Unbeknown to them, and as unsuccessful as their L2 efforts were, Schumann’s Alberto and Schmidt’s Wes are the most famous L2 learners in SLA. What insights do they provide into the role of social integration and identity in L2 acquisition?
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The personalities of Alberto and Wes have been key figures in analysing the effects of social factors on the acquisition of a second language. John Schumann’s study of Alberto, a Costa Rican immigrant living in the United States, led him to recognise the ‘Acculturation Model’ as a theory relating to language acquisition. Acculturation is generally defined as ‘the process of becoming adapted to a new culture’. The study of Alberto led Schumann to declare that the social and psychological distances which exist between the learner and the target community are the decisive factors in the process of acquiring a language. He turned to a range of measures drawn from social psychology and concluded that Alberto’s linguistic failures were attributable to his lack of social integration within American society and his lack of interest in using the target language. This method received only limited support and the inherent weaknesses in Schumann’s argument became apparent in Richard Schmidt’s study of Wes; a Japanese trans-migrant living in the United States. Wes was both socially and psychologically immersed into the English speaking community in Hawaii, however although he was a proficient oral communicator after the three year study, Wes had made very little progression grammatically or in his ability to read and write. This contradiction of Schumann’s theory essentially disproves the ‘Acculturation Method’. The case studies of both Alberto and Wes shall be discussed further and the role of identity and social integration in the acquisition of a second language will be analysed.
Alberto was one of the six learners studied by Schumann which led to his recognition of the Acculturation Model in Second Language Acquisition. He was a thirty three year old migrant worker from Costa Rica living in the United States. Alberto left Costa Rica for financial reasons and had no real desire to live in the United States. He lived, worked and socialised with other workers from the Latin American community and made no real attempt to integrate himself into the target community. During the study, Alberto’s English language competence progressed very little, less so than the other five learners in Schumann’s study. Alberto’s learning was extremely slow and fossilised at a very low level, having almost no grasp of grammatical frameworks. Wes on the other hand was a thirty three year old Japanese artist who originally visited Honolulu in Hawaii as a tourist before deciding to permanently move there as a trans-migrant. Wes was studied by Robert Schmidt in 1984. He had a privileged upbringing in Japan, which was similar both economically and culturally to the upbringing he could have experienced in America. Wes had a wide circle of monolingual English friends and lived with an American roommate in Hawaii. He was extremely outgoing and extroverted. Although grammatically Wes’ proficiency in English was not particularly impressive after the three year study, Wes was an excellent communicator and could converse easily with English speakers. These case studies serve to highlight the differences which existed in Albert and Wes’ integration to American society. Whilst Alberto rejected any possibility of assimilation into American society, Wes relished his near-total immersion into the Anglophone community. He spent very little time with the sizable Japanese populace in Honolulu and, even when in the company of Japanese friends, he made an assiduous effort to speak English.
Social Integration and Identity
Alberto and Wes provide very valuable insights into the role of social integration and identity in second language acquisition....
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