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Review of  Language Learners in Study Abroad Contexts

Reviewer: Lisa Kristine DeWaard
Book Title: Language Learners in Study Abroad Contexts
Book Author: Margaret A. DuFon Eton Churchill
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 17.2191

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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

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.

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

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.

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.

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