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Review of Language Learners in Study Abroad Contexts
Editors: Margaret A. DuFon, Eton Churchill Title: Language Learners in Study Abroad Contexts Series: Second Language Acquisition Publisher: Multilingual Matters Year: 2006
Lisa DeWaard Dykstra, unaffiliated scholar
Study abroad has long been accepted as inherently good for foreign and second language students in that it is thought to provide rich linguistic and cultural input. In this edited volume, study abroad is examined critically to determine whether it provides the benefits it is thought to offer. The book begins with a thorough overview of previous literature on study abroad. The remainder is devoted to individual research articles on four main topics: the acquisition of pragmatic competence, dinner table interactions and socialization, the effects of study abroad settings on language learning, and the influence of individual and program variables on second language acquisition. The contributions span a variety of research orientations and designs. Below I describe each briefly before turning to a critical commentary on the volume.
1. Evolving threads in study abroad research. Eton Churchill and Margaret A. DuFon
This chapter serves as an introduction to the volume, but is more than an overview of the contributions that follow. The authors provide a detailed review of the literature on study abroad to examine critically the assumption that study abroad = second language acquisition. The review begins by looking at literature that investigates the acquisition of linguistic abilities, including literacy, listening, speaking (which is broken down into proficiency, fluency, and pronunciation) and grammar. Next the authors turn to literature in pragmatics, specifically the acquisition of pragmatic routines, register, terms of address, and speech acts. Individual learner differences are next, including motivation, willingness to communicate, anxiety, and learning strategies. Finally, the areas of learner involvement in the host context, the role of the host culture in interaction, and program variables are examined. Throughout the review, previous research is synthesized and areas ripe for research are identified. As these areas are identified, the editors demonstrate how the articles that follow are helping to fill those gaps in the literature.
In reviewing the literature on study abroad, the authors conclude that the research orientations to the investigation of acquisition in study abroad have widened, although the focus remains primarily on the theory that study abroad automatically leads to acquisition. They conclude that many of the popular beliefs about study abroad are borne out by previous research, although it is necessary to qualify them. General findings include that study abroad leads to gains, even if the program is short. Longer programs have greater potential to affect pragmatics, pronunciation, and fluency. Overall, however, ''learner development only approaches native-like norms'' (p. 26). The research points to the complexity of development, as it entails the interweaving of initial abilities, individual differences, and host context characteristics.
Part I: The acquisition of pragmatic competence during study abroad
2. Learning to take leave in social conversations: A diary study. Tim Hassall
Hassall, a native speaker of Australian English, investigates his own learning of pragmatics routines in Indonesian with a rigorous diary study over the course of three months abroad. Beginning with a review of research into the diary study method, Hassall outlines a plan for the examination of his own pragmatics learning. During the course of the first few weeks in Indonesia, he noticed that his diary entries regularly turned to the question of three pragmatics issues: leave-takings, greetings, and terms of address. Having realized this, he narrowed his focus to those three topics and charted his experiences with them. The chapter is an analysis of his progress on the routine of leave-taking in Indonesian.
Careful analysis of his diary entries revealed the development of leave-taking behavior along two lines: fluctuation in the use of two leave-taking strategies prevalent in Indonesian, permisi and what he calls the dulu statement, and the question of the necessity of pre-closings as a leave-taking strategy. Analysis did indicate a move toward more native-like usage.
3. Learning to say 'you' in German: The acquisition of sociolinguistic competence in a study abroad context. Anne Barron
Barron investigates the acquisition of terms of address by 33 Irish learners of German on study abroad for 10 months. She begins with an overview of sociolinguistic competence as well as the function of the two pronouns, du and Sie, as they are used in the current sociopolitical context.
Learners completed a free-response discourse completion test three times over the year abroad (see Barron 2003 for details). These data were complemented by retrospective interviews. Results indicate that there was an increase in learner ability to use the address terms reciprocally, and that there was a decrease in a mixing of the two pronouns in conversation. Barron concludes that, although learners became more target-like over time, their use of the terms of address remained distinctly ''learner-like'' (p. 85).
Part II: Interaction and socialization at the host dinner table
4. The socialization of taste during study abroad in Indonesia. Margaret A. DuFon
In this article, DuFon examines a different kind of language and culture acquisition: how learners are socialized into how other cultures approach food and taste. Working within the language socialization framework established by Ochs & Schieffelin (1984) and Schieffelin & Ochs (1986a, 1986b) in which the novice interacts with ''competent members of the culture'' (this volume, p. 93), DuFon demonstrates the socialization of 5 study abroad learners in Indonesia. Using recorded dinner conversations, dialog journals, and data from a weekly discussion group, 6 themes in learner socialization emerged: orientation to food, food as pleasure, food as ethnic identity marker, food as gifts, food as material good, and food and health. The value placed on each theme varies from culture to culture (e.g., Americans view food as important to one's health, Indonesians as a thing of pleasure). Hosts were only somewhat successful in socializing their resident learners; DuFon recommends pre-departure preparation for study abroad students that includes information about how cultures view taste.
5. Joint construction of folk beliefs by JFL learners and Japanese host families. Haruko Minegishi Cook
In this article, Cook examines how folk beliefs are constructed between Japanese as a foreign language (JFL) students and their host families during dinner conversation. Cook approaches this task using a ''language as a semiotic tool'' approach, which says that ''language is not a symbolic object to describe the world but is a resource that can change the self and the environment'' (p. 120). Analysis of 22 video- and audio-taped dinner table conversations of 8 JFL learners and their host families revealed that dinnertime functions as an ''opportunity space'' (p. 145) for the joint construction of beliefs. Folk beliefs were often discussed at the dinner table, especially the concept of nihonjinron, or the idea that Japanese are distinctly different from Westerners. Cook found that socialization happened bidirectionallythat is, hosts influenced the folk beliefs of learners, and vice versa.
6. Norms of interaction in a Japanese homestay setting: Toward a two-way flow of linguistic and cultural resources. Masakazu Iino
In this article, Iino tackles a complicated issue in study abroad: how native-like can and should learners be? What are the role expectations for JFL learners abroad and for host families? Using the analytical framework of microethnography of social interaction, Iino analyzed 30 videotaped dinner table episodes between JFL learners and their host families. He reported on three main findings. First, learners experienced a complicated tension between being representatives of their own culture and attempting to fit in to the host culture. Second, Iino describes the ''two-way flow of linguistic and cultural resources,'' which included two approaches to the learner-host relationship: the pet model, in which the learner is viewed as a recipient of cultural knowledge and care, and the two-way enrichment approach, in which the hosts and the learner viewed their experience as an opportunity for growth for all involved. Finally, in terms of language development, Iino found that, in terms of negotiation of language and pragmatic meaning, attempts to be nice resulted in no correction of the learners' speech. In addition, much linguistic accommodation was made for learners, especially in the area of dialect choice. He concludes that role confusion was experienced by all, and that the phenomenon of foreigner talk was prevalent and complicated.
Part III: From home to school in the study abroad environment
7. Negotiation in a Japanese study abroad setting. Abigail McMeekin
McMeekin investigates negotiation of meaning across two contexts-the host family setting and the study abroad classroom-during study abroad to determine the characteristics of learner-native discourse in each. Audio- and video-taped interactions, informal interviews with teachers and host family members, students' English journal entries, and weekly audio-taped group discussions were analyzed to determine the nature of negotiation in each setting. Quantitative findings indicate that more negotiation of meaning occurred in the host family setting, and that this input was modified for the learner more than in the classroom. Learners, however, modified their output to a greater extent in the classroom setting. Qualitative findings indicated that conversations in the home concerned more abstract topics, and that caregivers went to great lengths to make their language understandable, whereas the teachers did not. In view of these findings, McMeekin advocates for a combination of the two settings during study abroad as optimal for language development.
8. Variability in the study abroad classroom and learner competence. Eton Churchill
In this article, the dynamics of study abroad classrooms are examined to determine whether local classroom dynamics have an effect on study abroad participants. Data were collected from 39 Japanese high school students involved in a month-long study abroad program in the United States in the form of journal entries, observations, and informal interactions with the researcher. Findings indicate that there was great variation among the 3 US school settings where learners were placed. Churchill found that (a) successful orientation to the program and introduction to US students influenced the experience in a positive way, and that (b) extensive cultural excursions and presentations had a negative effect on learner experience, as they broke the learners' routines and took significant time that could have been used to develop relationships with American students. He advocates for pre-departure communication between institutions that focuses on teacher preparation for interacting with study abroad students.
Part IV: The influence of individual and program variables on SLA
9. Study abroad social networks, motivation and attitudes: Implications for second language acquisition. Christina Isabelli-García
Isabelli-García investigates the interrelationship between the social networks that learners develop with native speakers, their motivation to learn the language, and their attitude toward the host culture. These factors are examined over a semester abroad and are compared to measures of second language acquisition (syntactic measures, such as tense/aspect use) to determine whether they are related. Data from 4 learners were collected and consisted of pre- and post-test Simulated Oral Proficiency Interviews (SOPIs) as well as 5 informal interviews over the semester. All but one learner showed proficiency gains; findings indicate that those who developed more extensive social networks (moving from first-order to second-order zones) acquired more language. Furthermore, attitude, motivation, and strength of networks were interconnected. Isabelli-García advocates for activities abroad that can foster the development of strong social networks, such as required volunteer programs or internships.
10. Language learning strategies in the study abroad context. Rebecca Adams
Adams investigates study abroad from the point of view of language learning strategies to determine (a) whether the experience affects students' use of strategies, (b) whether program and individual student characteristics affect use of strategies, and (c) whether the acquisition of strategies influences students' gains in terms of SLA. Using a pre-test / post-test research design (between which the study abroad period is viewed as the treatment), the data of 86 US participants on study abroad programs in the Dominican Republic, France, Brazil, Spain, and Austria were analyzed. Findings indicate that students who participate in group travel do not improve their use of communication strategies. Students of all language levels can benefit from study abroad in terms of the development of learning strategies. Female students were found to use more affective strategies and males more cognitive strategies. Adams advocates for ''the integration of strategy instruction and study abroad'' (p. 287) as beneficial for SLA, and for sustained curricular focus on strategy use, as use waned over time.
This is an excellent compendium of research on study abroad. The variety of theoretical perspectives employed and the methodological diversity exhibited provide a richness that many other edited volumes lack. Indeed, the book reads more like a monograph than a collection of articles; the authors make use of one another's work by consistently citing each other. Rather than coming across as self-promoting, this features weaves the individual projects together in a way that allows the reader to approach the articles as complementary and not as a group of stand-alone works on related topics.
The diversity of research perspectives and orientations displayed is reflective of the inherent diversity in the field of SLA. The authors provide solid justification of their methodological choices and demonstrate academic rigor that is both informative and instructive, making this volume an excellent resource for graduate student coursework in SLA and/or foreign language education.
The challenge left the reader by the authors is to view study abroad as something more than a nice idea, or something that should be built into foreign language curriculums on the principle that study abroad is good for language learning. The consensus is just the opposite: we must approach study abroad critically from an academic perspective to determine what the benefits actually are, and evaluate programs carefully. The research in this volume concludes that some features of study abroad programs that are thought to be beneficial (e.g., group cultural outings) may be detrimental to second language acquisition.
Barron, A. (2003). Acquisition in interlanguage pragmatics. Learning how to do things with words in a study abroad context. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Ochs, E. & Schieffelin, B. (1984) Language acquisition and socialization: Three developmental stories and their implications. In R. A. Shwedar & R. A. Levine (Eds.), Culture theory: Essays on mind, self, and emotion (pp. 276-320). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schieffelin, B. & Ochs, E. (1986a). Introduction. In B. Schieffelin & E. Ochs (Eds.), Language socialization across cultures (pp. 1-13). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schieffelin, B. & Ochs, E. (1986b). Language socialization. Annual review of anthropology, 15, 163-191.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Lisa DeWaard Dykstra recently completed her Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition at the University of Iowa. Her work focuses on the acquisition of pragmatic competence by American learners of Russian, specifically the acquisition of the perception of the formal and informal 'you.' This work brings together work done in interlanguage pragmatics, speech perception, second language listening, and second language acquisition. Her future research projects include papers on bridging the gap between second language acquisition research and foreign language pedagogy.