Acculturation Vs. Assimilation: Similarities And Differences

assimilation vs acculturation definitions

Acculturation and assimilations are terms in sociology that are often used interchangeably, yet, in practice, have distinct meanings and implications for individuals and societies alike. 

  • Acculturation refers to the adaptation process that occurs when two or more cultures come into contact. It most commonly happens when migrants move to a new culture, and involves adopting new beliefs, behaviors, and forms of culture of the dominant group in the new culture.
  • Assimilation is a more extreme form of cultural change and involves the complete adoption of the dominant culture as well as the rejection of the previous culture.

Acculturation is voluntary and can be reversible, whereas assimilation is more permanent and irreversible. It involves adopting a complete set of values, beliefs, behaviors, and customs from the dominant culture.

Acculturation vs Assimilation

SimilaritiesDifferences
Both involve changing cultural identity, beliefs, values, and behaviors to fit into a new culture.Acculturation allows individuals to keep their cultural identity, while assimilation requires giving up a previous identity.
Both involve learning new language, adopting new customs, changing religious beliefs, etc.Acculturation is more conscious, while assimilation is often unconscious.
Both are evolutionary processes constantly in flux.Acculturation is a mutual exchange, while assimilation is unidirectional.
Both can be studied individually and in a group setting.Acculturation is reversible while assimilation tends to be permanent.
Both require direct contact with the new culture.

See also: Enculturation vs Acculturation

1. Similarities

Acculturation and assimilation share similar characteristics in that they both involve an individual or group changing their cultural identity, beliefs, values, and behaviors to fit into the culture of their new environment. 

Both processes involve learning a new language, adopting new customs and habits, changing religious beliefs, participating in recreational activities and cultural events, and adjusting to gender roles (Gans, 2007). 

Acculturation and assimilation are both evolutionary processes, constantly in flux. Both lead to changes in how individuals identify themselves and interact with others. Besides, both can be studied individually and in a group setting (Gurieva & Kinunen, 2019).

Both acculturation and assimilation have one thing in common: direct contact. The individuals involved in the process must directly interact and be exposed to the new culture to learn and adapt. 

2. Differences

Acculturation involves adopting some aspects of the new culture, while assimilation is a complete adoption of the new culture and rejection of one’s previous identity.

Acculturation allows individuals to keep their cultural identity. At the same time, assimilation requires them to give up their previous identity and completely adopt the culture of the new environment (Sam & Berry, 2010). 

Another difference is that acculturation tends to be more of a conscious process, while assimilation is often unconscious. Individuals may choose to change certain aspects of their identity, while assimilation occurs more naturally and unconsciously. 

Ultimately, acculturation is thought of as a mutual exchange between an individual migrating to a new culture and the old one. The immigrant can take on features from the environment they reside in a while also making their presence felt within it. 

Assimilation, however, is typically more unidirectional; this process involves only individuals conforming to fit into their adopted society.

Acculturation (Definition and Examples)

Through acculturation, distinct cultures come together to create a bridge of understanding and exchange. This process results in the alteration of cultural beliefs, values, and practices for both or all groups engaged.

Acculturation is an ongoing process whereby a weaker culture adopts elements from a more dominant one. It typically occurs in situations of migration, colonization, and intermarriage between different cultures (Eller, 2020).

According to Battle (2011), acculturation is a “process by which newcomers assume the cultural attributes of the receiving country, including its language, cultural norms, behaviors, and values” (p. 8).

In this way, acculturation enables two cultures to come into contact and exchange cultural information without either culture having to sacrifice its own identity.

In simple terms, acculturation is the exchange of culture between two different groups, which results in a change in their cultural practices and beliefs.

Acculturation Examples

  • Learning a new language: Immigrants may learn the language spoken in their new country to better integrate and understand those around them. If a person from Japan moves to the United States, they may learn English to communicate better.
  • Adopting new clothing styles: Upon relocating to a new country, one may opt for wardrobe changes that better reflect the local style. For instance, if an immigrant from a warmer climate moves to Norway, it would be wise—and necessary—to invest in attire suited to colder temperatures and weather conditions.
  • Eating new cuisine: Individuals may choose to try out new cuisines and dishes that they have not eaten before. When someone from Mexico moves to India, they may try the local foods, such as curry.
  • Listening to new types of music: Exposure to different cultures can lead people to listen to new kinds of music. Someone from the United States may discover a passion for K-pop when they visit South Korea and start listening to K-pop songs.
  • Celebrating holidays: People may start to celebrate holidays and traditions from their new home country in addition to those from their old home country. A person from India may start celebrating Christmas if they move to the United States, in addition to Diwali, the Hindu festival of light.
  • Engaging in different recreational activities: A person may change the type of recreation they engage in when they move to a new country. When an individual from the United Kingdom moves to Germany, they may take up skiing which is popular in the German Alps.
  • Changing religious beliefs: People may change their religion or how they practice it when they move to a new country. An individual from a Muslim country may no longer observe certain religious practices if they move to the United States.
  • Adopting different beliefs about gender roles: Exposure to different cultures may lead an individual to change their beliefs about the role of men and women. If a person from Saudi Arabia moves to the United States, they may learn about more progressive beliefs regarding gender roles and choose to adopt them.
  • Adapting to new parenting styles: Immigrants may choose to raise their children differently than how they were raised, incorporating elements of the culture in which they reside. A person from China may choose to raise their children in the United States by emphasizing a more individualistic approach instead of a collective one.
  • Establishing new social networks: Individuals may establish relationships with people from different backgrounds when they move to a new country, thus establishing new social networks. When a person from India moves to the United States, they may form relationships with people from vastly different cultural backgrounds.

Assimilation (Definition and Examples)

Assimilation is a process through which individuals of different cultures and backgrounds come to identify with and embrace the culture of their new environment.

Park (2019) states that assimilation is “a process through which individuals and groups of differing heritages acquire the basic habits, attitudes, and mode of life of a culture” (p. 31). 

According to Kyeyune (2012), “assimilation neutralizes the weak culture by will or by force” (p. 29).

Through assimilation, people may learn new languages and customs, modify their beliefs and values, adopt new fashion styles, and form relationships with host culture members.

As a result, assimilation can lead to changes in the individuals’ identity, behavior, and lifestyle.

So, in simple terms, assimilation is a process of osmosis by which individuals of different cultures and backgrounds come to adopt the culture of their new environment.

Assimilation Examples

  • Learning a new language: Individuals who move from Mexico to the United States learn English to communicate and get along in their new home.
  • Participating in local customs: Someone from the United States who moves to France may start participating in the local custom of taking a siesta or afternoon nap.
  • Changing the way they dress: Immigrants may choose to dress in clothing styles that are more common in their new home country. People who move from India to Japan may start dressing in the traditional kimono instead of traditional Indian clothes.
  • Listening to different types of music: If an individual from Russia moves to the United States, they may completely changed their listening to different genres of music, such as hip hop or country instead of pop.
  • Celebrating different holidays: A person from India starts celebrating Christmas if they move to the United States instead of celebrating the Hindu festival of Diwali.
  • Engaging in different recreational activities: A person may change the type of recreation they engage in when they move. So, someone from Germany who moves to Hawaii may start surfing.
  • Changing religious beliefs: People may change their religion or how they practice it when they move to a new country. An individual from a Muslim country may no longer observe certain religious practices if they move to the United States.
  • Adopting different beliefs about gender roles: Exposure to different cultures may lead an individual to change their beliefs about the role of men and women. If a person from Saudi Arabia moves to the United States, they may learn about more progressive beliefs regarding gender roles and adopt them.
  • Substitution of traditional foods: Foods from one’s home country may no longer be available in the new environment. So, a person who moves from Mexico to the United States may start eating hamburgers instead of tacos. 
  • Change in time perception: Individuals may completely change their perception of time when they move to another culture. So, if a person from China moves to the United States, they may learn to be punctual and value time more than before. 

Conclusion

Acculturation and assimilation are both processes of cultural change when an individual or group leaves their home country and moves to a new environment. 

Studying a foreign language, becoming accustomed to different customs and traditions, embracing a new faith, and comprehending opposite gender roles are all components of adapting to an unfamiliar culture.

The main difference between acculturation and assimilation is the degree of change. Acculturation involves adopting some aspects of the new culture, while assimilation is a complete adoption of the new culture and rejection of one’s previous identity. 

Acculturation and assimilation are both important cultural change processes that contribute to a new environment’s diversity.

Therefore, understanding and respecting both processes is important to foster a successful multicultural environment. 

References

Battle, D. E. (2011). Communication disorders in multicultural populations. Andover Medical Publishers.

Eller, J. D. (2020). Cultural anthropology: Global forces, local lives. Routledge.

Gans, H. J. (2007). Acculturation, assimilation and mobility. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30(1), 152–164. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870601006637

Gurieva, S., & Kinunen, T. (2019). Adaptation or acculturation: That is the question. Proceedings of the 1st International Scientific Practical Conference “the Individual and Society in the Modern Geopolitical Environment” (ISMGE 2019). https://doi.org/10.2991/ismge-19.2019.52

Park, J. B. (2019). Identity, policy, and prosperity. Palgrave Macmillan.

Pastor Stephen Kyeyune. (2012). Shaping the society Christianity and culture. Author House.

Sam, D. L., & Berry, J. W. (2010). Acculturation: When individuals and groups of different cultural backgrounds meet. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(4), 472–481. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691610373075

Viktoriya Sus

Viktoriya Sus (MA)

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Viktoriya Sus is an academic writer specializing mainly in economics and business from Ukraine. She holds a Master’s degree in International Business from Lviv National University and has more than 6 years of experience writing for different clients. Viktoriya is passionate about researching the latest trends in economics and business. However, she also loves to explore different topics such as psychology, philosophy, and more.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

1 thought on “Acculturation Vs. Assimilation: Similarities And Differences”

  1. I love reading and obtaining great ideas to include in my teaching groups to stablish a better environment and help my students become aware of all other needs when learning English a s a second language. I consider these two words: acculturation adn assimilatiuon very important, teachers and sytudents involve more confident and faithful approaching the new language. Thank you! Blessings!
    Araceli Flores De Alba

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