Assimilation vs. Acculturation: Definitions, Examples, Types & More

Assimilation vs. Acculturation: Acculturation is the change of powers and customs from one group to another while Assimilation is the cultural absorption of a minority group into the main cultural body. Assimilation and acculturation are two important theories in sociology and deal with the change in people. In simple terms, assimilation is the method by which a person or a group’s language and/or culture become similar to another culture or language.

Acculturation is the exchange of cultural features that results when different groups come into continuous firsthand contact. This article will describe the two concepts separately and then move on to the difference between Assimilation and Acculturation.

Assimilation vs. Acculturation

Assimilation vs. Acculturation

Assimilation vs. Acculturation

Assimilation and acculturation are both used to describe what happens when two cultures come in contact for elongated periods of time. This lesson explains the difference between these nearly related terms and also gives examples.

What Is Assimilation?

Whenever two cultures come into more than casual contact, it is necessary that they will both be changed. There are, of course, variables to this. Which culture is going to change more? How long will it take? Which of the cultural markers will change and how? Let’s take a closer look at how these things work.

The most common cultural change when two cultures compete is the assimilation of the minority culture into the majority culture. The minority culture gradually loses all of the markers that set it apart as a separate culture in the first place. Markers incorporate things like languages, food, and customs. Eventually, minority culture becomes almost indistinguishable from the majority culture.

However, this situation leaves out the fact assimilation is usually a two-way process. Yes, the youth culture does change dramatically and loses cultural separateness, but the majority culture also changes during this process. It’s a lot like cooking: when you add salt it quickly becomes invisible, but the final meal is changed as well. While the looks of the meal may not appear very changed by addition, it is different after the assimilation in recognizable and important ways.

Cultural Assimilation

In this section, we will discuss two possible effects of prolonged cultural interactions: cultural assimilation and cultural extinction.

If you’ve ever started at a new school or job, you probably realized how important it can be to ‘fit in’ and satisfy your innate need to belong to something. People at your new school or job may have said or done things that were much different than what you were used to.

In order to fit in, people may want to pick up on and/or adhere to such things as local fashion trends and musical tastes, cultural norms and attitudes, and/or body language habits and everyday slang. The process of taking on the characteristics of culture by giving up ones own is called cultural assimilation.

However, it’s important to note that for the most part, the process of assimilation is something that’s done voluntarily. One of the most obvious examples of assimilation in the United States’ history of absorbing immigrants from different countries.

From 1890 to 1920, the United States saw an introduction of many immigrants from European and Asian countries. The desire to come to the United States was primarily for economic purposes. Nevertheless, the longer those immigrants stayed in the U.S., the more likely they were to assimilate into their culture.

For example, many Irish immigrants assimilated to the American way of life, including its fashion trends, cultural norms, and everyday slang in the early 20th century, though they did keep many of their own traditions as well.

Sociologists often measure the degree to which immigrants assimilate into a new culture in terms of four areas of interaction:

  1. Socioeconomic status
  2. Spatial concentration
  3. Language assimilation
  4. Intermarriage

Socioeconomic status is the level to which immigrants can move up the social ladder and earn a suitable living for themselves. Unfortunately, non-white/non-European immigrants often faced racial and ethnic discrimination, which makes it harder for them to establish a healthy socioeconomic status.

Spatial concentration is the degree in which similar cultures start to spread out and not live as clumped together. Major U.S. cities are locations that often have pockets of different ethnic groups living close to one another.

For example, there may be a Latino pocket of immigrants in one neighborhood of a city and an Asian pocket of immigrants living in another. This is often practical for immigrants because it gives them opportunities to assimilate more slowly by giving them more time to learn the larger culture and language. It also allows them to keep a bit of their own culture.

Language assimilation involves learning the local language or accent and using it to communicate on a daily basis. It can be one of the hardest obstacles for foreigners or a minority culture to overcome, as learning a new language can be hard, and not doing so can limit employment and education opportunities, which can also affect socioeconomic status.

What Is Acculturation?

If enough of the cultural markers of language, tradition, and food from the minority culture is maintained for the members to be able to recognize themselves as a distinguished culture, then it is said to have undergone acculturation instead of assimilation. This type of change is much more likely to happen during voluntary migrations or peaceful coexistence, rather than as a result of the conquests or forced rapprochement that typically characterize assimilation.

Of course, acculturation is also a two-way process because both cultures will still change and be affected by each other. To return to the cooking analogy, acculturation would be similar to adding an ingredient that is still recognizable in the final meal: basil leaves into an omelet, for example. This ingredient can still be distinctly recognized in the final dish, but both the ingredients and the product are different than before the acculturation.

Definition of Acculturation

The base word of acculturation is ‘culture‘. What is culture? Simply stated, culture means a way of living and a way of life. Culture means that there are certain ways and reasons in which individuals and groups of people speak, conduct themselves, celebrate holidays, and express their belief systems. As you can imagine, there is a tremendous diversity of cultures around the world.

Some of these cultures include American, Hispanic, Asian, and European cultures. When discussing cultures, we can break down the larger geographic areas into smaller regions. For example, if you were asked to discuss the American culture, you might explain that there is a difference between those living on the West Coast versus those living on the East Coast. Perhaps a difference might be in the food that people eat, the clothes that people wear, or the customs and activities that they participate in.

Perhaps you are asked to discuss the Hispanic or South American culture. In doing so, there are many subcultures such as Mexican, Brazilian, Chilean, Honduran, and so on. There are as many cultures in the world as there are countries, states, and regions!

Understanding the term ‘culture’ can lead us to more fully understand the terms associated with the theory of acculturation. So what does acculturation mean? When individuals or groups of people transition from living a lifestyle of their own culture to moving into a lifestyle of another culture, they must acculturate, or come to adapt the new culture’s behaviors, values, customs, and language. The word ‘acculturation’ is the act of that transition.

Theories of Acculturation

The theory of acculturation can be broken down to include a few different topics; these include learning a new language, immersion, assimilation, and integration. Let’s take a look at each of these terms more closely.

Language and immersion can be some of the most important parts of the acculturation process. In fact, social theorist John Schumann proposed that language is the largest factor in successfully acculturating. For example, if you are a Hispanic or South American native and you move to the United States, you would have to learn to speak English in order to fully understand and even feel comfortable living and communicating in the American culture.

As you can imagine, transitioning into a new culture might often require learning a new language. While you can learn a new language by using audio CDs or taking lessons from an instructor, one of the most effective ways to learn a new language is through immersion, or surrounding yourself entirely in a new culture.

A great way to acculturate is to move from your native country into the new country, and live with and learn directly from the natives. When you immerse yourself, you learn first-hand what that new culture is all about. Immersion doesn’t only include practicing the language directly with native speakers, but also includes coming to understand the customs, traditions, acceptable behaviors, and so on.

The immersion phase of acculturation can be very challenging and stressful. Why? As you can imagine, growing up and living your own culture is easy; you don’t know any different from what you have learned your entire life! However, being open and willing to set aside your own cultural background and beliefs, as well as learn a new language, can come with hesitation, confusion, and can often be time-consuming.

Sometimes the process of acculturation doesn’t necessarily include learning a new language but instead includes learning the meaning of certain words or adjusting to the local dialect. For example, if you were an American native moving to British Columbia, Canada, you could continue to speak English, but would also want to learn the different meanings of words that are associated with the Canadian culture.

In the United States, the term ‘bathroom’ is used as opposed to the term ‘washroom’, which is used in British Columbia. The language and word choices spoke by the native people are referred to as the vernacular. Even though Canadians speak English, some of the word choices they use have to be learned by a non-native as part of the acculturation process.

In Great Britain, the bathroom is referred to as the loo. In Australia, a friend or acquaintance is referred to as a mate. As you can see, not only does acculturation include learning a new language or immersing yourself into the culture, it also includes learning the meanings and associations of new words and phrases.

Assimilation involves the accumulation of information about a new culture and resulting in adaptations to match the new culture. Generating new knowledge about culture might include learning how food is prepared, understanding types of acceptable clothing worn in the new culture, or picking up new habits. A person who fully assimilates has picked up all the habits and traits of their non-native culture.

Assimilation v. Acculturation Examples

  • Second-language learning at school, but speaks the first language at home still.
  • Sushi becoming popular in the US.
  • Naturalization process for immigrants.
  • Immigrant parents choosing “American” names for children.
  • Forcing Native American’s in Boarding Schools and forbidden to speak the language.

Conclusion Of Assimilation And Acculturation

Enculturation helps mold a person into an acceptable member of society. Culture influences everything that a person does, whether they are aware of it or not. Enculturation is a lifelong process that helps unify people. Enculturation plays a significant role in disciplining and educating the young generation. For the enrichment of knowledge and technology enculturation is a very important process it helps to get information regarding universal culture and languages it plays a very important function in the growth of the community.


What Is An Example Of Acculturation?
The Definition Of Acculturation Is The Transfer Of Values And Customs From One Group To Another. Japanese People Dressing In Western Clothing Is An Example Of Acculturation.
What Is An Example Of An Assimilation?
The Definition Of Assimilation Is To Become Like Others Or Help Another Person To Adapt To A New Environment. An Example Of Assimilation Is The Change Of Dress And Behaviors An Immigrant May Go Through When Living In A New Country. Assimilation Is Defined As To Learn And Comprehend.
What Causes Acculturation?
Acculturation Happens When Groups Of Individuals From Different Cultures Come Into Continuous First Hand Contact With Subsequent Changes In The Original Cultural Patterns Of Either Or Both Groups. This Can Lead To Tensions Between The Individual And Their Immediate Family, Social Group, And Society.
What Is The Purpose Of Assimilation?
The Assimilation Policy Was A Policy Of Absorbing Aboriginal People Into White Society Through The Process Of Removing Children From Their Families. The Ultimate Intent Of This Policy Was The Destruction Of Aboriginal Society.
What Factors Affect Assimilation?
Factors That Contribute Or Aid To Assimilation Are: Tolerance, Intimacy, Cultural Homogeneity, Equal Economic Opportunity, Association.
Is Acculturation A Smooth Process?
Acculturation Can Take Place Any Time In One’s Life. Whenever It Occurs, It Requires Re-learning Of Norms, Values, Dispositions, And Patterns Of Behaviour. Changes In These Aspects Require Re-socialisation. In This Situation Transition To A New Life Is Relatively Smooth And Free From Problems.
How Does Acculturation Affect Health?
Acculturation Has Been Found To Increase The Risk Of Obesity And Associated Non-communicable Diseases Such As Diabetes And Hypertension Due To Weight Gain And Environmental And Psychological Stressors.
How Does Assimilation Affect Culture?
In This View Of Assimilation, Over Time, Immigrant Communities Shed The Culture That Is Embedded In The Language, Values, Rituals, Laws, And Perhaps Even Religion Of Their Homeland So That There Is No Discernible Cultural Difference Between Them And Other Members Of The Host Society.