Schumann's Acculturation Model

Variability Summary C

Some learners make rapid progress in learning a second language, while others with the same initial ability and language instruction make little progress in the same amount of time. Schumann hypothesized that this difference could be accounted for by characteristics of the social and psychological distance learners placed between themselves and the language they were learning. Schumann identified eight characteristics of social distance and four characteristics of psychological distance.

Characteristics of Social Distance:


Explanations of Characteristics

Social Dominance Patterns

The native language learners' reference group can be superior, inferior, or equal in terms of politics, culture, technology, or economics. If they view their group as superior, they may not learn the second language.

Integration Strategies

Assimilative learners give up native language values and lifestyles. Preservative learners keep native language values and lifestyles. Adaptive learners become bicultural and switch depending on the group.


When groups share social facilities, enclosure is low. This supports language learning.

Intended Length of Residency

Length of time a learner plans to stay in the country and the permanency of residency in the country impact motivation to learn a new language.


Strong intragroup contact in the native language community with few contacts outside the community impacts second language learning.


The size of the native language community may impact L2 learning.

Cultural Congruence

The similarity and harmony between the cultures impact second language learning.


The feelings of the reference groups toward each other impact learning.

Characteristics of Psychological Distance:


Explanations of Characteristics

Language Shock

Feeling silly about trying to learn the language equates to less likely to learn.

Culture Shock

Being anxious or disoriented in the culture equates to less likely to learn.


Level of motivation affects learning.


The extent to which second language learners view their first language as fixed and rigid will impact their learning of the second language.

Adapted with permission from:                                                                                             

Teemant, A. & Pinnegar, S. (2007). Understanding Langauge Acquisition Instructional Guide. Brigham Young University-Public School Partnership. 

Suggested Citation

& (2019). Schumann's Acculturation Model: Variability Summary C. In (Ed.), Principles of Language Acquisition. BYU Open Textbook Network. https://open.byu.edu/language_acquisition/variability_summary_c

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