Acculturation of ESL Learners in Taiwan
How impactful is the mass media in terms of the acculturation for Taiwanese adult English as a second language (ESL) learners (ages 18-25)? This issue has important implications for the ESL students both in terms of learning the English language, and in understanding the culture from which the English language is predominant. This paper references language learning — which is necessarily linked to cultural understanding — in several contexts, all of which relate to learners of the English language in Taiwan.
Communication Patternsâ€¦in the Process of Acculturation: Thirty-four years ago Young Kim presented a paper on acculturation to the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association. Kim offered three factors that lead to the communication skills of a person learning a second language (in this case, English) in a host country: “language competence, acculturation motivation, and accessibility to host communication channels” (Kim, p. 1). Moreover Kim offered 9 propositions positing the various degrees to which an immigrant perceives and interacts with the host society. In sum, Kim’s model also shows that the immigrant with better English command “may tend to have higher acculturation motivation” (Kim, p. 12).
Kim’s survey of 281 Korean immigrants in Chicago revealed that after factoring in the data, the three causal factors (mentioned above) do a more thorough job of explaining the immigrant’s “information-oriented use of the host media” than his interpersonal communications behavior (Kim, p. 21). The explanation is straight forward, Kim asserts: in interpersonal communications, it’s more complex, more intense: e.g., immigrants are psychologically involved to a greater degree than when the immigrant reads newspapers, watches TV, or listens to radio.
Immigrant Perceptions of Advertising Amid Acculturation Levels: Thirty-one years after Kim’s presentation on acculturation, Qiao Lan writes that not only is media among the most important paths to acculturation, the advertising that is part of media (and supports the production and promotion of media) teaches viewers to “attach social meaning to material goods” and to understand lifestyles and trends (Lan, 2007, p. 2). Lan references Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory of mass communication as a worthy contribution to the discussion of non-English speakers’ social learning process (Lan, p. 12). Bandura’s four human abilities “account for our social learning through mass media,” Lan explains.
His hypothesis that immigrants have “more positive attitudes than Americans do” was backed up by her study of 358 university graduate students. Immigrants becoming acculturated in America, Lan writes, come to a better understanding of what an American is through TV advertising. “Learning to consume as an American is an important part of learning to be an American” (Lan, paraphrasing Lee’s 1993 cross cultural research on Chinese/Taiwanese immigrants, p. 19). Paying close attention to TV ads is important because much of what an American is can be understood through what he possess, “and the values those possessions express and convey to others” (Lan, quoting O’Guinn, Lee ad Faber , p. 19).
Ethnicity and Acculturation and Asian-American Consumers: Jikyeong Kang and Youn-Kyung Kim explore the purchasing habits of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigrants living in the U.S. The important implication lies in the fact that prior to a company (clothing company in this instance) reaching out to an Asian immigrant community the key is in understanding “the natures of ethnicity and acculturation and how they affect consumer decision making” (Kang, et al., 1998, p. 91). The study Kang conducted and published was based on 481 immigrant survey (questionnaire) responses from 152 Chinese, 185 Japanese and 144 Koreans (living in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago). Kang based the acculturation effect on length of stay in the country, language use, and media (TV, newspapers, and radio) consumption (Kang, p. 104); his three groups of dependent variables for this research: reference group influence (family, ethnic friends, American friends, etc.); media influence (TV, radio, newspapers, as to which has the greatest influence on purchasing social clothes); and store attribute importance.
Chinese respondents were “more likely” to rely on family / relatives in deciding what social clothes to buy, while Chinese and Koreans relied on “ethnic friends and American friends” more than Japanese relied on those sources (Kang, p. 107). And those Asians with “high acculturation” levels tended to rely on ethnic co-workers more than low-acculturation groups (Kang, p. 107). For both Chinese and Koreans the “low acculturation” group was influenced more profoundly by TV and radio than was the high acculturation; but for the Japanese immigrants in America the high acculturation group relied more on TV and radio than the low acculturation group. The clear message for advertisers: do not consider “all Asian groups as homogeneous; each of the three Asian ethnic groups respond differently to friends, stores, and media (Kang, p. 113).
Rethinking acculturation in second language acquisition: Bonny Norton provides a very interesting study of three adult women (Mai from Vietnam, Katarina and Eva from Poland; Martina from Czechoslovakia; and Felicia from Peru) learning English as a second language in Canada. Mai’s “subtractive bilingualism” (while learning English she loses the Vietnamese language) and Katarina’s “additive bilingualism” (opposite of subtractive) are the subject of Norton’s inquiry (Norton, 2000, p. 5). This research (focusing in on Mai’s situation) was in reality an investigation into the relationship between “mother tongue maintenance, identity, and acculturation” (Norton, p. 5). Even though Mai spoke 3 languages (Chinese, Vietnamese, English) the family has serious communication problems — a “breakdown in social relationships” (Norton, p. 5). Her parents speak no English; Mai had lost proficiency in her use of Vietnamese; her nephews speak only English and their mother speaks limited English. Her nephews lost respect for their mother and gravitated towards Mai. Worse yet, Mai’s nephews “grew up despising their [Vietnamese] appearances, rejecting their history, and eschewing their languages” (Norton, p. 12). They hated their looks because “â€¦perfect Canadians are white”; Norton’s conclusion is that the “loss of the mother tongue amongst children” may have a “devastating effect on the social fabric of the family” (Norton, p. 18).
Mass Media and Ethnic Assimilation and Pluralism: Federico A. Suber Vi-Velez states that assimilation describes that social change that leads to “greater homogeneity” in society. Pluralism, meantime, suggests that minority groups continue practicing their cultural values and traits but “still participate in the dominant society” (Vi-Velez, 1986, p. 71). Exposure to the mass media, as has been emphasized, helps minority members become “acculturated” to the dominant group; but like Asian-Americans in the previous study mentioned, Latino groups are also not homogenous and do not respond to media (or prefer specific media) in similar ways. On page 84 Suber Vi-Velez points out that Puerto Ricans get their political news from print media; Cuban Americans get their political knowledge from radio; Mexican-Americans get much of their political (and sports, societal and other news) mainly from TV. If any news reports are in conflict, Latinos (as a general rule) believe what they see on TV more so than Anglos do (p. 83).
Acculturation and Mediaâ€¦among Chinese Students in the U.S.: Cui Yang, et al. discuss a survey of Chinese graduate students in the U.S. (Yang, et al., 2004, p. 81). Yang’s hypotheses were: (#1) “The stronger the acculturation need of a Chinese student in the U.S. The stronger her or his acculturation motives for media usage will be”; and (#2) the stronger the motive to become acculturated, the more media the student will report using (Yang, p. 84). To verify his hypothesis, Yang surveyed 84 mostly graduate level Chinese students attending a Midwest university (U.S.); 22% were 1st year students; 30% were 2nd year students; 28% were in their 3rd year and 19% had been in the States more than three years. The three core acculturative motives: “I want to learn more about American culture”; “It helps me adjust to American society”; and “I want to improve my English” (Yang, p. 88). The results for hypothesis #1 showed that when the need for acculturation is “strong” the use of TV and the Internet was substantial. As to hypothesis #2, there was a strong link between the frequency of watching local TV news and the reported acculturative motives for TV watching per se (Yang, p. 89).
Print Media Exposureâ€¦and Acculturation Attitudes: Shuang Liu writes that Taiwanese, Chinese and people from Hong Kong make up 87% of the immigrant population in Australia. And the approach of Asian immigrants who are in the process of acculturation in Australia tend more towards “group perception and contact” and not to print media (Liu, 2006, p. 335). Indeed the print media has not been the favorite source of information of Chinese in Australia; a survey in the 1990s showed that “Asians were continually portrayed in the newspapers as problem people and bad news” so why would English language newspapers be the medium of choice in any Asian country? Based on a survey of 265 Chinese immigrant participants, Liu asserts, “Frequency of exposure to mainstream newspapers is negatively related to the perceived level of group identification, in-group perception and out-group perception of Chinese immigrants” (p. 367).
Video-Based Curriculum in Teaching Culture: Carol Herron et al., notes at that there has been a “paucity of studies” on the effectiveness of video in teaching culture through foreign-language programs. Herron investigated whether students retain more (“little c”) cultural “practices” or (“big C”) cultural “products” by watching video in a second-language program (Herron, 1999, p. 522). Thirty-eight students were given a pretest before watching the 10 videos that were part of the French-language curriculum. Immediately afterward they were given a post-test. Interestingly, in terms of their evolving understanding of French culture, in 8 of the 10 total post-video quizzes, the students gave higher scores to their “little c” (understanding cultural practices) than to “big C” (cultural products). And 84.2% of the 38 students believed that the 10 videos showed “a lot or a vast amount” of little c (cultural practices in France) presented and 42.1% believed that “a lot or a vast amount” of big C (cultural products in France) was presented (Herron, p. 523). Moreover, 47.4% believed “a lot or a vast amount” of “little c” culture was “learned” and 23.7% believed “a lot or a vast amount” of “big C” culture was learned (Herron, p. 524).
Digital Video in Foreign Language Instruction: Ryu Kitajima, et al., present research into the use of “context-dependent authentic video” in foreign language instruction. By using “unscripted video footage” in foreign language instruction the learners reportedly acquire “culturally appropriate speaking and listening skills” (Kitajima, 1998, p. 37). The digital video clips (which students can access on their personal computers, stop, re-run, and fast-forward) assist students in figuring out “the meaning of unknown words” and help them “infer main ideas of communicative events” (Kitajima, p. 40). In fact digital video is useful, the authors insist, as an “advance organizer” to enhance the foreign language student’s “cultural awareness” before they begin actual language instruction (Kitajima, p. 40). A pilot study at San Diego State University (8 students in a third semester Japanese course) had students individually shown a one-minute silent video that introduced Japanese roads (Kitajima, p. 43).
Students’ comments vis-a-vis the short video clip showed they clearly pinpointed cultural differences in Japan (fewer traffic signals; no sidewalk for pedestrians, etc.). Not that seeing roads is all that crucial to learning the Japanese language; but Kitajima asserts that video clips could focus “on people in the target culture both as individuals (with particular personal traits, attitude, and preferences) and as representatives of more universal concepts (a store clerk dealing with a customer, a schoolteacherâ€¦in a classroom)” (Kitajima, p. 44). In the future students learning a second language could view video clips that have “participatory prompts” in the video that invite the user to offer opinions — and a mechanism could be available allowing students to respond to the prompts, and store those responses digitally (Kitajima, p. 45).
Can Video Improve Intermediate-Level French Languageâ€¦Competencies? In addition to newspapers, TV and radio, video should be a medium available to ESL students. In this article 51 intermediate French Language students were shown 8 videos and the long-term gain in “cultural knowledge and in the learning of cultural practices” — based on the results of a post-test contrasted with a pre-test — was significant (Herron, et al., 2002, p. 36). Cultural knowledge assists the learner in terms of foreign language teaching “at all levels,” Herron, p. 36).
Changing Media Consumption in a New Homeâ€¦. Wei-Na Lee et al. explain that when immigrants move into a new culture they often change the media they had been most accustomed to; but does this new exposure to a different media relate to acculturation of the new social norms? The survey that Lee alludes to involved 939 respondents from four sample groups: Hong Kong residents; Hong Kong residents who were long time immigrants to Canada; Hong Kong citizens who were new immigrants to Canada; and English-speaking Caucasian Canadians.
Among the agents that immigrants are affected by when they change cultures are family, peer groups, workplace and mass media; it is not secret that mass media influences are considered most powerful and pervasive among immigrants (Lee, 1994, p. 61). The authors state that Mexican-Americans prefer mass media to other agents as a way to become acculturated; Hungarian immigrants, too, find mass media most effective in identifying their new “cultural orientation” (Lee, p. 61). Surveys were conducted with individuals in the four groups referenced earlier; the long time Hong Kong immigrants and new Hong Kong immigrants and the Caucasian Canadians were all conducted in Vancouver, a city where 30% of all Hong Kong immigrants reside.
In Vancouver (during the time of the research) there were two Chinese TV stations (with 10 hours per day of Chinese programming), one Chinese radio station (12 hours a day of Chinese language programming) and five Chinese newspapers (each with a circulation of over 2,000 copies daily). The first section of the questionnaire sought to lean how the respondents used media; the second section of the questionnaire sought to understand to what degree immigrants were adopting to their new culture as contrasted with what aspects of their home culture they retained. About 300 Hong Kong residents were surveyed and 200 questionnaires were obtained from each of the three groups in Vancouver. Looking at minutes of watching television, Hong Kong residents spent the most time — followed by “long time immigrants” and then the “new immigrants” to Canada from Hong Kong. The group that watched the least number of minutes of TV was the Caucasian Canadian group (Lee, p. 65).
As to time listening to the radio, the Caucasian Canadian group listened to radio the most of the four groups; Hong Kong recent immigrants were second and Hong Kong long-term immigrants were third. It is not surprising that recent immigrants from Hong Kong would watch more television than long time residents and Caucasians in Canada, because TV has the “richest set of communication cues and is used most heavily by immigrants for information and for entertainment” (Lee, p. 65).
The conclusion offered by Lee asserts that immigrant consumers tend to follow the same media habits that they had in their home country. But as to the question of whether they later assimilate to the media in their newfound culture depends on the media type, Lee explains on page 67. For the immigrants who had been in Canada from Hong Kong for at least seven years, their media acculturation habits changed, but very slowly, Lee explains (p. 67). That group’s radio listening habits changed “very little”; this, according to the authors, shows that the theory that puts forth the notion that immigrant consumers will assimilate and begin behavior like “majority consumers after a few years” has flaws (Lee, p. 68). Further study is needed, Lee asserts, in order to determine if the slow assimilation (and ethnic affirmation) is due to immigrants’ resistance to alter their media habits. That said, this study did in fact determine that immigrants from Hong Kong did not increase the total time they spend with media, even though the need for “more information in the new country” is a given (Lee, p. 68).
The other surprising aspect to this research is that after living in Canada for seven years or more, long time immigrants still spend 41% of their media time on ethnic media. Who benefits from this knowledge? Lee says advertisers should pay attention to the fact that these long time immigrants are apparently going to go back and forth between mainstream English language media and their own ethnic media. Indeed, the data shows that long time immigrants from Hong Kong use ethnic media more for entertainment purposes (humor and entertainment “are culturally loaded and difficult to appreciate cross culturally”) and they use mainstream media of the host country for news and local updates (Lee, p. 68).
Changing Cultural Stereotypes Through the Dynamic of E-mailsâ€¦ Hiroko Itakura writes about research that involves a collaborative project between Hong Kong (Chinese) learners of the Japanese language at Hong Kong and native Japanese speakers at Kagoshima University (Japan). As do many other scholars, Itakura asserts that “enhancing cultural understanding” is a “crucial” part of foreign language teaching (Itakura, 2004, p. 38). Hence, attempts are made in many instances to have the learner embrace the culture of the country from which the language is being taught. Emails are used in this scholarship, and Itakura explains that the culture of the country from which the language is being taught should not be “seen as a static objectâ€¦in favor or methods that focus on equipping learners with the means of accessing and analyzing any cultural practices and meanings they encounter” (Itakura, p. 38). Learners are actually becoming ethnographers and developing intercultural understanding of their own culture as well as the culture whose language they are learning. EFL university learners in Taiwan have recently been involved sending and receiving emails with “pre-service bilingual ESL teachers in the U.S.” People from both cultures developed their own ways of interpreting the target culture (Itakura, p. 38).
In this research project, reviewing the emails from the Hong Kong students showed “the stereotypical assumptions of Hong Kong students” as to Japanese culture were found in three aspects: a) hearsay from fellow learners (“Are there many Kyouiku mamma?”); b) the mass media / comic books (I read a comic book and in it 4th year college students visited alumni of the university prior to taking the examination in the company — is this true?); and c) mass media / television news (Is the cost of living very high in Japan?). Meantime, the Hong Kong students’ emails revealed that there was a “Contradiction between project findings and previous classroom teaching” and that there was a “Contradiction between new project findings and previously held assumptions” (Itakura, p. 42-43).
And so another form of media has proven to be worthwhile in terms of learning about the culture of a country while studying the language. Granted this is apart from newspaper, TV, and radio acculturation. But it can be said that acculturation through new media communication with members of the culture from which the language comes can be educational and practical at the same time.
Herron, Carol, Dubreil, Sebastien, Corrie, Cathleen, and Cole, Steven. (2002). A Classroom
Investigation: Can Video Improve Intermediate-Level French Language Students’ Ability
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Herron, Carol, Cole, Steven P., Corrie, Cathleen, and Dubreil, Sebastien. (1999). The
Effectiveness of a Video-Based Curriculum in Teaching Culture. The Modern Language
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Itakura, Hiroko, (2004). Changing Cultural Stereotypes through E-Mail Assisted Foreign
Language Learning. System 32, 37-51.
Kang, Jikyeong, and Kim, Youn-Kyung. (1998). Ethnicity and Acculturation: Influences on Asian-American Consumers’ Purchase Decision Making for Social Clothes. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 27(1), 91-117.
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Language Instruction. Calico Journal, 16(1), 37-46.
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