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Second Language Acquisition and Study Abroad Learning Environments

ELIA 17, 2017, pp. 273-282
273 Christina Isabelli-García
Second Language Acquisition and Study Abroad Learning
Environments //
La adquisición de una lengua extranjera y los entornos de aprendizaje
en el extranjero
Christina Isabelli-García
Gonzaga University, USA
In the eld of second language acquisition (SLA), much research
has focused on university language-learners. This is due to the numerous
learners that study abroad and the ease of collecting data from subjects
in which there is much development to measure. It is common practice
to recommend students to complement their traditional language learning
experience with an immersion experience in a more naturalistic environment.
In this learning environment, there are numerous opportunities to engage
with native speakers in various contexts and, as a result, improve their
Estudios de
lingüística inglesa aplicada
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Key concepts in applied linguistics
communicative competence. These immersion environments include study
abroad (SA) and to attain “advanced levels of L2 ability...the operative
factor may not so much be the nature and breadth of learning
opportunities” (Brynes, 2009, p. 3). This belief is reected in the effort at
many universities to internationalize their curricula and in the number of
students that go abroad each year to learn and acquire a second language.
One expected consequence to this trend is to assess the benets
of the SA environment and analyze what aspects of the experience lend
themselves to provide opportunities to improve students’ language systems
in all that it entails (syntactic, morphological, phonological, semantic,
pragmatic, cultural, to name a few) and to examine what the successful
language learners are doing in the immersion context that may explain their
development. One of the goals is to learn what learners do differently abroad
and how it may affect their acquisition/learning of the target language.
Most frequently, SA research focuses on the intermediate language learner
and the factors that explain the jump they make from learning the language
(langue) to using the language (parole) and, moreover, how they come to
be advanced speakers of the target language. This is a frequent issue U.S.
educators see in third- and fourth-year language classes as well as program
managers of university language departments. According to Lord and
Isabelli-García (2014), one of the more difcult language learning goals
to reach is the advanced competency level that is “typically assumed to be
present in the language learner in order to be a functioning, professional
member of a second-language, global, workplace” (p. 157). The authors
also note that SA is commonly thought to provide the high-impact
practice (AAC&U, 2013) of experiential learning, and help to meet the
Modern Language Association’s (MLA, 2007) call for transcultural and
translingual competence.
Given the stakes of SA, the scale of the enterprise, and the signicant
involvement of interested parties, there is a clear need for strategy, informed
by data on a number of empirical questions (Ginsberg & Miller, 2000). To
measure what is learned abroad entails measuring the progress in language
acquisition of students who spend a signicant amount of time studying
a language while immersed abroad and compare it to SLA in traditional
language classes. Freed’s (1995) seminal publication sparked research
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275 Christina Isabelli-García
attempting to answer her question concerning the linguistic benets of
time spent abroad, “Is it improved accent, greater use of idioms, improved
accuracy, expanded discourse strategies, greater improved listening
comprehension, improved oral or written communication, greater syntactic
complexity, or broader sociolinguistic range?” (p.17). Recent research
has extended beyond the linguistic development of the learner to include
“changes in learner identity and agency and student perspectives about
language learning that inform development of intercultural/transcultural
competence (e.g., MLA 2007; Jackson 2010, 2013; Beaven & Spencer-
Oatey 2016)” (Isabelli, Bown, Plew, & Dewey, in press).
Successful integration into their new surroundings is important to
the SA students because it is in this situation that they can take advantage of
the opportunity to hone their language skills with meaningful interactions
with members of the host culture, in a way promoting SLA. These
interactions, which frequently occur in informal relationships contracted by
the learner (referred to as social networks [Milroy, 1987]), may inuence
the acquisition process. In other words, to know what promotes SLA
means understanding how impenetrable our students nd the new culture
to be, the strategies they use to create, maintain, and expand their social
networks, and the impact their efforts have on their language acquisition
at the more advanced level. Within a language socialization framework,
studies have documented that learners experience different ease of access
or acceptance to these informal relationships (see Norton & McKinney,
2011). Alternatively, they may be embraced by new communities but “not
be fully invested in learning particular community ways…or they may want
to retain an identity that is distinct from a particular community (Bronson
& Watson-Gegeo, 2008)” (Duff & Talmy, 2011, pp. 97-98). SA students
must learn strategies to build new social networks and share opinions within
that group of acquaintances, a vital aspect of maintaining a network. These
interactions within extended, or meaningful, social networks provide little
opportunity to avoid certain topics that are difcult to express in a second
language. Participating in interactions with native speakers encourages
the development of second language knowledge and communicative
competence. Because of the difculty for students to create networks with
native speakers of the target language abroad, accessing appropriate input
becomes a signicant barrier (Bryam & Feng, 2006; Collentine, 2009;
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Key concepts in applied linguistics
Isabelli-García, 2006; Pérez-Vidal, 2017). Therefore, to successfully
measure SLA we need to understand the transcultural experiential learning
situation in which the students nd themselves.
Research in this eld differentiates studying abroad from other types
of foreign travel in which a second language is typically learned. These
include, for example, those that are working abroad or simultaneously
working and studying abroad. Knowing the learner’s motivation for
being abroad is necessary to forewarn researchers of the varying ways
that learning occurs abroad and suggest that research design be in line
with sojourner characteristics (Badstübner & Ecke, 2009; Laborda &
Bejarano, 2008; Patron, 2007; Pellegrino-Aveni, 2005; Wolcott, 2013).
Mixed-methods research designs have proven to give an ample picture of
how learners’ individual differences play a role in language development
(Briggs, 2016; Jackson, 2016; Kinginger, 2008; McManus, Mitchell &
Tracy-Ventura, 2014; Tracy-Ventura, Dewaele, Köylü, & McManus, 2016).
Theoretical approaches that have been seen more recently in SA research
are those that include a sociocultural perspective and tend to lean more
towards a dynamic systems approach in which SA is viewed as a “social
ecosystem” (de Bot, Lowie & Verspoor, 2007) where dynamic, interacting
factors shape SLA. Researchers applying the approach take interacting,
internal, dynamic subsystems into account to explain the SLA process.
The complex, dynamic systems theory encapsulates this and “allows us
to merge the social and the cognitive aspects of SLA and shows how their
interaction can lead to development” (de Bot et al., 2007, p. 19). This
approach puts into play the fact that students abroad are receiving more
diverse and complex input than their counterparts at home via situated
practice (Bronson & Watson-Gregeo, 2008; Comas-Quinn, Mardomingo,
& Valentiere, 2009; Knight & Schmidt-Rinehart, 2010) as well as via
extended social networks (Dewey, Belnap, & Hilstrom, 2013; Dewey,
Bown, & Eggett, 2012; Dewey, Ring, Gardner, & Belnap, 2013; Duff &
Talmy, 2011; Kurata, 2011; Shiri, 2015).
SLA conclusions collected in the SA learning environment, such as
syntactic, lexical, phonetic, morphological and semantic development, as
well as development in the four language skills, have been inconclusive
(Sanz, 2014). An aspect that is listed repeatedly in publications as an area
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277 Christina Isabelli-García
for further study is in regard to capturing data from the growing number of
students studying abroad to areas besides the popular destination of Europe
in addition to students of diverse ethnic heritages studying abroad in countries
of their ancestry. Also present are suggestions to push forward the SA
research agenda by taking into consideration the host family perspectives,
implementing and assessing suggestions for learners to engage in abroad
as a means to promote gains in communicative competence. Recent studies
have documented the importance of understanding the varied nature of host
family placement (see Lee, Wu, Di, & Kinginger, 2017). They have also
uncovered the role that the decline in U.S. households of “eating dinner
together” may have on the SA experience (Ochs & Beck, 2013, p. 49).
That is, if more and more U.S. students are coming from homes in which
eating meals together is challenging then we may need to reevaluate the
value that is placed on SA host family connections that are expected to be
made during meal times. In addition to the nature of host family placement,
they have underscored the benets of service learning projects apart from
the academic advantages but also as a tool for fostering extended/relevant
interaction with native speakers (Shively, 2013).
With the aid of the aforementioned sociocultural theoretical approach,
SA research has shed light on how study abroad gains may be a result of
characteristics such as the language learner’s personality type, cognitive
abilities, and styles. Sociocultural and sociolinguistics factors such as
gender, stage in the acculturation process, and investment in learning the
target language have also been made. Mendelson (2004) states succinctly
that there is a “need to respect the voices of individual students, beyond
the statistics, in order to better understand their learning process on both
an academic and personal level” (p. 44). Kinginger (2009) also suggests
future researchers to create more robust research designs that include
better control groups or use more reliable means to measure language
gains as well as in the areas of discursive, pragmatic, and sociocultural
competencies. There is a need to continue to cover the multiple facets of
study abroad with the goal to push forward the research agenda as well
as to frame it within particular theoretical perspectives to create robust
research designs.
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Christina Isabelli-García (PhD, Ibero-Romance Philology and
Linguistics, University of Texas - Austin) is chair and professor of the
Department of Modern Languages and Literature at Gonzaga University.
She is the author of Motivation and Extended Interaction in the Study
Abroad Context (Edwin Mellen) and has published a variety of articles on
second language acquisition in the study abroad and domestic immersions
contexts, identifying processes of forming social networks abroad and how
they function as contexts for language learning.
First version received: September 2017
Final version accepted: October 2017
... Some academic practices already exist that seem to put a heavier weight on the circuitry involving the BG. For example, learning a foreign language through immersion is becoming increasingly popular (Cenoz & Gorter, 2015;Isabelli-García & Isabelli, 2020). For example, if someone wants to learn Spanish, spending 2-3 months in Spain can boost their knowledge of the Spanish language to a greater extent than staying in their home country and studying that foreign language for an equal amount of time. ...
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There has been a growing interest in incorporating psychological and neuroscientific knowledge about the development of cognitive functions in educational policies and academic practices. In this paper, we argue that the current knowledge about the interactions between these functions and their neurodevelopmental characteristics should also be considered in order to develop practices that could be better suited to pupils depending on their age. To facilitate this, we review current neuroscientific knowledge on the competitive interactions between two neural circuitry underlying distinct learning functions, their developmental trajectories and how they are linked to other functions such as cognitive control. The incorporation of this knowledge in education could help improve academic outcomes.
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The paper examines the impact of language socialization in the context of family, education, and sojourn on multilingual learners' emotional, psychological, and identity responses to language learning and use. Since language and culture are interwoven in second language acquisition (SLA) (Kramsch, 1998), learners respond to language learning and use on the levels of language and culture, shaping learners' linguistic, cultural, and social identities on the individual and on the collective levels alike. This classroom research is a qualitative case study involving four cohorts of learners in a multicultural classroom: 1) students having learned English only in the formal context of education, 2) learners having grown up in a multicultural and multilingual environment speaking several languages including English, 3) a learner raised bilingually by a non-native second language (L2)-speaking parent, and 4) a multilingual learner learning languages in formal contexts but also experiencing sojourn. Data were collected via a linguistic autobiography (an unstructured essay) written by the fourteen participants. The findings point out that negative experiences associated with unfavorable teaching methods, discriminative educational practices, or bullying lead to negative emotional, psychological, and identity responses to learning. Learners experience 'language socialization shock' when a sudden change occurs in their language socialization processes-irrespective of whether the change is positive or negative. In an effort to attain positive experiences and self-fulfillment via language learning and use, learners rid themselves of the old socialization context haunted by negative experiences by moving on to a new socialization context or by learning a different foreign language through which they can 'start over'. The findings also point out some of the long-term psychological and social effects of raising bilingual children by non-native L2-speaking parents and the impact of multilingual and multicultural socialization contexts on learners' linguistic and life choices that transform their lives. Introduction The impact of socialization plays a vital role in learners' and teachers' emotional and identity responses to language learning. Being exposed to a new language (L2) and a new culture (C2) (embedded in the L2), learners develop new linguistic and cultural identities. Moreover, through interactions with peers, teachers, and the broader community of L2 speakers, learners develop a sense of (not) belonging to a novel community, which shapes their social identities as well. These interactions provide learners with opportunities to negotiate their various identities and navigate the subtleties of social dynamics. Identity, therefore, is constructed and co-constructed in social interactions with others (De Fina and
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Many people consider being abroad as the ideal condition for language development. Hence, the number of students who participate in study abroad (SA) programs to learn languages has increased dramatically during the 21st century. This entry focuses on the effects of SA participation on second language development and explains how individual differences and external factors create unpredictable results for learners. The entry highlights the institutional and educational support options and practices that can maximize the benefits learners can get from SA experiences.
Study Abroad. Second Language Acquisition and Interculturality Martin Howard (ed.) (2019) Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Pp. 296 ISBN: 9781788924146 (hbk) ISBN: 9781788924139 (pbk) ISBN: 9781788924153 Ebook(PDF) ISBN: 9781788924160 Ebook(EPUB)
The book is available on Google Books:
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The aim of this review is to synthesize empirical studies on undergraduate language learners’ experience abroad during a time period of a year or less. To help provide a framework to this synthesis, we begin our review by tracing the recent evolution of empirical mixed-method research on the learner, identifying problems and characteristics that language learners generally encounter in the study abroad (SA) experience. We take a closer look at variables related to individual difference such as anxiety, motivation, and attitudes to more recent views of learner identity in language learning. We highlight the shift to language learner agency, a topic that merits more discussion in SA literature. We then review how the SA learning environments are treated. This review takes a closer look at research informed by socially grounded theories. Finally, we review the role that SA plays in undergraduate language curricula, where the objectives of the experience are aligned with at-home (AH) curricula, a topic that has not been fully discussed in SA literature. The conclusions offer suggestions for keeping pace with the broader field of applied/educational linguistics.
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This is an ambitious work, covering the whole breadth of the field from its theoretical underpinnings to research and teaching methodology. The Editors have managed to recruit a stellar panel of contributors, resulting in the kind of 'all you ever wanted to know about instructed SLA' collection that should be found on the shelves of every good library. " Zoltán Dörnyei, University of Nottingham, UK The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition is the first collection of state-of-the-art papers pertaining to Instructed Second Language Acquisition (ISLA). Written by 45 world-renowned experts, the entries are full-length articles detailing pertinent issues with up-to-date references. Each chapter serves three purposes: (1) provide a review of current literature and discussions of cutting edge issues; (2) share the authors' understanding of, and approaches to, the issues; and (3) provide direct links between research and practice. In short, based on the chapters in this handbook, ISLA has attained a level of theoretical and methodological maturity that provides a solid foundation for future empirical and pedagogical discovery. This handbook is the ideal resource for researchers, graduate students, upper-level undergraduate students, teachers, and teacher-educators who are interested in second language learning and teaching.
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This case study paper focuses on the processes of adaptation that an Erasmus student, Angela, experienced during her study abroad period. It is a longitudinal study that explores how she coped over time with the various adaptation demands that she faced in the different aspects of her life: social-personal aspects (friends and social life, daily life, language for socialisation) and academic aspects (courses, administrative issues, language for academic purposes). The data gathered involved pre-departure and post return interviews, weekly “diary-tables” and monthly interviews while abroad. The findings show that Angela’s adaptive journey followed noticeably different trends in the personal and academic domains of her life, demonstrating clearly how adaptation can evolve at different speeds in these different domains, and can result in ups and down throughout the sojourn. Even an aspect such as language was perceived differently in the two overarching domains. Further research, involving a much larger group of respondents, is needed in order to identify whether there are more generalised patterns within these various domains, or whether the patterns are always subject to significant individual and contextual variation. Moreover, further qualitative research is needed in order to understand the reasons that lie behind the ups and downs within each of the domains, and the extent to which they seem to be idiosyncratic or predictable.
While study abroad homestays are often credited with providing opportunities for language and cultural learning, at times they can be characterized by communicative, cross-cultural, or interpersonal discord. In documenting these conflicts and their consequences, research to date has relied largely on students' self-reports, often focusing on their negative effect on students' orientations to learning. Grounded in Vygotskian sociocultural theory, this study adopts a longitudinal approach to the multimodal, multisensory process of learning table etiquette in Chinese homestays, including the perspectives of both hosts and students. Analysis of communicative interactions, photographs, diaries, and interviews reveals that the hosts directed students' attention to their inadequate etiquette at mealtimes through contextualized directives and accusations. These face-threatening acts stipulated dos and don'ts while also ultimately cultivating some habits of virtuous eating. Over time, face-threatening acts became repertoires of communicative resources invoked by students to control their social and mental activity. The findings suggest that students and hosts can collaboratively resolve homestay problems, transforming them into opportunities for learning.
Study abroad is often seen as a crucial dimension of language learning - developing communicative proficiency, language awareness, and intercultural competence. The author provides an overview and assessment of research on language learning in study abroad settings, reviewing the advantages and constraints of perspectives adopted in this research.
Second language acquisition scholars have long recognized that language attitudes and motivation can play a critical role in second language (L2) learning, leading to variations in willingness to communicate (WTC) and initiate interactions in that language. This paper reports on the pre-sojourn phase of a mixed-method study that investigated the language and intercultural learning of 149 Chinese students from a Hong Kong university who participated in a semester-long exchange program in an English-speaking country. By way of a questionnaire survey, document analysis (e.g., study plans), and in-depth interviews, the first phase examined their pre-sojourn language use, attitudes, and motivation, as well as their aims, expectations, and concerns about their impending study and residence in the host environment. Studies of this nature are essential to provide direction for pre-sojourn orientations and other interventions that can support and optimize the language enhancement and intercultural engagement of outgoing L2 international exchange students.