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Can home-culture images impair second-language skills?
Date:6/26/2013

NEW YORK-- A newly transferred associate from the Shanghai office nails his presentation to Mr. Smith from Chicago but stumbles in his pitch to Mr. Chen from San Francisco. A visiting professor from Taiwan lectures fluently about a slide of a Grecian urn, but falters and struggles to recall the word "translucent" when discussing a Ming vase. What is it about seeing a Chinese face or even a Chinese vase that can disrupt a Chinese immigrant's fluency in English?

Research on how cultural knowledge operates in the mind increasingly focuses on the dynamics through which our cultural frames are evoked by particular situations. One dynamic is "frame-switching" the shifts in judgment that bicultural individuals make as they move between settings governed by different cultural norms. A new immigrant may speak Chinese at home, for example, but will speak English and adopt Western mannerisms when in school.

As new research from Columbia Business School Professor Michael Morris and Postdoctoral Research Scholar Shu Zhang shows, the automaticity of frame-switching means that it sometimes interferes with rather than helps our performance. Specifically, it can disrupt performance in a second language.

A team of researchers under Morris's lead ran a series of experiments in the Columbia Business School Behavioral Research Laboratory to explore this disruption in more detail. In the first experiment, which simulated a conference call, they found that Chinese immigrants speak English less fluently when speaking to a Chinese versus a Caucasian face. The second found the same effect from exposure to images of Chinese culture such as a Buddha statue or the Great Wall, versus of American culture, such as the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore.

To test that primes cause Chinese-language concepts to interfere with English-language processing, several experiments used naming tasks. Chinese immigrants exposed to visual icons of Chinese culture
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Contact: Evan Nowell
egn2109@columbia.edu
212-854-2747
Columbia Business School
Source:Eurekalert

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