Encouraging Students to Engage With Native Speakers During Study Abroad

Download Encouraging Students to Engage With Native Speakers During Study Abroad

Post on 30-Sep-2016




10 download



    Marc Cadd (PhD, University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign) is Associate Professor of German and Director of the World Languages and Cultures program at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

    Encouraging Students to Engage With Native Speakers During Study Abroad

    Marc CaddDrake University

    Abstract: Students, their parents, and educators trust that a study-abroad experience is the best way to increase linguistic pro ciency. The professional literature, however, shows a much more complex picture. Gains in linguistic pro ciency appear to depend on variables such as whether the students experience a homestay or dormitory, the length of time studying abroad, their previous knowledge of the language, etc. Interaction with native speakers also seems to vary widely. The present article examines whether requir-ing students abroad to interact with native speakers improves students self-assessed self-con dence in using the language, their willingness to use the language, and their perceived gains in speaking ability.

    Key words: cultural understanding, curriculum, linguistic pro ciency, self-assessment, study abroad

    IntroductionThe past two decades have witnessed an increasingly signi cant number of college and university students making time in their busy lives for a study-abroad experi-ence. Although their motivation and rationale for doing so vary greatly, many of them engage in study abroad because they are either majoring or minoring in a world language, or they hope to use the language in their career. Regardless of motivation, students anticipate new experiences, a broad range of linguistic inter-actions, challenging and rewarding cultural experiences, and self-ful lling personal and academic growth.

    Conventional wisdom assures students, their parents, and instructors that they will return to their home institution with a signi cant increase in their linguis-tic pro ciency and cultural understanding. Academic and study-abroad advisors inform students how much they can improve their rsum by highlighting their study-abroad experience and their linguistic and cultural skills. Others encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity because of the potentially life-altering interactions; all involved assume the opportunities to improve language- and culture-related skills will be numerous and productive. The expectation that

    Foreign Language Annals, Vol. xx, Iss. xx, pp. 117. 2012 by American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. DOI: 10.111/j.1944-9720.2012.01188.x.

  • 2 XXX 2012

    to produce the target language necessary to complete the 12 tasks discussed below (see Appendix A) and to examine the culture in which they plan to study in terms of demo-graphics, employment, educational system, etc. The post-study-abroad course requires students to write a target language thesis that incorporates aspects of their personal study-abroad experiences, globalization, and their major(s). The ef cacy of these two courses has not been assessed to date. The present article also examines students self-assessment of their self-con dence in using the language, their willingness to use the language, and perceived gains (or losses) in speaking ability after having completed the 12 tasks associated with the second course. The limitations of self-assessment are dis-cussed below.

    Review of LiteratureThe extent to which students bene t from their study-abroad experience is dependent on a large number of variables. These vari-ables may be personal, academic, linguistic, and/or cultural. Such factors as whether students reside in a dormitory or have a homestay experience, students personal-ity, their reaction to the new environment and their ability to adjust to it, the types of courses in which they enroll, the length of their stay, and their previous knowledge of the culture all potentially play a role in determining the degree to which students demonstrate an increase in oral pro ciency and cultural understanding.

    Positive Results in Study AbroadAn examination of the literature reveals a complex view of study abroad and its effects on students. Both quantitative and qualita-tive studies have demonstrated very mixed results.

    Segalowitz and Freed (2004), for exam-ple, noted that learners of Spanish studying abroad for one semester made greater gains in terms of temporal or hesitation phenom-ena than students studying at home. These phenomena were de ned in terms of four

    one will become uent in the language being studied is an often-heard inducement for students to undertake the experience. Students and educators alike assume this increased uency can be achieved through greater access to native speakers of the lan-guage. As DeKeyser (2007) noted, For some students, parents, teachers, adminis-trators, and prospective employers, study abroad is not only the best form of practice, sometimes it is the only form they consider to be useful (p. 208). However, immer-sion in another culture cannot guarantee linguistic and cultural gains. Research into this topic reveals quite a complex picture. For example, Rohrlichs study (1993) deter-mined that only 3% of approximately 500 survey respondents had learning the target language as their primary reason for study-ing abroad (p. 4). Such a nding may alarm and puzzle language educators and study-abroad advisors. The respondents had more positive reactions to questions about sam-pling the target cuisine, dealing with home-sickness, and making adjustments to the new culture.

    The present article describes a one-credit-hour course required of students who are both studying abroad and seeking the Certi cate of Competence in (Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Rus-sian, or Spanish) Language and Culture at Drake University, a relatively small, pri-vate, Midwestern university. Nearly all the students who have taken this course to date studied abroad for one complete semester; two students studied abroad in intensive summer programs. The courses curriculum expands on suggestions found in the litera-ture that assess students oral pro ciency and cultural understanding. The assign-ments for the course are tasks that require the students to interact with native speakers. It is the second study-abroad-related course taken by students pursuing the certi cate. Students also enroll in a one-credit-hour course prior to studying abroad and a three-credit-hour capstone course taken after stu-dents return to their home institution. The pre-study-abroad course requires students


    cated that weaker students made very signi cant gains compared to the group as a whole (p. 32). Lapkin, Hart, and Swain (1995) reported that 116 Canadian learn-ers of French showed signi cant improve-ment in all four skill areas after a semester of cross-provincial study abroad in Quebec; Mizuno (1998) reported comparable results with a sample of 51 learners of Japanese. Dwyers (2004) study solidly demonstrated that the students in the study perceived an increase in self-con dence/decrease in anx-iety regardless of the length of the study-abroad program.

    Negative Results in Study AbroadWhile the above-cited studies generally described positive gains in oral pro -ciency, others provided evidence of mixed gains or no gains. For example, language educators have intuitively expected the length of study to play a signi cant role in terms of students increase in linguistic pro ciency. However, even longer study-abroad experiences have not always pro-duced the anticipated gains. Cholakian (1992) noted that the gains in linguistic pro ciency while abroad are dependent on the students pro ciency before leaving the United States, with more advanced speak-ers demonstrating larger gains. This may be due to their willingness to engage with native speakers. Engle (1995) concluded that even semester- and year-long stays frequently fail to produce the expected increases in pro ciency.

    Riedel (1989), commenting on her interviews with home-campus professors at Middlebury College, observed that the professors revealed that too many students actually regress in certain skills (p. 775). The most often-referenced modality was writing. The professors experiences showed that gains in lexical items and colloquial expressions are often forgotten shortly after the return home. This fact is additionally informative given that Middlebury students make a pledge to speak only the target lan-guage while abroad.

    measures: speech rate, mean run length containing no silent pauses or hesitations greater than 400 ms, mean run length con-taining no lled pauses (e.g., um, ah), and longest run containing no silent or lled pauses (p. 175). This conclusion was based on pre- and posttests that utilized ACTFLs Oral Pro ciency Interview (OPI). Regard-ing gains in oral pro ciency more broadly, however, they commented that the picture as a whole is complex in terms of whether study-abroad or at-home experiences are more bene cial (p. 192). Brecht, Davidson, and Ginsberg (1991) found that a semes-ter-long immersion experience resulted in signi cant gains in overall language pro -ciency for a wide range of students study-ing Russian in Moscow and Leningrad. In a case study involving one student who had completed one of two semesters in Mexico, Bacon (2008) identi ed de nite bene ts to the student: The growth in her con dence and self-esteem [while using the language] came from being able to maneuver better in both the academic and the social spheres (p. 645). In other words, linguistic pro -ciency may increase as long as the student uses the language both in and out of the classroom.

    Several studies have asked students to self-assess their linguistic pro ciency in terms of the four skills (reading, writ-ing, listening, and speaking), level of con- dence, and level of anxiety in using the language prior to and subsequent to the study-abroad event. Teichler and Maiworm (1997) found that students involved in the European Unions Erasmus Program rated themselves as improving from a 4 before studying abroad to a 2 after studying abroad on a Likert scale measuring pro ciency in speaking and other skills (7 extremely limited, 1 very good; N 3,212). Meara (1994) reported signi cant improvement in reading and listening among 586 British students studying abroad who completed self-assessments; however, the results may be less generalizable because the students were studying a variety of languages and for different lengths of time. He also indi-

  • 4 XXX 2012

    Wilkinsons ethnographic study (1998) of students studying abroad challenged the assumption that the students will auto-matically encounter ample opportunities to interact with native speakers. One student in her study commented that, I was just so surprised that you could be in France for a month and really not speak French that often; another commented, Id hang around in town sometimes I would just sit in town and read or something, and theres people around you, but its not that easy to meet someone whos French (p. 33).

    Carlson, Burn, Useem, and Yachimowicz (1990) found that study-abroad students made moderate progress in speaking pro- ciency, moving from Intermediate to Advanced on the ACTFL scale. However, the sample of 20 was chosen from a much larger study involving more than 400 par-ticipants and limited to students who had studied a year or more abroad in France, Germany, Sweden, and the United King-dom. Interestingly, Golonka (2001) found comparable gains among 22 students of Russian who had studied only one semester abroad.

    Huebners (1995) study brought into question the linguistic bene ts of study abroad. The study noted that students studying abroad for one semester ended their stays with a score of Intermediate-High on the OPI versus Intermediate-Mid for a comparable group of students who studied for the same period of time in a traditional program at home, which is cer-tainly not as great a difference as one might have expected.

    Kinginger (2008) concluded that, while study abroad is a venue that is con-ducive to language learning, the outcomes are not the panacea for which students and educators might hope. This conclu-sion re ects the contradictory and at times confusing nature of various studies, and the reasons for this are numerous. One impor-tant factor is what the students understand the study-abroad experience to be. This understanding will determine, in part, their motivation, how they choose to spend time

    Mixed Results in Study AbroadAlso utilizing OPIs, Freed (1995) found little difference in terms of linguistic pro- ciency between a group that had studied abroad for a semester in France and a group that had studied at home. She did, however, nd that the uency rate of those studying abroad, especially in terms of rate of speech, increased signi cantly.

    Perhaps confounding the issue even more was a study by Freed, Segalowitz, and Dewey (2004). The researchers did indeed nd some improvement in various aspects of uency for students who had studied in France. However, these gains were not as signi cant as the gains made by a group in the United States that took part in an immer-sion program. The authors noted that the students who had studied abroad reported using more English than French outside of class, and this may partially explain the dif-ference in gains.

    Contrary to expectations, Rivers (2008), examining the American Council of Teach-ers of Russian Student Records Data Base from 1976 to 1996, found that students staying in dormitories demonstrated a greater gain in terms of speaking pro -ciency than homestay students. This result must be taken in context, however, because there were no homestays in the former Soviet Union. In the same study, home-stay was found not to be a signi cant pre-dictor of listening pro ciency, but it was a strong positive predictor of gains in read-ing pro ciency. In attempting to explain these somewhat perplexing ndings, Rivers noted that students might ultimately watch more television and do homework alone because communication with the home-stay family is limited to quotidian topics due to frustration over the students lack of pro ciency in using the language (p. 496). Potentially supporting Riverss nding, Brecht and Robinson (1993) indicated that the study-abroad experience is more ben-e cial linguistically to students who begin study abroad with a higher level of language pro ciency because they are more likely to engage with native speakers.


    awareness and communication (p. 12). It appears that longer periods of study abroad do, in fact, often result in gains in intercul-tural competence.

    Creating a Positive Study-Abroad ExperienceGiven the complexities and often-uncon-trollable variables made apparent by the research, instructors may be well advised to design a structured curriculum that ensures that students interact with native speak-ers, regardless of prior level of pro ciency, living arrangements, reason for study-ing abroad, knowledge of the culture, etc. Instructors certainly cannot control all the variables involved in study abroad, but they can attempt to ensure that students interact with native speakers. Meara (1994), sup-porting this notion, found the estimated time spent speaking the target language to be the best predictor of increased linguistic pro ciency in all four modalities.

    For the study-abroad experience to result in an increase in cultural understand-ing, Laubscher (1994) noted that it is usu-ally necessary for the student to undergo some sort of decisive intervention, (hav-ing an insider perspective provided) usually from a key informant (a native speaker). He concluded that simply having the data available is no assurance that sub-stantive learning will take place (p. 106).

    Riedel (1989) concurred when she stated that [t]here is now a greater empha-sis on forcing students to take advantage of relative accessibility to personal contact with experts in their eld and national institutions where rst-hand information and experience is available (p. 775). These experts may be supervisors of internships in the target culture, politicians, stock exchange analysts, journalists, etc. In short, students interact with professionals in the target culture who are actively employed in the students major eld(s) of study. After having reviewed trends in research on study abroad, Riedel made two recom-mendations that appear to lead to positive

    out of class, their priorities, etc. As Kingin-ger pointed out, however, another important factor is how the students interact with the host institutions and various social contexts. Some of these institutions and contexts will be open and welcoming, while others may see the students only as a source of income and, consequently, act hostile or indifferent (p. 117).

    Gains in Intercultural Competence as a Result of Study AbroadA signi cant body of research on this topic exists, more than can be addressed here. Some representative data are nevertheless of interest. Kehl and Morriss (2008) study compared 144 students who had studied abroad for eight weeks or less to 193 stu-dents who had studied abroad for a semes-ter and 183 students who had been accepted to study abroad but had not yet done so. Using a scale that measured responsibil-ity, cultural pluralism, ef cacy, globalcen-trism, and interconnectedness, the authors found no statistically signi cant differences between those on the shorter-term study-abroad programs and the students who had not yet studied abroad. However, those who had studied abroad for a semester showed statistically signi cant gains in global-mindedness compared to those in either of the other two groups. Williams (2005) compared the intercultural communication skills of 27 students who studied abroad in various countries throughout the world to 25 who remained on campus. She found that intercultural exposure was a statisti-cally signi cant predictor of gains in inter-cultural communication competence. Lees (2012) study examined 16 U.S. undergrad-uate students studying in Granada, Spain, for a semester. The students were required to blog about both instructor-selected top-ics and topics of their choosing. Analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data, Lee concluded that the combined method of using blogs and ethnographic interviews prove [sic] to be effective in empowering SA [study-abroad] students intercultural

  • 6 XXX 2012

    course: one interview about life in Munich, one with leaders of institutions or busi-nesses, and one that attempted to familiar-ize the students with one particular area of Munich.

    Research Question: An Alternative Curricular ModelIf forcing students to interact with native speakers through an assignment or series of assignments produces positive gains, would more assignments result in greater gains? The author observed that students at the relatively small, private Drake University who studied abroad often clustered among fellow English speakers while in the host country. This gathering of English speakers occurred even among students who had claimed prior to studying abroad that they wanted to become uent in the language. Concerned about this phenomenon, the language faculty undertook the process of designing the curriculum of a course that had been approved by the universitys curric-ulum committee but never offered. Over the course of one semester, the faculty designed 12 tasks that students were required to complete during their study-abroad experi-ence if they wished to pursue the Certi cate of Competence in Language and Culture.

    The course was the second in a series of three study-abroad-related courses taken by students in the certi cate program. Dur-ing the rst study-abroad course in the sequence, students received explicit instruc-tion and practice in preparing to complete the tasks. Each student turned in weekly the target language necessary to complete one task. By the end of 12 weeks, the students had a single document providing an outline of the language necessary to complete the tasks. The course instructor and professors of each language of study assessed the docu-ment turned in by students.

    The objectives for the course taken during study abroad are delineated below. The students would:

    1. Complete a variety of functional tasks requiring oral pro ciency in the language

    gains in linguistic pro ciency and cul-tural understanding: One, what is taught inside the classroom must always be related to what students will experience outside of the classroom. Two, students must be required to actively integrate the knowledge gained from the classroom with their extra-curricular activities. These activities include the internships and interviews with politicians, etc., mentioned above (p. 776). Archangeli (1999) echoed this position, positing that once the students have arrived in the host country, instructors can best assist them by forcing the students to inter-act with native speakers in a meaningful fashion. By doing so, she believed the stu-dents fear of speaking would decrease. The curricular model described below attempts to integrate these two observations into course assignments.

    In concordance with the conclusions and recommendations of Riedel, several studies and curricular designs have emerged that require the students to engage with native speakers during the study-abroad experience. Archangeli (1999), for example, described two course assignments as part of a study-abroad course set in Salzburg. The students were required to interview two native speakers: the rst, a native speaker of approximately their own age, and the second, an older person. According to the results of the questionnaire that students completed once course grades had been assigned, the students self-con dence and willingness to use the target language increased signi cantly. Similarly, Buchheit (1985) had students interview two native speakers, but several additional activities were associated with the interviews. Stu-dents designed their own questionnaires, interviewed and recorded the native speak-ers, transcribed the interviews, and wrote a composition based on the interviews. Dodds and Wuttig (1985) described three assigned interviews students completed as part of a course entitled German Culture and Civilization after 1945. Working in pairs, students conducted one interview in each of the three component phases of the


    and writing are addressed in some detail, but the programs goal is to assist students in increasing functional oral pro ciency. Students saw and discussed the tasks (Appendix A) several times during the semester before going abroad. They had already acquired certain vocabulary, phrases, and structures that allowed them to com-plete the tasks more ef ciently. Most of the students had completed a course in inter-cultural communication prior to study-ing abroad, and in the pre-study-abroad course, they had explicitly discussed cul-tural shock and its related theories. Stu-dents were also provided with several questions (Appendix A) that they could use as prompts as they blogged about accomplishing the tasks.

    Because the students studied abroad for one semester and it was imperative to encourage them to interact with native speakers throughout that period of time, the instructor advised the students to com-plete approximately one task per week. The tasks could be completed in any order so as to allow the students to take advantage of any serendipitous opportunities that pre-sented themselves.

    Once students had completed a task, they wrote a post about it on program-supported blogs. They did not have any choice regarding which tasks to complete. The blogs already existed for each student because they also contained the students electronic portfolio required for each lan-guage course taken. Given that the students began their study abroad at different levels of pro ciency and they were studying one of seven different languages offered, they posted to the blogs in English. Seventy- ve percent of their course grade was depend-ent on the posts. The other 25% was based on comments made on other students blogs. Although it is true that the audi-ence for whom the students were writing their blogs consisted of fellow students (plus instructors in the language) and that may have in uenced what they wrote, the instructor felt the bene ts seen in numer-ous intercultural comparisons warranted

    and culture, e.g., asking a native speaker how s/he views a particular holiday, nego-tiating a transportation experience, etc.

    2. Describe how they are increasing their own intercultural competence.

    3. Compare/contrast their own style of communication with the predominant style(s) of the target culture.

    4. Describe the stages of culture shock they are experiencing.

    The present article concentrates on the rst of these objectives. This study sought to determine the effectiveness of the 12 tasks required of students enrolled in the one-credit-hour course taken while studying abroad. The tasks did not vary by culture. Students did not sign an agreement to com-plete the tasks, but the supervising profes-sors monitored blog posts closely so as to ensure to every extent possible that the students had, indeed, actually completed the tasks. The results describe the students perceptions of their self-con dence, speak-ing pro ciency, and cultural understanding after having completed the tasks.

    MethodsResearch and Sampling Design The participants of this mixed-method study were 13 undergraduate students at a Mid-western university. All 13 students were enrolled in the one-semester study-abroad course, and all were seeking the Certi cate of Competence in Language and Culture. Four completed the course in the fall semes-ter of 2010 and nine in the spring semester of 2011. The students studied in a wide-ranging number of countries, including Argentina, Austria, France, Germany, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Russia, and Spain (includ-ing Mallorca). The majority of the students (69%) were female. Two were seniors, eight were juniors, and three were sophomores.

    Data Collection and InstrumentThe universitys language program empha-sizes communicative competence and cul-tural understanding. Listening, reading,

  • 8 XXX 2012

    six statements. Qualitative analysis of stu-dents comments was conducted by record-ing aspects of the course that were helpful to student learning. These are described in the results section.

    ResultsQuantitative ResultsStudents responses to the questions asked on the brief questionnaire tended to be pos-itive. Seventy-four percent of the responses on the six-statement survey fell into the cat-egory of either strongly agree or agree. Average scores ranged from 1.58 (Item 1) to 2.33 (Items 3 and 4). The average scores on the Likert items are provided in Table 1.

    Qualitative ResultsComments, to the extent they were pro-vided, were similarly illustrative of the learning process students were undergoing.

    AnxietyGenerally, students tended to comment in the survey that their level of anxiety had decreased as a result of completing the 12 tasks. In response to Item 1 (Helped me feel less anxious or nervous about interact-ing with native speakers), one of the par-ticipants remarked, I was really nervous for the rst few weeks in [name of city omitted]. This was not the Spanish I had learned in my classes at home. But once I got to know a few students and spoke with them all the time, it got easier. It got to the point I was even dreaming in Spanish part of the time.

    Cultural UnderstandingStudents referenced several of the tasks while commenting on the extent to which their cultural understanding was enhanced. For example, one student who lived in [name of country omitted to protect the stu-dents identity] during the World Cup wrote,

    I asked a girl I knew if she was a big soccer fan or what was so great about World Cup time. Soccer is cool, sure.

    the risk. Thus, for example, a student studying in Japan could compare his or her experience in asking directions with that of a student studying in Argentina.

    The key element of assessing the stu-dents blogs was the extent to which the students wrote re ectively. The language instructors of the university believed that students would become more pro cient linguistically and develop greater cultural understanding by deliberately analyzing each task and the interaction associated with it.

    The language instructors in the United States who were reading the blogs were very proactive early in each students study-abroad experience; if students did not blog early and/or did not re ectively assess their experiences, the instructors provided early direction. Based on experience to date, stu-dents completed the tasks quite well, but they often required assistance in comment-ing appropriately and in a timely fashion. Indeed, each of the students enrolled in the course completed every task and wrote a corresponding blog entry.

    Due to the emphasis the program placed on communicative competence and cultural understanding, the survey admin-istered to the students similarly emphasized those two areas. The survey was also con-sistent with the rationale for having the stu-dents complete the 12 tasks.

    Students were asked to complete a short, six-statement survey (Appendix B) that included Likert items and an opportu-nity to comment on each statement. They were encouraged to complete the survey before leaving the target country and return-ing home but were allowed to complete it within a month of returning to the United States. The survey was available to students electronically through the courses learning management system (MOODLE). Twelve of the 13 students responded to each of the six items, for a response rate of 92%.

    Data AnalysisQuantitative analysis was conducted by determining the mean score for each of the



    LE 1



    s o

    f th

    e Po





    ad S










    y ag


    2 (a











    y d





    1 (les

    s an






    2 (mor

    e w



    to e


    ge w










    3 (bet





    d ta









    4 (bet





    d ow

    n c







    5 (mor



    t sp






    6 (bet


    at c









  • 10 XXX 2012

    the Bourbon Dynasty. After the defeat Philip V punished the people of Catalua by outlawing the language and tradi-tional cultural practices of the region.

    Especially after years of oppression under Franco, the people of Catalua have developed immense pride of their heritage, language, and culture. Now the annual national holiday has become a day of parades, poetry readings, and a showing of Cataluan pride.

    I spoke with my professor, a late-20s Catalua native, about La Diada and he expressed the importance of La Diada within the context of Barcelona and Spain as a whole. In Barcelona school is held in Catalan, rather than Spanish, which the new generation has not been as receptive too [sic]. He was very passionate about the importance of preserving Catalan culture and the need to learn the language to incor-porate it into daily life at a young age. I also spoke with my host mom, who was born in France and in her early 60s, what she thought about the day of pride in Catalua. She highlighted an all too familiar aspect of what I know of September 11: radicalism.

    While there are many citizens proud to have autonomy within Spain, there are also a fair number who would like to see Catalua become an independent nation. As we watched the news dur-ing cena (dinner)which included equal parts about La Diada and 9/11 memorialsI couldnt help but feel a familiar pang seeing masked radicals burning ags and pictures of the Spanish king.

    Spending the 10th anniversary of 9/11 abroad was a little more culturally jar-ring than I had imagined it would be. In the U.S. Im not always convinced that we get a completely global per-spective on the news and world events. In Spain, memorial broadcasts ranged from the effects and costs of the war to

    Whatever. Its more fun for me that I get an excuse to drink with my friends and be proud of [name of country omit-ted]. This is not the attitude of every-one. A lot of the students will discuss the technicalities of the game until your ears fall off or your eyes glaze over and you stop them Im American and I have not watched too much soccer in my time. Sorry.

    FluencyThe comments generally revealed that the more tasks students had completed, the more uent they felt themselves to be. Respond-ing to Item 5 (Caused me to become a more uent speaker of the language), one student noted, If I can introduce myself to a person and get the person to see that I can speak [name of language omitted] well enough to hold a conversation, they are much less likely to keep switching back into English. They are appreciative that someone can speak their language fairly well and so I get more practice.

    Examining Ones Own CultureRe ective comments that provided com-parisons between the native and target cul-ture were less numerous and generally less self-re ective. However, one female student who granted the author permission to use what she had written was quite articulate in the blog that she wrote while abroad:

    In Barcelona, as well as the rest of the region, September 11 has an entirely different meaning than most Americans have known for the past 10 years. What has become one of the darkest days in the history of the United States is, in fact, a day of celebration throughout the region known as La Diada.

    The day was of cially designated Catalans National Day in 1980 but previously it marked a loss of liberty to the regions inhabitants. On September 11, 1714, during the War of Spanish Succession, Barcelona fell to forces of


    Limitations and Implications for Future Studies There are several limitations to this study. The high response rate may be attributed in part to the fact that the students completing the survey knew they would return to the home institution and enroll in another course with the same instructor who was assigning their grade for the course taken while study-ing abroad. One might also speculate that students who study abroad are enthusiastic about their experience and appreciate the opportunity to express their positive stance on study abroad by participating in the sur-vey. The sample size (N 12) was small, and inferences about the results must be quali- ed because of that factor.

    Further research in this area is war-ranted. Repeating this survey with a sig-ni cantly higher number of students might reveal different results. These 12 students were the rst students in the certi cate pro-gram and were very excited about it. They may have had more motivation than other students studying abroad. Future studies might include comparisons in perceived lin-guistic and cultural gains between a group of students studying abroad and completing the tasks and a group that studies abroad but does not complete the tasks. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that these results are based on students self-assess-ments. The literature has shown that quanti-tative measures and self-assessments are, at times, contradictory. Yamashita (1996), for example, noticed that the more pro cient the students, the greater the likelihood that they underestimate their language abilities. A pre- and post-OPI would illuminate the ndings of this study. Other studies might examine some of the additional variables that have traditionally been part of study-abroad research: homestay vs. dormitory stay, responses to the surveys statements by age and/or sex, country in which the experi-ence abroad occurred, the length of stay, etc.

    Additional data could be analyzed at this institution. Given the relatively positive results of this study, one might conjecture that even more than 12 tasks would result in

    the Ground Zero memorial and anti-American protests in many countries.

    The more I thought about it the more I realized how similar the two mean-ings of September 11 are. Both symbol-ize lossin America of our security, in Catalua of culture. Both have become national rallying points as well as points of discord within the popula-tion. And both force its citizens to look toward the future.

    In general, the students comments echoed the rating they had given on the Likert scale. This student overtly compared the two meanings of September 11 for residents of Catalua. She synthesized elements of history, culture, and current events to con-clude that both cultures view that day as a day of loss. As expected, students repeated in the surveys comments many of the expe-riences they had had while studying abroad. Much insight can be gleaned from all the comments, but especially the ones from students that were self-re ective and intro-spective.

    Discussion and InterpretationAs shown by the quantitative and qualita-tive results, in general, students did per-ceive that the 12 tasks had bene ted them in terms of decreased anxiety/nervousness, an increased willingness to interact with native speakers outside of assigned tasks, obtaining a deeper understanding of the target culture, examining their own culture and its beliefs, increasing their uency, and increasing their ability to circumlocute. This indicates that students perceived that they had made gains in oral pro ciency and cultural understanding.

    These ndings support the ndings and suggestions of Riedel (1989), Archangeli (1999), Buchheit (1985), and Dodds and Wuttig (1985). Based on the results of the present study, requiring students studying abroad to complete concrete assignments in which they are forced to interact with native speakers appears to be of bene t to the stu-dents linguistically and culturally.

  • 12 XXX 2012

    The results were encouraging in terms of students self-assessed improvement in the areas of oral pro ciency and cultural competence. They reported becoming less anxious about speaking with native speakers, and this may have led to their being more willing to interact with native speakers outside of required contexts. The students also indicated that they felt they understood the culture better and that they were more inclined to examine their own culture and cultural beliefs. Finally, they believed they became more uent as a result of the 12 tasks and that their ability to cir-cumlocute improved as well.

    Study abroad involves a wide-ranging number of uncontrollable variables. The curricular supplement to study abroad described in this article is one variable over which instructors and students do have control, a variable that encourages students to interact with speakers of the language in the country where they study.

    ReferencesArchangeli, M. (1999). Study abroad and experiential learning in Salzburg, Austria. For-eign Language Annals, 32, 115122.

    Bacon, S. M. (2008). Learning the rules: Language development and cultural adjust-ment during study abroad. Foreign Language Annals, 35, 637646.

    Brecht, R. D., Davidson, D. E., & Ginsberg, R. B. (1991). On evaluating language pro -ciency gain in study abroad environments. Study funded by the U.S. Department of Education, American Council of Teachers of Russian, and the National Foreign Language Center. Paper presented in Russian at the 7th Interna-tional Congress of MAPRIAL (Moscow, Soviet Union, August 1990). In Z. D. Dabars (Ed.), Selected papers delivered at the NEH Sympo-sium in Russian Language and Culture, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, May 1990 (pp. 101130). Baltimore: Center of Russian Language and Culture of Friends School.

    Brecht, R. D., & Robinson, J. (1993). Qualita-tive analysis of second language acquisition in study abroad: The ACTR/NFLC project. NFLC Occasional Paper. Washington, DC: National Foreign Language Center.

    greater linguistic and cultural gains. It could also be that a cap exists beyond which no additional gains occur. The actual posts the students made on their blogs after having completed each task could also be analyzed in greater detail to provide additional infor-mation. In the future, the author hopes to require students to videotape their assigned interactions while abroad. Such recordings would potentially contain vastly more data, and the ubiquity of cell phones makes this requirement much more feasible. However, videotaping interviews could also diminish the spontaneity of the interaction and have additional negative consequences, such as being offensive in some cultures.

    Moving forward with future studies and semesters with students studying abroad, the author will reconsider some of the tasks, as the current ones may not be universally culturally appropriate. For example, asking strangers about politics may be offensive in some cultures. Either the revised tasks could be vetted by natives of each culture, or the questions could be altered depending on the culture in which the students plan to study.

    Future studies might examine gains in other skill areas as well. Comparing gains in reading, writing, and listening between a group of students who have studied abroad to the gains of a group in a more traditional, at-home setting would certainly be informative.

    ConclusionThis article describes a course taken while students were studying abroad and attempt-ing to increase their oral pro ciency and cultural understanding. During the semes-ter-long course, the students completed 12 tasks that required them to interact with native speakers and subsequently to blog about those interactions. The course was designed, in part, because a review of the literature reveals that students access to native speakers while abroad is very uneven and dependent on a large number of vari-ables. Because of this situation, the course described here forces students to take the initiative and approach native speakers.


    Kinginger, C. (2008). Language learning in study abroad: Case studies of Americans in France [Supplement]. Modern Language Jour-nal, 92, 1124.

    Lapkin, S., Hart, D., & Swain, M. (1995). A Canadian interprovincial exchange: Evalu-ating the linguistic impact of a three-month stay in Quebec. In B. F. Freed (Ed.), Second language acquisition in a study abroad context (pp. 6794). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

    Laubscher, M. R. (1994). Encounters with dif-ference: Student perceptions of the role of out-of-class experiences in education abroad. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

    Lee, L. (2012). Engaging study abroad stu-dents in intercultural learning through blog-ging and ethnographic interviews. Foreign Language Annals, 45, 721.

    Meara, P. (1994). The year abroad and its effects. Language Learning Journal, 10, 3238.

    Mizuno, N. (1998). The impact of study abroad experience on American college students who studied in Japan [Unpublished doctoral dis-sertation]. University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

    Riedel, K. G. (1989). New goals for teaching language: An experience in undergraduate programs in Spain. Hispania, 72, 774779.

    Rivers, W. P. (2008). Is being there enough? The effects of homestay placements on lan-guage gain during study abroad. Foreign Lan-guage Annals, 41, 492500.

    Rohrlich, B. F. (1993). Expecting the worst (or the best!). What exchange programs should know about student expectations. Occasional Papers in Intercultural Learning, No. 16. New York: AFS Center for the Study of Intercul-tural Learning (EDRS: ED 368 2891).

    Segalowitz, N., & Freed, B. F. (2004). Learn-ing Spanish in at home and study abroad con-texts. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 26, 173199.

    Teichler, U., & Maiworm, F. (1997). The ERASMUS experience. Major ndings of the Erasmus evaluation research project. Luxem-bourg: European Commission.

    Wilkinson, S. (1998). Study abroad from the participants perspective: A challenge to com-mon beliefs. Foreign Language Annals, 31, 2339.

    Williams, T. R. (2005) Exploring the impact of study abroad on students intercultural skills: Adaptability and sensitivity. Journal of Studies in International Education, 9, 356371.

    Buchheit, R. H. (1985). Language eldwork: A pedagogical tool for German conversation and composition courses. Die Unterrichtsp-raxis/Teaching German, 18, 6471.

    Carlson, J. S., Burn, B. B., Useem, J., & Yachimowicz, D. (1990). Study abroad: The experience of American undergraduates. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

    Cholakian, R. (1992). Study abroad: Paris. ADFL Bulletin, 23, 225.

    DeKeyser, R. M. (2007). Study abroad as for-eign language practice. In R. DeKeyser (Ed.), Practice in a second language: Perspectives from applied linguistics and cognitive psychology (pp. 208226). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Dodds, D., & Wuttig, J. (1985). Erlebte landeskunde: Adding life to a study abroad pro-gram. Die Unterrichtspraxis/Teaching German, 18, 1334.

    Dwyer, M. M. (2004). More is better: The impact of study abroad program duration. Frontiers Journal, 10, 151163.

    Engle, J. (1995). Creating more rigorous and more appropriate study-abroad programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 41, A56.

    Freed, B. F. (1995). What makes us think that students who study abroad become uent? In B. F. Freed (Ed.), Second language acquisition in a study abroad context (pp. 123148). Phila-delphia: John Benjamins.

    Freed, B., Segalowitz, N., & Dewey, D. P. (2004). Context of learning and second lan-guage uency in French: Comparing regular classroom, study abroad and intensive domes-tic immersion programs. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 26, 275301.

    Golonka, E. (2001). Identi cation of salient linguistic and metalinguistic variables in the prediction of oral pro ciency gain at the advance-level threshold among adult learners of Russian [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

    Huebner, T. (1995). The effects of overseas language programs: Report on a case study of an intensive Japanese course. In B. F. Freed (Ed.), Second language acquisition in a study abroad context (pp. 171194). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

    Kehl, K. L., & Morris, J. (2008). Differences in global-mindedness between short-term and semester-long study abroad participants at selected private universities. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, XV, 6779.

  • 14 XXX 2012

    Submitted July 29, 2011

    Accepted March 1, 2012

    Yamashita, S. O. (1996). Six measures of JSL pragmatics. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.


    12 Tasks Completed While Studying Abroad

    Task One Identify a current event that is controversial. Read two newspapers and compare/contrast the information there. Also speak to at least one mem-ber of the culture about the event. Ask how important it is, whether it will have a long-term impact, etc., as appropriate.

    What was the topic about which you read and spoke? Did this event cause you to experience any culture shock? When you spoke with someone about the culture, did you notice any differences in the way you speak in your culture and the way s/he did in hers/his? For example, was s/he more or less formal than you? How direct was s/he? Did you have problems understanding her/him? If so, what did you do about it? Did you use any particular strategies to make the conversations ow more smoothly?

    Task Two Introduce yourself to at least three members of the culture.

    What did you say about yourself? Which questions were you asked? Were you asked anything that you didnt expect? Was it easy or dif cult to speak with these people? Why? Did you learn anything meaningful about the culture? If so, what? Did you notice any differences between your style of communication and theirs? If so, what were they? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it?

    Task Three Identify a food dish that is not readily available in your culture. Go to a restaurant, store, etc., where that food can be found and ask a server, cook, store employee about that dish.

    Which food dish did you investigate? What is its history? Why is it unique or representative of that culture? Could you easily prepare that dish in your culture? Why (not)? How is it prepared? Did you learn anything meaning-ful about the culture? If so, what? Did you notice any differences between your style of communication and theirs? If so, what were they? Did you have problems understanding her/him? If so, what did you do about it?

    Task Four Identify a museum, park, means of transportation, etc., that is representa-tive of the culture. Find at least two members of the culture and inquire about why it represents that culture (e.g., what does the Washington Mon-ument tell about the U.S.?).

    Which museum, park, or means of transportation did you investigate? What did you learn about it? Did you learn anything meaningful about the culture? If so, what? Did you notice any differences between your style of communication and theirs? If so, what were they? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it?


    Task Five Identify and attend a festival, fair, public event, etc., that is celebrated in the culture. Speak with at least two members of the culture who are present. Choose two who are quite different, e.g., young vs. old, male vs. female, etc. Ask why the event is important.

    Which festival, fair, public event, etc. did you investigate? What is its his-tory? Did you experience culture shock while talking about the event? Did you learn anything meaningful about the culture? If so, what? Did you notice any differences between your style of communication and theirs? If so, what were they? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it?

    Task Six Speak to at least two people about your age or younger who would be familiar with some of the slang that is currently being used. Ask for their help in identifying at least 15 words or phrases. In your post, list these and tell when they would be used. Give the English equivalent, too.

    Did you encounter any surprises in this undertaking? Did you learn any-thing meaningful about the culture? If so, what? Did you notice any dif-ferences between your style of communication and theirs? If so, what were they? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it? Was it because of their age?

    Task Seven Call a business you are interested in and ask when it is open and where it is located.

    How do people answer the phone there? Did you nd it is more dif cult to speak on the phone than in person? Why (not)? If it was more dif cult speaking on the phone, how did you compensate for that? Did you learn anything meaningful about the culture? If so, what? Did you notice any differences between your style of communication and theirs in talking on the phone? If so, what were they? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it?

    Task Eight Go to a post of ce and mail something. Compare this experience to a com-parable one in the U.S. or your native culture.

    How much does it cost compared to what you are familiar with? How did the person working there interact with you? Did the other customers speak to you? Was there anything unsettling about the experience? Did you learn anything meaningful about the culture? If so, what? Did you notice any differences between your style of communication and theirs? If so, what were they? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it?

    Task Nine Ask three members of the culture for directions to one of the following: a bank, restaurant, post of ce, movie theater, etc.

    How did they respond to you? Were they ready and willing to help? Did they ask where you are from or other questions? How does asking ques-tions and getting responses differ between this culture and your own? Did you learn anything meaningful about the culture? If so, what? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it?

  • 16 XXX 2012

    Task Ten Ask two members of the culture for their views on the U.S., President Obama, etc. Ask if they view the people of the U.S. any differently than they view the government.

    What did you learn? Was it the same as you expected? Was it dif cult to talk about this topic? If so, why? Did you learn anything meaningful about the culture? If so, what? Did you notice any differences between your style of communication and theirs when talking about politics? If so, what were they? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it?

    Task Eleven Find two people who are members of a minority in the culture you are in. Ask about how they feel they are treated, why they are there, what kind of work they do, etc. Learn as much as you can without becoming too offensive or obtrusive.

    What did you learn from the people with whom you spoke? Did you expe-rience culture shock while talking with them? Did you learn anything meaningful about the culture? If so, what? If so, what were they? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it?

    Task Twelve Find two members of the culture and ask about how people give gifts.

    When do people give gifts? What kinds of things are given for the vari-ous events? Is one expected to reciprocate? Should one bring a gift when invited to someones house? Do different owers have different meanings in the culture? Did you learn anything meaningful about the culture? If so, what? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it?


    Post-WLC 081 Self-Assessment

    This short questionnaire is an attempt to help you realize the extent to which you bene tted from completing the 12 tasks required for WLC 081. The results may be used to modify the tasks as necessary. Please circle your responses to the statements below. You may then make comments about each individual statement. The questionnaire is anonymous.

    1 = strongly agree 2 = agree 3 = no opinion 4 = disagree 5 = strongly disagree

    The process of completing the 12 tasks for WLC 081:

    1. Helped me feel less anxious or nervous about interacting with native speakers.

    1 2 3 4 5



    2. Made me more willing to engage with native speakers outside of completing the tasks because my self-con dence in using the language had increased.

    1 2 3 4 5


    3. Helped me understand the culture(s) of the country in which I was studying at a deeper level.

    1 2 3 4 5


    4. Caused me to examine my own culture and cultural beliefs.

    1 2 3 4 5


    5. Caused me to become a more uent speaker of the language.

    1 2 3 4 5


    6. Increased my ability to circumlocute (express things even if I didnt know all of the vocabulary or structures) in the language.

    1 2 3 4 5