acculturation, or the integration of the L2 learner into the target linguistic community, is not a direct cause of second language acquisition (SLA), but rather it is the first in a chain of factors which results in natural SLA. He proposes that "acculturation as a remote cause brings the learner into contact with TL-speakers and verbal interaction with those speakers as a proximate cause brings about the negotiation of appropriate input which then operates as the immediate cause of language acquisition"

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