The Impact of Acculturation on Japanese Adult Sojourners in the U.S.
While there have been much research done on second language acquisition, little has focused on how learners change their identity as a result of language acquisition. This interdisciplinary empirical study combines theories in psychology and sociology to explain the effect of language acquisition on adult learners. How do Japanese adults who come to the U.S. cope with ego-threatening situations and cultural conflicts, given that the US and Japan represent two opposite ends of the cultural and linguistic spectrum (Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Nagano, 1998)? Moreover, although several studies have focused on how Japanese children and adolescents in the U.S. change their behavior, language choice, or identity (Minoura, 1984; Nagano, 1993; Wakabayashi 1998), very few have focused on Japanese adults who come to the U. S. temporarily. In this study, I investigate how Japanese adult sojourners dealt with the very different culture and language of the U.S. Specifically, what differentiates successful from unsuccessful cultural adjustment and language acquisition? Ten Japanese adults articulated their experiences with key issues in second language acquisition, such as self-esteem, attitudes toward the home/target culture and language/people (Schumann, 1978) and the notion of investment (Norton, 2000). In addition, they raised issues such as appearance, gender differences and the power of stereotypes. Detailed analyses of the interview data reveal the interplay between ethnicity, culture and language in the sojourners' "re-structuring" of self-images and identities. Interpreting the findings, I draw on Erikson's (1968) identity theory and Minoura's (1984) concept of critical period in cultural identity development theory. This study will inform educators and researchers about the psychological transitions of foreign adults, and will contribute to the development of effective training programs supporting minority adults' cultural adjustment and language acquisition in the U.S.
Keywords: Adult learner, Japanese sojourner in the U.S., cultural identity, acculturation, second language acquisition, gender difference, stereotype, social mirroring
Ms Natsuko Kuwahara
Graduate Student, Human Development and Psychology Program, Harvard Graduate School of Education