Transparent Language Blog

Language Learning Culture Shock Posted by on Aug 7, 2017 in Archived Posts

Can you get culture shock when learning new languages?

Itchy Feet: Startling Return

Since moving to Germany six years ago, I’ve been back to the USA a number of times. Sometimes I’m visiting family, sometimes I’m going to a friend’s wedding, sometimes I just want to return to my home town and eat at my favorite local restaurant, the Frontier. Such good sweet rolls…

But every time I re-enter the good old US of A I find myself a little bit culture shocked. Wow, people really are big in this country. Wow, the portions really are…big. Wow, the streets and cars and supermarkets really are…….big in this country. Or the beer tastes so bland, or the accent’s so drawling, or the fashion’s so…unusual. I often feel like culture shock is more pronounced when coming home than it is going somewhere else. It’s re-entry shock.

And I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely found the same applies to foreign languages.

If I get into a good stride with a foreign language – meaning, if I’m speaking, reading and hearing it for an extended period of time, getting my immersion on – and I suddenly return to speaking English, I often find myself literally shocked by how awkward it is. The sentences are formed the wrong way, there aren’t words for things that are in the other language – it feels weird, like I’m wearing someone else’s clothes. Of course, the effect eventually wears off, but it’s still a certain type of culture shock.

My wife and I at home speak a mix of English, Italian and German, and we’ve gotten into the habit of relying on our purée of vocabulary to communicate with each other. When we have to resort to just one of the languages, when there’s a guest who only speaks that one, for example, we often find ourselves shocked by how little of the full language we actually communicate in with each other. We’ve created our own monstrous language to work with, and having to use just one is so weird it’s almost uncomfortable.

What about you? Do you have “language shock” when returning to your native tongue after some time away?

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About the Author: Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.


  1. guenter herrmann:

    Just feel like commenting ” launguages/culturshock.
    Left Germany 1960/ South-Africa, Northern Rhodesia and Kenya. I live with my Scot’s wife (51 years) in Scotland, would not want to be anywhere else and what I really want to say, is after all these years I need my schwabian dialect to express myself ( when I talk to myself) I started learning Italian when I ritired 7 years ago. thinking it would be more fun then cross word puzzles. I have become passionate about it. Thank god for skype and internet. All the best, Gunter

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