For bicultural individuals, visual cues of a setting’s cultural expectations can activate associated representations, switching the frames that guide their judgments. Research suggests that cultural cues may affect judgments through automatic priming, but has yet to investigate consequences for linguistic performance. The present studies investigate the proposal that heritage-culture cues hinder immigrants’ second-language processing by priming first-language structures. For Chinese immigrants in the United States, speaking to a Chinese (vs. Caucasian) face reduced their English fluency, but at the same time increased their social comfort, effects that did not occur for a comparison group of European Americans (study 1). Similarly, exposure to iconic symbols of Chinese (vs. American) culture hindered Chinese immigrants’ English fluency, when speaking about both culture-laden and culture-neutral topics (study 2). Finally, in both recognition (study 3) and naming tasks (study 4), Chinese icon priming increased accessibility of anomalous literal translations, indicating the intrusion of Chinese lexical structures into English processing. We discuss conceptual implications for the automaticity and adaptiveness of cultural priming and practical implications for immigrant acculturation and second-language learning.