English Language Learners

How to provide a successful learning environment

Who is this child sitting in my classroom?

Culture Shock

Most newcomers will experience some form of culture shock. This is an uneasy feeling that they experience when moving from their familiar culture to one that is different. Often their parents are experiencing similar feelings and are not able provide much support to their children. Culture shock is different for each child; some may become withdrawn and passive while other children may become more aggressive.

There are 4 stages of culture shock:

1. The Honeymoon Stage

During this time, students will be excited about their new lives. They will be happy and interested about the new world they are experiencing.

2. Rejection Stage

The child will discover the many differences between their new culture and the one they left behind. They may seem sleepy, irritable, uninterested, or depressed and may refuse to try to speak their new language.

3. Regression

English Language Learners are immersed in sounds, unreadable social signals, and unfamiliar surroundings. As a result, they will want to spend most of their time socializing with friends who speak the same language or they will watch movies and listen to music from their home country. This is a time of homesickness.

4. Adjustment and Integration

At this time they find a way to integrate their own beliefs into their new culture and find ways to coexist with both cultures. Enthusiasm begins to return and they feel more confident in their newly acquired language skills.

5. Acceptance

This is where the culture shock ends and they accept both cultures. Children find a way to combine both cultures into their lives and are now able to prosper in the mainstream culture.


There is no way of knowing how long each stage will last, but it is normal to experience the range of emotions mentioned above. Helping students manage culture shock can be crucial to maintaining individual and classroom morale. The key to overcoming culture shock is to give students the tools to adapt to their new life and to help them retain their appreciation of their native culture and family traditions.

How to help your English Language Learners:

* Teach students about culture shock. Knowing what to expect can give students a sense of

recognition and control.


· Encourage students to continue learning their native language. Make a dual language book library in the classroom and encourage students to borrow materials to share at home. Because knowledge transfers from one language to another, the more students read in any language, the faster they will connect to new content and skills. Also, as young students often excel at language learning, reading together with parents can help ease the detachment some immigrant children feel at home because their parents may lag behind in acquiring English. This disconnect can add to a student’s level of stress. Making an excuse to cuddle up with a book can re-energize sagging spirits.


· Establish and carefully explain classroom routines to newcomers. By doing this, you create a classroom culture that students can settle into quickly, thus reinforcing their sense of safety.


· Plan for projects where students can teach you and their classmates about their culture. This will foster a feeling of mutual respect in the classroom. Each member will feel she has something valuable to contribute to your promotion of global understanding.

· Help students connect to activities that might interest them outside of school. Art classes, sports teams, and hobby programs can help students feel part of a new community network.


· Encourage students to find or form support groups with other students who may be at the same point in the culture shock stages.


· Allow time for reflection. Teach students vocabulary for feelings. Using pictures of children showing different emotions can be helpful in teaching expression. If students are old enough, let them journal. You might encourage them to compare and contrast their old life and their new life. Also, have students explore how to handle frustrating situations and to examine moments of success.


· Teach and model conflict resolution skills. Have students role play scenarios, so when difficult real-life situations occur, they will have the tools to react in a healthy way.


· Periodically remind students how to get help at your school if feelings of homesickness become overwhelming. School counselors and ESL teachers are good resource and can provide more ideas for intervention.