The ability to clearly communicate on a daily basis is something most of us take for granted. Just imagine how difficult it must be to complete simple tasks, like grocery shopping or paying a phone bill, if one does not speak or understand a local language. But when it comes to acculturation, language plays an even more pivotal role. Sure, we want the luxury or ease of daily life that comes with knowing and speaking the local language, but in order to dive in and embed ourselves into a new culture, we need the confidence afforded us via general conversational ability.

Mario Rochin, a successful banker with one of the largest banking organizations in the United States of America, recently spoke with Dr. Justin Velten, President of Go Culture International, about the challenges of making new friends and fitting in when self-conscious about language ability. Mario moved to the U.S. from Central Mexico when just a little boy. Moving from one school to another as a young person has its harrowing challenges, to be sure. Youngsters are tough on one another during phases of childhood and being the new kid on the block only exacerbates those challenges. A lack of host culture language proficiency can merely compound these gross hardships.

It takes a special kind of kid to stand up to the daily internal and external challenges of entering a host culture where he or she does not adequately speak the local language. We have spoken about culture shock in the past, but in cases where we are unfamiliar with the local language, our level of culture shock can significantly increase. This is why studies continue to reveal the importance of well-played acculturation on the success of language acquisition. We simply need to feel comfortable in order to learn, and we need to speak the language to be comfortable in these situations. In the midst of this cycle, we can sometimes lose heart and want to give up. Sometimes we have that option, but sometimes we are just kids whose parents don’t have the option to return home.

The tangential factor related to acculturation that we want to discuss here is communication initiation. In its simplest form, communication initiation refers to one’s ability and likelihood of starting conversations with diverse others. In the cases we have been discussing, this might mean that upon arrival in a host culture, our level of interest and comfort in engaging host nationals in conversation reflects our communication initiation. Now, some of us are simply introverts and some extroverts, and these personality types can play a role in how well we engage. However, upon closer observation we see there are complementary factors affecting communication initiation.

First, let’s align our thought process on acculturation. Communication initiation, or our ability or desire to engage with diverse others, plays a pivotal role in how well we fit in and acculturate. What this means is that simply in order to become comfortable, part of a community, and thriving in everyday activities and responsibilities, we must reach beyond our immediate family and expat communities to engage the host culture. Research has continually affirmed the significant impact diversity engagement plays on successful expatriate assignments.

Herein lies the challenge: if we are not comfortable speaking at least a little host culture language, we are less likely to engage with diversity. It is not that we don’t care or that we don’t want to engage with host nationals, but we can become reclusive simply because we are afraid of messing up. This is a common concern and one worthy of consideration and definitely counseling in some cases. But what we need to remember is that people are generally gracious when we make attempts to communicate and make mistakes, and that the simple gesture of trying communicates much more than a perfectly crafted statement. So go ahead and start a conversation today with someone different from you. Even if you are not abroad in the midst of culture shock, you can still practice this skill by reaching out to a classmate, co-worker, or neighbor to whom you have never spoken. Take the challenge, notice the discomfort, but don’t give up. It gets easier over time.

 

In a COVID-19 era, our solution is remote and removes the need for face-to-face interaction.