Acculturation is a handy academic term to use when you don't want to say "assimilation" but want to indicate some degree of cross-cultural exchange or mimicry.
But descriptions of exchanges signified by "acculturation" vary widely.
For seminars related to this website, acculturation refers particularly to the "selective assimilation" a minority group may make with a dominant culture that does not allow or encourage full assimilation.
Assimilation is often seen as a fairly rapid sequence of total change, as in the three-generation assimilation pattern for immigrants known as Hansen's Law.
Acculturation operates more gradually over longer periods in which a minority ethnic group maintains elements of its traditional culture while selectively adopting or absorbing dominant-culture practices or elements that do not overwhelm their original culture.
Examples of acculturation in this sense:
Except in much earlier times, horses did not exist in North America until brought here by Spanish. However, by the time Anglo-Americans encountered tribes like the Sioux in northern North America, horses were completely absorbed into their Native American culture and religion, as though they had always been there. ("Traditional" cultures often acculturate rather than assimilate.)
The use of Snomobiles in place of dog sleds by the Inuit. (wiki.answers.com)
Example 1: A Native American individual may come to Phoenix and live with a relative and decide to go back to school. The individual may go home to the reservation on weekends for social gatherings or to help parents/grandparents with crops, livestock, and chores at home. The family utilizes the Indian Health Service when in the city but will go home for traditional healing ceremonies when needed. . . . This individual will probably be traditional to some extent but yet also acculturated in the sense that the individual is getting an education and living in the city.
Oxford English Dictionary: Adoption of or adaptation to a different culture, esp. that of a colonizing, conquering, or majority group; an instance of this.
Merriam-Webster.com: cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture; also: a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact
Rice University Hispanic Health: Acculturation is a process in which members of one cultural group adopt the beliefs and behaviors of another group. Although acculturation is usually in the direction of a minority group adopting habits and language patterns of the dominant group, acculturation can be reciprocal—that is, the dominant group also adopts patterns typical of the minority group. Assimilation of one cultural group into another may be evidenced by changes in language preference, adoption of common attitudes and values, membership in common social groups and institutions, and loss of separate political or ethnic identification.
from Yahoo Answers: What is the difference between assimilation and acculturation?
Thank you for this question which is of utmost interest for a social worker
(which I am...). Here is what I found for you:
Another source on acculturation as "selective assimilation":
. . . Our research is full of examples of a sort of “a-la-carte acculturation” in which Hispanics are quickly and eagerly adopting some aspects of mainstream American culture while holding on tightly to aspects of the Hispanic culture. Yankelovich MONITOR has found that 80% of Hispanics agree that “Immigrants to this country should be prepared to adapt to the American way of life” yet 87% also agree that they “Feel need to preserve my own cultural traditions.” . . .
. . . understanding how Hispanic consumers interact with their brands is the first step in capitalizing on this growth opportunity.
A few illustrations of this dynamic in everyday life:
We also see examples of “neo-acculturation,” in which Hispanics experiment with some aspects of American culture, trying them on for size, so to speak, but then returning to their roots. Marriage and parenthood is often a trigger, when Hispanic-Americans re-assert the importance of carrying on their language, values, cultures and traditions to the next generation. . . .