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Review of  Study Abroad and the Second Language Learner

Reviewer: Rachel B Poulin
Book Title: Study Abroad and the Second Language Learner
Book Author: Martin Howard
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 32.2291

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“Study Abroad and the Second Language Learner: Expectations, Experiences and Development,” edited by Martin Howard, brings together insights from a variety of sub-fields which all intersect at the heart of study abroad (SA), including: second language acquisition, applied linguistics, and international education among others. Although the authors present research focusing specifically on language learners, the editor begins the introduction by acknowledging that the SA experience is far from homogeneous, as many students go abroad for a variety of reasons, not necessarily to improve one’s proficiency in the ambient language. The editor ties this point to the ill-informed ubiquitous folklore which equates studying abroad to guaranteed proficiency gains without taking into account such varying factors as individual differences in motivations, experiences, personalities, and age, as well as the social circles that may be more easily accessible as a result of any combination of these factors. Naturally, it is this gamut of variables that leads to the observed differences in linguistic and overall learning outcomes of the SA experience. As such, in each chapter, the authors naturally converge upon the need to achieve a better understanding of why some students are more linguistically successful while studying abroad and how to better support all students in their sojourns abroad, regardless of these differences. Throughout this edited volume, the authors underline that proficiency gains are not guaranteed and thus, it requires the careful planning and intentional social network building and scaffolding to be implemented at various levels: from the administrators back at the home institution to the individual students that will ensure that their time abroad will be worthwhile. This volume provides both practical advice and necessary correction to the often-touted claim that studying abroad will lead to better proficiency than had the student remained at the home institution, taking comparable language courses. In doing so, this volume provides invaluable direction for program coordinators and students alike in bridging the gap between the myth of guaranteed language proficiency and the reality that students face while studying abroad.

Chapter 1, “The Legal Framework of Study Mobility: How Public Law Makes the Erasmus Programme Possible” by Luca Galli

This initial chapter discusses how the Erasmus program came about as a result of a public lawsuit — specifically the landmark Gravier case in which a French student argued that, due to her status as a European national, she should receive equal rights and treatment as any Belgian citizen, so as to be allowed to take an art class for the same tuition as the Belgian students, providing the basis and precedent of the Erasmus program. Furthermore, this chapter offers both the historical and logistical perspectives of the framework and efforts made to establish and run this program, which has allowed millions of European students to study abroad. In addition to this, the author focuses on certain cases in which this tenet was not upheld and gives the reader a better understanding of the inner workings of the Erasmus program and the legal negotiations and ramifications being continually challenged to this day.

Chapter 2, “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Factors that Influence One’s Decision to Participate in a Student Mobility Programme” by Katarzyna Ożańska-Ponikwia and Angélica Carlet

This chapter investigates certain psychological and linguistic factors among university Spanish and Polish students learning English in order to understand why some students elect to study abroad, while others opt to remain at the home institution. This study approaches this question with a quantitative approach and investigates a variety of factors including second language (L2) proficiency, emotional intelligence, and individual differences with regards to personality traits. This study found that personality traits partially explained the data such that those who scored higher on measures of extraversion were more likely to self-select to study abroad, providing useful insight into which factors influence students in making their decision to study abroad.

Chapter 3, “Study Abroad Marketing and L2 Self-efficacy Beliefs” by Emre Güvendir, Meltem Acar-Güvendir and Sinem Dündar

The authors investigate how SA online marketing materials impact students’ self-efficacy with regard to their perceived ability in the target language. Their findings demonstrate that marketing materials displaying previous students describing their success in SA with the target language, led to overall higher self-efficacy beliefs in the participants who were exposed to the marketing material in comparison to those who were not. Specifically, these materials led to the students’ higher L2 projected self-efficacy skills of speaking and listening. The authors continue by explaining how pre-sojourn marketing should be realistic and cover a wide range of individual differences in the form of SA experience instead of cherry-picking success stories. The authors argue for this shift in marketing techniques, as such positively biased marketing leads to elevated, unrealistic self-efficacy beliefs. Such inflated self-efficacy beliefs can have a deleterious effect on the students who are to face disappointment as they struggle to use the language with native speakers, creating a mismatch with their perception of their language proficiency and the struggle to negotiate meaning that they will undoubtedly face while living abroad. This chapter has important ramifications for those creating marketing materials and working to recruit students to their SA programs.

Chapter 4, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Quantity, Type, and Quality of Language Contact During Study Abroad” by Jessica Briggs Baffoe-Djan and Siyang Zhou

Chapter 4 marks a shift in focus from pre-departure to the experience of study abroad itself, specifically looking into the question of whether studying abroad and receiving an increase of target language exposure provides adequate input to see proficiency gains. The authors provide an overview of empirical studies that have examined this question, and unsurprisingly, the researchers argue that it is not simply quantity but the quality of the input that matters most to the participants’ linguistic success. The authors further discuss how to best measure and operationalize language quality and provide suggestions for best practice in measuring such language contact in future research.

Chapter 5, “Study Abroad for Secondary and Higher Education Students: Differences and Similarities in their Interaction with the Learning Environment” by Sofía Moratinos-Johnston, Maria Juan-Garau and Joana Salazar Noguera

The authors qualitatively compare students’ SA experiences at different stages of their education (secondary vs. university level) in order to determine how this might impact their experience abroad. This study demonstrates how those at different stages of life may experience varying difficulty in integrating into the target culture, language, and social circles. For example, the authors discuss that university students may have to make more of an effort in comparison to those in secondary school who in this study, experienced an almost immediate social integration by staying with a host family as they were integrated into their host siblings’ social circles. This finding suggests that living with a host family may offer an ease of integration into the target culture and provide more opportunities to benefit from the pre-established social networks of their host family.

Chapter 6, “Assessing the Impact of Educational Support Abroad on Sojourners’ Interactional Contacts, L2 acquisition and Intercultural Development” by Ana Maria Moreno Bruna, July de Wilde, June Eyckmans and Patrick Goethals

Here, the authors examine how an online pedagogical intervention impacted students’ SA experience with a focus on their linguistic and intercultural capacities as well as uncovering how students viewed these tasks in terms of the tasks’ popularity and usefulness. Findings demonstrated that there were no significant gains for the intervention group vs. the control group, as there were reported significant learning gains for both groups. The authors found in response to their second research question that the tasks that were deemed less popular, mostly those which required interaction with native speakers of the language, were often considered more useful, indicating that students may be reluctant to engage in activities outside of their comfort zone despite acknowledging that such tasks can be more useful for their language learning goals. The authors also describe the digital application which they have created to offer support to students abroad by integrating tasks that develop their L2 language skills and intercultural competence while other tasks provoke self-reflection. Although not explicitly stated, the findings in this chapter have far reaching potential for study abroad program directors and provide a unique view into students’ perceptions of different types of assignments while studying abroad.

Chapter 7, “The Complex Challenges of Delivering a University-wide Intercultural Mentoring Programme for Study Abroad Students” by Susan Oguro and Annie Cottier

In this chapter, the authors discuss the difficulties of implementing an SA mentoring program which was created in response to previous research that has demonstrated a need for mentoring pre, during, and post study abroad experience to aid in students’ acquisition of cultural competence. The authors focus on these challenges as their overall feedback has been largely positive from participants. Thus, as a next step, they focus on the challenges that other institutions might face in implementing such a program. This chapter highlights the difficulties and continuous efforts that the university must make in order for such a program to be successful, providing preparation and guidance for other institutions hoping to implement similar resources.

Chapter 8, “Tapping into Self-regulation in Study Abroad: A Pilot Study” by Kata Csizér, Miroslaw Pawlak, Vanda Szatzker, and Kitti Erdö-Bonyár

Chapter 8 focuses on an instrument which the authors developed to measure how a variety of factors impact self-regulation throughout the study abroad sojourn. They examine groups of students studying abroad in Hungary and Poland and aim to determine the validity of this instrument with regard to measuring teacher-based, learner-based and technology-based means of self-regulation pre, during and post SA. The researchers found a lack of reliability among the items on the instrument, demonstrating that some of the definitions and scales needed to be improved upon before moving forward. However, they also found contextual differences between the students in Hungary and Poland, suggesting that the environment of one’s SA context (i.e., a city vs. a more rural locale) may play a role in their learning self-regulation. Overall, this chapter provides a clear view into how research is accomplished and demonstrates the often-overlooked process of instrument development, as the authors explain where their pilot study and instrument fell short, and how they will begin to improve this in the future.

Chapter 9, “Structure and Agency in the Development of Plurilingual Identities in Study Abroad” by Josep M. Cots, Rosamond Mitchell and Ana Beaven

Here, the authors delve into the concept of language identity, specifically that of the plurilingual identity in contrast to limiting this investigation to the L2 identity. The authors argue that adopting a plurilingual lens is necessary due to the globalized nature of the world in which we live and how individuals integrate a wide array of linguistic resources to make meaning. The authors argue that these plurilingual identities have an impact on language choice, by integrating one’s beliefs and attitudes, ultimately impacting one’s overall communicative process. They review empirical studies regarding this topic, and ultimately conclude that those in this line of research must consider the social structure as an influence on the experience abroad.

Chapter 10, “Learning Multiword Expressions in a Second Language during Study Abroad: The Role of Individual Differences” by Klara Arvidsson

This chapter focuses on multiword expressions such as c’est ça ‘that’s right’ (French) as these are only ever slowly acquired and pose difficulties to language learners. This study investigates which factors impact a student’s success by examining the role that psychological individual differences play in acquiring such expressions. Their findings suggest that students who were “high-gainers” spent their time taking part in target language mediated activities, although not necessarily with L1 speakers of the target language. Interestingly, the psychological orientation of the high-gainers demonstrated a more overt goal of language learning while the low-gainers demonstrated a less motivated orientation. The authors also suggest that they may have been more successful due to having a stronger sense of self-efficacy and self-regulatory abilities. Finally, the researchers’ qualitative analysis uncovered that those who were high-gainers tended to notice things in the target language, suggesting that a heightened awareness of the linguistic constructions may have aided these students in their linguistic pursuits. This chapter again bolsters the premise that simply living abroad in the target language does not guarantee linguistic gains. Instead, this research highlights how the language acquisition process must be considered from a more holistic perspective, accounting for individual differences and learner profiles.

Chapter 11, “When in One’s New Country: Examining Native-like Selections in English at Home and Abroad” by Victoria Zaytseva, Imma Miralpeix and Carmen Pérez-Vidal

The authors examine colloquial native-like selections (NLS) longitudinally, by observing Catalan and Spanish speaking students learning English beginning during a period of formal instruction at the home institution and continuing through their study abroad experience. Findings indicate a slow but significant improvement in students’ spoken language which is demonstrated by their implementation of fewer false friends and more nativelike expressions. When considering their written language, these students used more impersonal and colloquial expressions as well as idiomatic intensifiers over time. The major findings from this study underline how it is neither simply study abroad nor formal instruction but the combination of different forms of input and opportunities of language use that allows for the most linguistic proficiency gains.

Chapter 12, “The Role of Transparency in Grammatical Gender Marking among Stay Abroad Learners of Spanish and French” by Amanda Edmonds and Aarnes Gudmestad

The researchers investigate British students studying abroad in France and Spain to determine how their written production of grammatical gender evolves pre, during, and post SA. The authors discuss how Spanish is marked by a higher degree of gender marking transparency on nouns in comparison to French as a result of more consistent morphology. Crucially, the authors found that classroom input was sufficient for Spanish learners to achieve a high degree of accuracy with written gender markings, while the French learners seemed to benefit more from the SA context by greatly improving their accuracy of gender agreement post sojourn. This finding bolsters French instructors’ insistence that their students study abroad, as even though these students had on average 10.45 years of experience in French in comparison to the 5.3 years on average for the Spanish students, the French students’ accuracy of gender was far below the Spanish students who already demonstrated target-like gender accuracy pre-study abroad. Obviously, this study is limited to a single grammatical feature and does and should not be generalized to the entire linguistic system. However, it does emphasize the importance of considering the language pairs at play and how best to prepare students for their time abroad as well as to encourage learners of certain languages to study abroad if they hope to attain native-like proficiencies.


Overall, this volume achieves the authors’ much-discussed goal of presenting evidence in support of the heterogeneity of the SA and language acquisition experience in general and approaches this premise from a variety of angles. Indeed, regardless of the subfield in which the reader specializes, she is bound to find something that both interests and convinces her of the authors’ shared starting point: that studying abroad is not the panacea to achieving high linguistic proficiencies so often touted. In addition, it did not come across that the authors’ aims were to devalue the SA experience, but instead present this in a more realistic light so that program instructors and creators as well as students can do everything in their power to get the most out of their SA experience. The inverse impact of the breadth of this volume is that the research presented throughout this work may perhaps not be of relevance to specialists in different fields. Although, when covering such a broad topic as SA, such an occurrence is unsurprising and unavoidable, and the reader should simply be prepared to bypass certain chapters of less relevance to their own work.

An additional result of such a broad topic with so many intersecting subfields is that the authors appeared to consider a variety of readers in terms of their audience, such that at times the oversimplification of certain terms that are commonplace in the majority of linguistic research (i.e. qualitative vs. quantitative research) felt at times like one was reading an introductory level textbook instead of an edited volume of original research. The benefit to this approach is that it is truly accessible to a large readership. Furthermore, this volume had a logical outline, with natural transitions between chapters, with the exception of the first chapter which had a historical approach which felt disconnected from the following chapter. Nonetheless, this chapter served the important purpose of orienting the reader to the SA context in question being centered on the Erasmus program, and necessarily equipped the reader with an understanding of the purpose and history of this program. Indeed, the overall flow of this volume was made evident in the editor’s introduction in which he explains the organization of chapters which have been laid out so as to fall under pre-departure, during study abroad, and post study abroad sections. However, this intentional layout was only addressed in the prose found in the introduction, and it may have been helpful had this format been more explicitly and visibly laid out in the table of contents, as this may have served to better orient the reader in navigating which chapters would hold the most relevance to her research.

Finally, many of these studies point out direct and natural follow up lines of research to better answer the authors’ research questions and follow up lines of research unearthed in these studies. Interestingly, throughout this volume, it was evident that the authors had direct application in mind at the program directing level of study abroad as well as at the individual language instructor level. Not only does this volume provide researchers a jumping off point at the theoretical level, but it also provides immediate strategies for language instructors to disseminate this knowledge to their students and ensure that study abroad programs are taking practical steps to best prepare their students for their sojourns abroad. For example, while most universities and colleges have their own study abroad programs with pre and post departure meetings, few have an elaborate system of mentoring and scaffolding mid-program and would do well to implement the strategies provided in Chapter 7 of this volume. If such suggestions are incorporated and continually improved upon, it is possible that the student’s experience studying abroad will begin to more closely resemble the idealized guaranteed fluency myth of study abroad that so often gets proliferated. Indeed, instead of the mismatch from best-case-scenario success stories and what students are actually capable of achieving throughout their sojourn abroad, it is possible to bridge this gap and equip students with realistic linguistic and cultural competencies, that will ultimately make them more engaged students and global citizens.


Howard, M. (Ed.). (2021). Study Abroad and the Second Language Learner: Expectations, Experiences and Development. Bloomsbury Academic.
Rachel Poulin is a doctoral candidate at The University of Texas at Austin. Her main research interests are bilingualism, psycholinguistics, language processing, individual differences in bilingualism, cognitive control, and sociolinguistics. Her dissertation research focuses on how both psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic factors influence bilinguals’ variable outcomes in Stroop task performance as a measure of cognitive control.

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