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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Language shock

Language shock is one of the basic ingredients of culture shock. Because language is the most important communication medium in any human society, it is the area where the largest number of the cues to interpersonal relationships lie.

As the newcomer comes into a whole new world where he knows no language at all, he is stripped of his primary means of interacting with other people, he is subject to constant mistakes, he is placed on the level of a child again. Even after weeks of study he is unable to discuss much more than the price of a pound of potatoes.

He is unable to display his education and intelligence, the symbols which gave him status and security back home. He meets intelligent and educated people but he responds to them like a child or an idiot because he is not capable of any better response.

The language learner has the uneasy feeling that people are laughing behind his back — and they are. His study is tiring, boring, frustrating. Nothing seems to go logically or smoothly, because logic is identified with familiar ways of talking and thinking. It is based on his language and academic tradition.

Many an overseas American who started out to learn a language has ended by rejecting it. The pattern of rejection sometimes means less and less study; the development of more and more English contacts. Sometimes it means illness, genuine physical illness.

Myron Loss, Culture Shock

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