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The Crucial Role of Language in Cultural Adaptation

From Lost in Translation to Nailing Cultural Adaptation - Crack the Code with Language Skills!
how do immigrants adapt to american cultures

Vas happenin? (read it in Zayn Malik’s accent). This is an expression that is born through words which further blossom through a language. But what happens when you move to a country where your first language isn’t the primary spoken language? This is the question every Indian immigrant has in their mind when they first move to America. Although Indians study English from a very young age in schools, the fact that their first language usually is their native or regional language and not English might create problems in making sure that they are fluent in it. This raises another important question: how do immigrants adapt to American cultures?

But when you move to a country like America where English is the first language of nearly everyone, you understand that you might face a language barrier if you don’t cope up with them. When as an Indian immigrant you wish to navigate the complications of cultural adaptations in America, language tends to play quite an important role. Right from the challenges that language barriers place to the practice of language acquisition and the richness of bilingualism, we are talking about the multifaceted role that language plays in cultural adaptation among Indian immigrants.

Role of language

There are various roles that language plays. it is not only a tool of communication. But rather serves as a way to understand and thrive within a culture. Rahul, TTYL is not proper English we promise (huh!!).

  • Bridge

One of the major roles of language is to act as a bridge between individuals from different cultural backgrounds. That is to say, suppose you are an Indian immigrant and your roommate in university happens to be a Nigerian. Now, you both need not know each other’s mother tongue, since both of you could communicate in English. Thus, language acts as a bridge. You can create a relationship ignoring the cultural divisions.  

  • Identity

You as an individual can create an identity because of language. The language you speak affects your thoughts, beliefs, and worldview. This is because for linguistic minorities language serves as an important differentiator of their cultural identity and heritage. Thus as an Indian immigrant your native language might set you apart from the majority of English speakers.

  • Status

The way one speaks- whether they are fluent or not might also determine their position in society, their social status, and inclusion in the community. To explain better, if you are an Indian immigrant in America who speaks fluently in English there is a high probability that you will be accepted faster into the society. But if you are someone who faces a language barrier, and simple communication is a task for you, acceptance might come at a later stage. This is because language marks the beginning of cultural adaptation and the sooner you adapt, the sooner you are accepted.  

  • Culture

As mentioned, language works as a facilitator of cultural understanding. If you do not understand one language it will be difficult for you as an individual to understand their values, norms, and traditions. Because one can only use language to explain their beliefs and thus even accept anyone else in it too. Thus, language proficiency allows individuals to move through cultural nuances, take in the implicit meanings, and even accept their behavior as in parity with the cultural norms.

Barriers

Let us move on (uhm… maybe you should move on from your ex too).

Now let us talk about the barriers that language poses which is one of the daunting challenges faced by Indian immigrants when they are trying to adapt to American culture. The lack of linguistic fluency can also hinder effective communication which in turn affects daily tasks like shopping, banking or even getting medical care. Thus, when you arrive in a country with limited knowledge of the dominant language of the migrated country, your capacity to understand the culture decreases.

Your social and professional interactions are also affected because of the language barrier and thus as an Indian immigrant, you are not able to advance in building relationships, access resources and pursue any relevant opportunity. Thus, professional stagnation may occur when you are in a work setting and not able to communicate your thoughts, opinions, and ideas. In general, in social interactions, you become self-conscious and anxious and lose the ability to participate in any social activity with the natives.

Hence, language does play a role in cultural adaptation to a place or a new country as an Indian immigrant because when there is a language barrier you tend to isolate yourself and alienation takes place which further increases the struggle of being an immigrant in an alien country. You might feel marginalized and hence you fumble in adapting to the country’s culture.

Acquisition

On to the next (we know that’s what he said when breaking up).

If as an Indian immigrant, you look at the language acquisition you will realize it is one of the most important milestones. You might be one of those who are plenty fluent in English or someone with a basic understanding. Thus, you could take on the courses, and language exchange programs to be able to acquire American English as well as possible.

You as an immigrant need to be determined, persevered, and resilient to take in all the complications of the language English such as grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. Even if you are fluent in English, it might be Indian or British English. When you land in America a lot of words take new meaning and many old words lose identity.  For instance- kilograms lose their sense when you weigh, rather they become pounds.

To be able to adapt to American culture in the best possible manner, you must acquire their language properly. you need to focus on idioms, everyday phrases, communication styles, and accents may take some time to acquire but once you get hold of them, we assure you, you will be able to integrate into American culture. Thus, you should not let the feelings of self-doubt and frustration take control of you, or else adapting their diverse linguistic skills in different social settings might be difficult.

Bilingualism

This is the center of cultural adaptation for an Indian immigrant who can speak more than one language. As an Indian, you might be able to speak the host country’s language fluently while still maintaining your command over your native language/s. this might help you to not only adapt to the culture of your host country but also continue to wear the pride of your homeland. You would be able to create connections with people from different backgrounds with different spoken languages.

There is proven research that indicates that bilingual or multilingual individuals show increased cognitive flexibility and problem-solving capability when compared to monolingual individuals. This will help you to adapt to the host’s culture smoothly since you will be able to drive through cultural challenges and new dynamics better.

Coping with Linguistic Challenges

There remains a possibility when you face certain issues with the language of your host country, which is America in our case. Thus, you need some strategies to navigate and cope with the linguistic challenges that might further hinder your cultural adaptation to America.

  • Tutoring

One way to navigate through linguistic challenges is to enroll in language classes or tuitions. You will be able to learn in a structured manner and your linguistic proficiency and communication skills will improve. An Indian immigrant could benefit from either a formal class or private tuition as you will be able to acquire their language faster and thus, adapt to their culture sooner.

  • Practicing

Just enrolling in an English class wouldn’t be sufficient if you do not take enough time to practice. You must be consistent to better understand the complexities of the English language. You can either do this before you land in America or practice even there. You could surround yourself with good English-speaking individuals or even interact with natives daily. You could take part in cultural activities which will help in not only increasing fluency but also understanding their culture better. As you build confidence, the language barrier will not be a thing for you.

  • Participating

You could participate in cultural exchange programs, language meet-ups, and community events which provide an opportunity for Indian immigrants to practice language skills. You also get to interact with people from different cultures thus getting a window to diverse perspectives and cultural practices in America. Thus, being able to adapt to American culture better and sooner.

  • Networking

You need to network with fellow Indian immigrants, your language partners, and native speakers so that they can help you understand the language better. They will also provide you with support, encouragement and feedback on your linguistic journey. You can become part of study groups, and language clubs to practice your skills. This will help you to become part of a community and explore and adapt the culture together and more intensely.  

  • Sensitivity

When you are on your journey to learn a new language and to adapt to a new culture you need to be open-minded and also sensitive towards the new culture and language. You need to approach the interactions with your peers with respect, curiosity, and humility which will assist you to value cultural diversity and embrace opportunities for cross-cultural learning and exchange. This will get you to blur any cultural divide and adapt the diverse backgrounds.

Conclusion

The moment Adam and Eve set foot on this planet; we should have been warned about the creation of language for communication.

And that we will never be able to stop talking (phew…). However, as an immigrant also you can’t escape from the fact that you need to communicate and that language barrier is real if you are not fluent in your host country’s language, since we are talking about Indian immigrants in America, so then the language is English. To better understand the culture of America and to adapt it you need to get command over their language. The more fluent you are in English the better you can adapt to their culture. So as you move to America you better be able to Walk in English, Talk in English, and even laugh in English.

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About The Author

Picture of Drishti Choudhary

Drishti Choudhary

Drishti is a bibliophile whose writing describes her views about everyday nuances. She writes to explore a diverse realm of thought. With a keen focus on feminism and politics, she champions equality in society.
Picture of Drishti Choudhary

Drishti Choudhary

Drishti is a bibliophile whose writing describes her views about everyday nuances. She writes to explore a diverse realm of thought. With a keen focus on feminism and politics, she champions equality in society.

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