The Sociocultural Factors in Second Language Acquisition


There exists a variety of theories in linguistic field which explain ways in which people learn a second language. One of the theories that have a universal view is sociocultural theory. Language according to Ozfidan, Machtmes and Demir (2014) comes from social and cultural activities and later it is reconstructed as a psychological phenomenon of an individual. Culture is defined as arts, skills customs, ideas and tools which characterize a given number of people in a given time. There is no given society that can exist without culture in fulfilling certain psychological and biological needs in human beings.

Zhang (2006) explains that in the 1960s and 1970s, SLA (Second Language Acquisition) theorists and  EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and ESL (English as  a  Second  Language) practitioners views foreign or second language learning from formal qualities of language perspective. Consequently pronunciation and grammar of target language claimed more attention and time learning and teaching process. In the process of learning a foreign or second language, learners unsurprisingly encounter external and internal obstacles. As Herschensohn and Young-Scholten (2013) explain, internal factors involve personal attitude, self-esteem or personality while external factors are cultural and social conditions associated with the entire environment where the study language takes place. This work will study the external factors which are social and cultural conditions that impact the achievement of the learner in their foreign or second language study.

Relationship between Culture and Language

According to Zhang (2006), language is one innate faculty of human race and it fails to be an artifact. Therefore, language cannot be isolated from sociocultural as factors of culture are reflected in professional and daily communication. One example is a society where Christianity is prevalent which may use expressions search “My Lord” or “Oh my God”. Culture is an attribute of an organization, small group, individual, or a nation, and one person can belong to a variety of cultures, one which is of significance at a given time. Therefore culture comprises of macro-culture like national one or micro-culture like observed in a person’s culture. Culture is also not monolithic as it consists of different content layers making it to be analyzed from different perspectives like ethnicity, religion, gender and age (Herschensohn & Young-Scholten, 2013).

An individual needs to understand culture and maintain cultural identity and the best way to achieve these goals is language. This is because an individual’s ideology or thought is a significant component of culture and language in the medium of conveying thoughts. This concludes that language cannot be secluded from culture. Grounded on the relationship between language and culture, it makes it easier to understand why an individual who is conversant with thousand words of another language finds it hard to communicate with the people of that language.

As Zhang (2006) explains, language and culture are interwoven as culture is part of language and language is part of culture. Therefore language reflects culture and it is shaped and influenced by it. When an individual is learning a language, they are learning new culture too which is the same reason why language between people of different cultures is referred as cross-cultural communication. When learning a foreign language, an individual acquires a new culture and the target culture might have similarity with their personal culture.

Cultural Confrontation

Although there may exist a universal culture, there still exist cross-cultural variations. Due to the culture differences, one cannot learn a foreign or second language without studying the culture of the individuals it represents, their behaviors, traditions and customs, all which are reflected in language. According to Herschensohn Young-Scholten (2013), target culture and source culture are similar; it is easier for the learner to acquire the foreign or second language as they may feel at ease with the target culture. During the process of second language acquisition cultural confrontation may arise.

Both written and oral languages are used in communication. In EFL or ESL classes, the learners should activate their motivation of speaking in order to improve their communication skills. For example, even though EFL Chinese students knows the axiom that practice makes perfect, they may fail to contribute actively during class discussions due to traditional Confucianism impact. If a number of students are consistently always active, it may be termed as show off. Also majority of foreign EFL teachers teaching in East Asian countries, have a habit of conducting their class in an informal way, with hope of creating a less tense atmosphere to lower the anxiety level of students. However, this turns it contrary to their expectation as the learners in these countries are accustomed to the transmission-patterned lectures (Zhang, 2006).

Culture Familiarization

Zhang (2006) highlights that during the learning of a foreign or second language; students may experience some side-effects due to the difference amid target culture and the source one.  During the process of acquiring a second language, an individual should not abdicate their native culture while adopting the new culture. First language should always be the starting point to learn a second language. The first language provides the elementary linguistic knowledge that learners use in analyzing the second language. Temporarily culture embeds language and rationally the first language gives the learners the knowledge which will assist them in developing cross-culturally consciousness. Additionally, when first language is propagandized or undervalued as inferior by the target one, it may undermine the self-esteem of the learners from achieving their academic success which will assist them in attaining high proficiency goal in the target language.

Furthermore due to the fact that a person cannot separate language from culture in grasping a foreign or second language learner undergoes both socializing process and training in language. This is one aspect that language teachers should assume this responsibility or undertake the task. Therefore language is a way of conveying culture and language teachers are teachers of culture. Teachers should first assist the learners in removing cultural blinders. Due to the fact that every individual is brought in a specific community and they are often affiliated with other community members as they shares similar norms or values, and their view to other culture is that of inferiority (Zhang, 2006).

Herschensohn and Young-Scholten (2013) explain that when a teacher removes cultural blinder, the misconceptions of the students are corrected about a certain culture and assists them in cultivating cultural pluralism ideology. They also eradicate a particular culture stereotype. For example, in the China EFL arena, the popular American people conception is that they are aggressive, punctual, and industrious. This image may fit a group of Americans but is not culminated as a national trait. The third aspect is cultural information amount which requires to be represented to learners depending on their various goals to learn the target language. The final aspect is that in classes, multiculturalism should be promoted especially in the EFL and ESL classes due to the fact that it fits the postmodern world concept of equality.

Due to the fact that English is becoming an international language, there is no nation or country that has its authoritative custody. Thus, learning English does not entail the acquisition of Canadian, American and British culture. But, learners are only required to familiarize with the language-related culture in fostering cross-cultural awareness (Herschensohn & Young-Scholten, 2013). Language learning is not solely about studying the grammar and lexicon of a specific language. Other factors are encompassed by other factors like language knowledge is transferred and how interaction and communication affects language learning process.

Peer Interaction

Brown (2008) explains that in second language learning, peer interaction is important due to peer support during oral activities. During collaboration with peers, students are able to produce language that they could not produce without peer collaboration. It is important for a speaker and a listener to collaborate in producing a productive learning environment.


This is another factor that influences the learning of second language. Self-efficacy specifies the judgment of an individual in their skill of achieving specific action. For an individual to develop self-efficacy, the past achievements of students play an important role. However, self-efficacy is considered by observing experiences like observing peers. Efficacy is also considered from evaluation, persuasion and reinforcement particularly teachers and parents (Brown, 2008). One example of self-efficacy, is when a teacher encourages second language learners, “you are doing fine” or “you can do it” encouraging them to be more efficient. Teachers can therefore encourage their student in improving their sense of self-efficacy by providing them with achievable and meaningful language skills.

Private Speech

This is one factor among learners and it plays an important role in language learning.  According to Brown (2008), private speech gives learners a chance to self-regulate themselves before they are corrected by their teachers. This is a way that helps them to have more self-confidence.  It forms an indispensable part in their early stages of language learning. Private speech is mostly undertaken when the teacher has taught and the student repeats what he or she learnt while alone.


Even if the knowledge of phonology, syntax and morphology of the target language cannot be overlooked in the learning process, in acquiring a second language, the learning individual should understand the target culture. This is because of its inseparability between culture and culture. Culture is remarkably a complex matrix as it comprises many ingredients like social customs, gender, religion and others. During the learning process, the student will inevitably encounter confrontations between their native culture and one connected to the target language. In solving this problem, multiculturalism is nurtured and cultivated in the mind of the learner that implies that student should be provided with a foreign or second language, and establishing appropriate attitude towards them. Even though there are many influencing second language acquisition but sociocultural factors acts more significantly.


Brown,. (2008). Department of European Languages and Literature. Chapter 7: Sociocultural Factors, 4.

Herschensohn, J. & Young-Scholten, M. (2013). The Cambridge handbook of second language acquisition (1st ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ozfidan, B., Machtmes, K., & Demir, H. (2014). Socio- cultural F actors in Second Language Learning: A Case Study of Adventurous Adult Language Learners. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, 3(4), 185-191. Retrieved from

Zhang, J. (2006). Sociocultural Factors in Second Language Acquisition. Sino-US English Teaching,, 3(5). Retrieved from

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