Andrea Nelson, Bryn Mawr College
Foreign language pedagogy in the United States is currently and increasingly informed by the theoretical and empirical insights into foreign language learning provided by the subdiscipline of applied linguistics known as Second Language Acquisition (SLA). This paper addresses the Russian context by presenting a portion of findings from my doctoral dissertation concerning early syntactic behavior in Russian foreign language learning.
The dissertation, conducted within an empirical SLA framework, considers the nature and development of a range of linguistic aspects in early Russian foreign language learning. Its empirical core consists of the learning histories of two individuals engaged in the equivalent of their first year of formal Russian language study, the data drawn from verbatim accounts of these individuals in conversation with their native speaking instructor which were gathered on videotaped, then subsequently transcribed, coded, entered into a computer database and assessed. Assessments of these data focused on the nature and development of these individuals' grammatical and lexical morphological systems as well as their baseline syntactic behavior as reflected by a series of lexical collocational or syntagmatic analyses. This paper focuses on the findings of the latter series of analyses.
The lexical collocational analyses of the dissertation categorized lexemes as both unique and individual items and as part of a larger grammatical or word classes. They also explored the participants' language corpora in terms of both observable fixed, or formulaic, syntactic behavior as well investigated more generalized patterns of syntactic expression. The findings presented in this paper include the observations in both individuals corpora of a substantial use of syntactic behavior which may be categorized as fixed or formulaic, including such frequently and consistently used dual lexical expressions as "kak po-russki?" and "ne ponimaju," and trial lexical expressions such as "ja ne znaju" and "ja ne xochu." The findings also include the further observation that phrases such as these appear not to be isolated phenomenon in these data but rather appear to reflect more pervasive and consistent trends in both learners' syntactic-syntagmatic behavior, including, for example, the tendency for these individuals to use frequent and recurring grammatical lexical collocational patterns such as "pronoun verb" and "pronoun adverb verb."
The paper argues that these findings have immediate implications and consequences for the profession. Among these are included a documented and empirically-based appreciation for early syntactic expression in Russian foreign language learning, expression which constitutes the base of knowledge from which these individual language learners operate. They also include a necessary basis for further research, a starting point for inquiry which enables the design and implementation of more focused research. Suggestions for such research are presented as well as more pointed links to Russian foreign language pedagogy.
Mark Lauersdorf, University of Kansas and Jeffrey D. Holdeman, Ohio State University
In foreign language departments that offer courses in a less commonly taught language (LCTL), there is often only one instructor responsible for teaching the LCTL classes and running the LCTL program. Very often this one instructor is the only member of the department, or even university community, working actively (either in teaching or in research) with the language in question. In addition, this one instructor is often separated from his/her closest colleagues at other institutions by such a great distance that contact and interaction with these colleagues is possible only on rare occasions at larger regional or national conferences. This type of professional isolation intensifies many of the professional problems common to all teachers, such as: 1) the need to "reinvent the wheel"--where the instructor creates materials and carries out research that duplicates the efforts of his/her colleagues working in equal isolation at other institutions; 2) a restricted/limited view of the field--where the instructor is unaware of any methods, materials or resources beyond his/her own personal experience; etc. Of course every language teacher confronts such problems to one degree or another, but as stated, these problems are intensified for the LCTL teacher by a lack of regular professional contact with colleagues in the specific field.
This paper presents an on-going project designed to help alleviate some of these isolation-related problems for the Slavic and East European language teaching community. The long-term goal of the project is to connect teachers of Slavic and East European LCTLs through the development of comprehensive electronic databases and electronic resources for each of these languages. The electronic databases will be archives/catalogues that provide information related to the teaching of the individual languages and cultures, including information on books and materials (both printed and other), institutions and people (programs and contacts), other resources (organizations, conferences, information sources, etc.), and pedagogy (techniques and suggestions). The additional electronic resources will be "interactive devices" that enhance direct communication and exchange among the LCTL teachers and will include discussion lists (listserv lists) as fora for discussing problems unique to the instruction of the specific languages, and clearing house sites for deposit and retrieval of unpublished language teaching materials contributed by colleagues in the field.
The various elements of the project are currently being fine-tuned and field tested using Czech as the test language. This paper will review the details of the project and report on the initial reaction of the Czech language teaching community to the project materials and their effectiveness. The primary aims of the presentation are: 1) to introduce the project publicly with the intent of sparking interest among those not yet familiar with it, 2) to initiate discussion of the project and elicit input from a broader constituency than the initial test-audience, and 3) to solicit volunteers from the AATSEEL community to develop project resources for languages other than Czech.
Mark Powell, University of Texas, Austin
A 1996 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicated that 1,290 U.S. students went abroad to study in Russia during the 1994-95 academic year. A number of these students were studying abroad for the first time. During the course of their study abroad, students may encounter situations which are new to them. The students previously gained knowledge of the culture and language will help in most of these particular situations; however, the students may come upon situations in which they are not sure what to do. They may realize they do not have sufficient knowledge of either the language or the culture to deal with this particular situation. When students realize they do not have sufficient enough knowledge to deal with these situations, they may experience anxiety to one degree or another.
The Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) was developed by Horwitz (1985) to measure the amount and type of anxiety experienced by foreign language students in a classroom context. Previous research in the area of foreign language anxiety (Aida, 1994; Connolly, 1995; Lee, 1992; Phillips, 1989, 1990) has focused almost exclusively on formal classroom contexts in which students experience anxiety. Study abroad experiences are unique in that they combine both formal and informal learning environments. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the role of foreign language anxiety in the formal and informal contexts of a study abroad situation in Russia.
The participants in this study are American university students participating in a two-month study abroad program in Russia. The participants were given the FLCAS at the beginning and end of their program to determine if and how their foreign language anxiety level changed during the course of the study abroad experience. The results of the pre- and post-FLCAS will be analyzed in combination with other language learning variables to determine how anxiety varies among the participants.
The results from this research will be helpful to potential study abroad participants, instructors and study abroad program administrators. Workshops and information sessions can be designed to make students aware of anxiety provoking situations and teach them how to deal with them.
Mary Elizabeth McLendon, University of Texas, Austin
This paper will present the preliminary results of research conducted in Russia during the summer of 1998 on the topic of Russians' tolerance of errors in foreign speech. In this project, native speakers of Russian rated recordings of Americans speaking Russian; the speakers demonstrated various levels of phonological and grammatical competence. The underlying question which inspired this part of my research is whether Russians prefer pronunciational fluency or grammatical accuracy, if only one of these attributes is present, in the speech of a person who is obviously a foreigner.
Previous studies in other languages have shown great variation among attitudes and error tolerance by native speakers, depending on the culture. Recent research on error analysis (Rifkin, 1995) in Russian has been very useful in discovering a hierarchy (i.e. from most tolerable to least tolerable) of grammatical and phrasal errors commonly made by foreigners, but has not encompassed general pronunciation ability and overall fluency, which includes intonation, sentence flow and inter-sentence pauses. In this experiment I investigated reactions to speech samples larger than one sentence, using a modified form of the classic (Lambert et al., 1960) "matched-guise" subjective reaction test. This type of measurement is an indirect measure of language attitudes in which informants rate speakers personally on the basis of speech alone; originally it was used in studies of bilinguals but has since been expanded to explore perceptions of non-standard and accented language varieties. Recordings were made of American speakers of Russian, half of whom had good but nonetheless accented pronunciation, and half of whom had poor or halting pronunciation. Each speaker read texts which contained grammatical errors and texts which did not, producing four possible combinations: good pronunciation with good grammar, good pronunciation with bad grammar, bad pronunciation with good grammar, and bad pronunciation with bad grammar. The combinations of interest here are the two in the middle, where either grammar or pronunciation, but not both, is good.
The actual procedure of the experiment consisted of male and female Russian subjects in the cities of Moscow and Novosibirsk listening to the recordings and evaluating each speaker on a variety of personal characteristics. Traditionally in matched-guise studies these characteristics are grouped loosely into "competence" (e.g. intelligence), "personal integrity" (e.g. sincerity) and "social attractiveness" (e.g. having a good sense of humor) categories; these categories give insight into how language use can influence the broader perception of a speaker. Statistical analysis of the data will show whether the good-pronunciation-bad-grammar group is rated higher than the bad-pronunciation-good-grammar group, or vice versa, or if there is a difference in ratings of these subgroups.
The practical applications of the results of this project may prove to be important in terms of how Russian teachers prepare their students for study abroad, and for how businesses train their workers for overseas jobs. Once we learn more about the preferences of native speakers, language training can be slanted to provide more practice in the areas most favorably rated by Russians, so that non-native speakers can make a positive impression and be more accepted as they continue to improve their overall language ability.
Meghan Murphy-Lee, University of Kansas
The ability to decipher the Cyrillic alphabet is an obstacle for beginning students of Russian. During the first few weeks of class instruction, teachers rapidly present the Cyrillic alphabet but students often do not acquire the sound-letter correspondences at the same rate. In our study we will focus on the rate at which beginning students master the correspondence between Russian letters and the sounds they represent. The mastery of this skill will be measured by the students' success at reading familiar and unfamiliar words in sentence-length discourse. In previous studies, the emphasis has largely been on either pronunciation, comprehension or teaching the alphabet in a short amount of time (Robin, 1984, Ingram, 1984, Leaver, 1984). In contrast, this study will deal with the problems of sound-letter correspondence for beginning students of Russian, focusing on reliable recognition and production of sound-letter correspondences rather than on the quality of the students' production. We hypothesize that certain graphemes will be more difficult for students to process and will take longer for students to learn to read aloud comfortably, e.g., graphemes which represent unfamiliar sounds (x, shch, zh) and those which look like English graphemes but are pronounced differently (r, n, b, v). We will consider only the quality of student production where the letter in question produces the sound to which it is primarily related and not letters in other environments (i.e., reduction and devoicing). In that this study will focus on primary articulation of graphemes, we will not address the distinction between hard and soft consonants.
The study will track approximately thirty-five learners' progress over a sixteen week period in elementary Russian, analyzing their ability to read Russian aloud by having them read a varied list of sentences three times throughout the semester. The texts, containing both known and unknown words, will be recorded for later analysis.
The analysis will establish a hierarchy of acquisition speeds for sound-letter correspondences over the first semester. We hope that with a more exact understanding of the difficulties with particular letters that beginning Russian students face, we can adjust the teaching and practice/review of the alphabet to help learners overcome difficulties in acquiring sound-letter correspondences. Once learners are able to overcome this obstacle, we expect that students will move earlier in their studies towards a focus on reading comprehension.
BibliographyIngram, Frank. 1984. "Why Johnny Can't Read Russian." Russian Language Journal. 38/131: 63- 76.
Natalia Pylypiuk, University of Alberta
This paper will summarize the work I have conducted in preparing an annotated reader for English-speaking students learning Ukrainian at the lower-intermediate level of proficiency. It will discuss the theoretical underpinnings of my project and the problems I have encountered while piloting the material I have collected. The theoretical models implicit in this abstract have been researched by my M.A. student, Tracy Dool, whom I gratefully acknowledge.
The project began as a third-year course in "Assisted Readings" intended to bridge the transition of language students entering the Ukrainian literature program at the University of Alberta. In other words, it was originally conceived as an introductory survey of the poetry and prose of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the express purpose of preparing potential literature majors to confront questions of genre, periodization, and elementary criticism. Now entitled "Discusii" (Discussions), the project has evolved into a collection of readings that seeks to maintain a balance between belletristic and publicistic material. This evolution was predicated by the fact that, upon completing the second year of language study, students still lacked the necessay tools to confront the evocative and emotive aspects of both the language and the "messages" inventoried in the survey. On the one hand, they did not have the vocabulary required to interact cognitively with the selected texts; on the other, they had never been exposed to the values and assumptions inherent in the texts to benefit from the challenge these posed on an emotional and cultural level. The difficulties my students encountered reflected the general patterns that have been observed in programs maintaining a two-tiered organization of language instruction--i.e., those that focus on "language development" in early stages of study and introduce the study of literature in upper-level courses. In my case, these problems were confounded by the fact that Ukrainian basal textbooks designed for college students do "not use any identifiably authentic reading material at all." Moreover, they eschew the introduction of realia. (A 1996 survey of 15 similar Spanish textbooks indicates that only 26.6 percent seek to include linguistic and cultural information through literary works. See David J. Shook, FLA).
Initial experience with "Assisted Readings" affected the manner in which I was conceptualizing both my work on a basal, proficiency-oriented textbook and on the reader "Dyskusii." Apart form leading me to rethink the manner in which I expose my students to language through reading (James Coady), it forced me to reformulate the selection of texts to be anthologized in *Dyskusi‘.* Albeit separate projects, these are interrelated to the degree that the vocabulary and grammatical structures of the basal textbook will intimate "the starting point" of the reader. "Discusii" now seeks to conjoin the findings of P.T. Culhane concerning the direct instruction and training of vocabulary and the methodology proposed by Kate Perry (1993). With this purpose in mind I have been concordancing a wide variey of texts and establishing word-frequency counts of thematically related sets of belles-lettres and publicistic material (to cite one example: a 1926 poem by the futurist Mykhailo Semenko dealing with abortion appears along with post-1991 articles and advertisments that assume various perspectives on the issue). The ensuing statistical analysis is affording me a view of the high frequency of difficult words (and, I might add, structures) appearing in a variety of "revealing" and "less revealing" contexts. This in turn is allowing me to experiment with the order in which "Discusii" presents its selections, and to determine which texts will serve for (a) in-class work and (b) free voluntary reading. At the same time, the statistical analysis is helping me design strategy-based reading tasks that will orient my students through multi-layered comprehension "checks," which will engender in them "a sense of autonomy and higher level of metacultural awareness" (Vicki Galloway).
In addition to detailing the steps I have taken thus far, my paper will discuss the reactions of my students to material that overtly or covertly challenges their presuppositions about Ukrainian culture in general and literature in particular.
Oleh S. Ilnytzkyj, University of Alberta
This paper presents some of the theoretical and practical issues encountered in the development of Ukrainian-language multimedia computer programs. This is not an attempt to summarize or evaluate the current literature on this topic, which is quite extensive, but to offer a case study of how computers are being integrated into a language program with no previous experience with them. Technical, methodological and pedagogical problems are explored with reference to several working prototypes that will be demonstrated to the audience. The specific examples will highlight the following types of computer programs: those that use digitized video in conjunction with text; programs for testing nominal declensions; and programs for teaching and testing vocabulary.
The development of multimedia content for students is a special type of pedagogical challenge for teachers because it is intimately tied to a host of technological issues. The new media must not only be academically sound, wisely integrated in the classroom but it must meet the stipulations of incompatible operating systems, intranets and the Web, while trying to avoid immanent obsolescence that breakneck computer innovations threaten. Instructional technologies also have unique aesthetics and pedagogical design requirements. How computer programs are being developed with such issues in mind for Ukrainian language instruction at our university is the major focus of this paper.
The multimedia programs that will be analyzed and demonstrated fall into two categories. The first group consists of variants of traditionally delivered curriculum materials adapted to the computer. These programs are designed and used primarily as more efficient versions of conventional testing and drilling techniques for purposes of freeing the teacher from the time-consuming task of grading while giving the student the benefits of immediate feedback and correction. The paper will discuss the technical problems associated with re-purposing older curriculum to the computer and show the benefits such redeployment brings.
The second category of programs are "multimedia" in the strict sense of the word. They are being developed to be more than simple analogues or copies of the "old" media in computer guise. The paper reports on the development of a program that incorporates digitized video and text to train students in aural comprehension. The key feature of the program is a thematic non-linear navigation system, which allows students instant access to any frame of the video by pressing a button. The program allows the student to isolate and repeatedly play a chosen sentence or segment of the video. The video itself is synchronized to display a text version of the audio track, an option that the user can enable or disable at will. The video and text are also linked to an assignment list that guides the student through several activities. The paper will review some of the pedagogical implications of this program as well as the technical obstacles encountered in its realization.
Rachel Wilson, University of Arizona
A central question in research into language learning is to determine what causes learners' performance problems. Language teachers often observe that while their students may "know" a particular construction, they exhibit difficulties in either producing it or understanding it or both. Learners also observe this phenomenon themselves, wondering why their performance does not reflect what they "know."
It has long been believed that linguistic competence is quite different from linguistic performance (Chomsky, 1965), and that, even though one of our goals is to describe a learner's competence, we can only do so through observations of learner performance. However, despite the widespread acceptance of this distinction, serious gaps remain in teasing apart the causes of learner error-- which errors are due to lack of linguistic knowledge and which errors are due to inefficient processing?
A crucial issue that has not been adequately examined so far is the role that the performance systems themselves may play in affecting performance-that is, language processing systems which put linguistic competence into actual use. Research has shown that many linguistic processing strategies are actually language-specific (Abramson & Lisker, 1967; Cuetos & Mitchell, 1988; Cutler, Mehler, Norris, & Segui, 1986), thus the natural implication for second language learners is that they will experience difficulties when using their native processing systems to operate in a language which requires different ones.
This paper will focus on those processing strategies and examine how language-specific processing can affect learner performance. The hypothesis here is that many performance problems are not the result of competence deficits, but rather processing inefficiencies. An eventual goal of this research program is to describe in detail the processing inefficiencies and propose methods for eradicating them. However, first it is necessary to establish that the processing mechanisms themselves are responsible for some learner error; this is the aim of the current paper.
A simple way to test this hypothesis is to compare learner performance on two tasks which differ in the amount of processing load, but require the same amount of linguistic knowledge. Thus, if performance on the two tasks is different, we can conclude that processing load affects learner performance. These results would presumably be most clear in a case where language-specific processing strategies are known to exist and are different in the L2 from the L1.
According to research in language processing, word order plays a significant role in the way that sentences are processed in some languages, but may play a lesser role in other languages. For example, the fact that English speakers are slower to process sentences that are not SVO--for example, object relative clauses (Forster & Olbrei, 1973; Nicol, Forster, & Veres, 1997) shows that in English, word order is a very important factor in language processing. On the other hand, for Serbo-Croatian speakers, word order is not the most important factor in processing: case-marking is (Urosevic, et al. 1988). This is despite the fact that Serbo-Croatian speakers also exhibit a strong preference for SVO word order (Urosevic, et. al. 1986; Slobin and Bever, 1982). No research has been done on the processing of Russian sentences, but here it is assumed that native Russian speakers behave similarly to Serbo-Croatian speakers.
Bearing in mind this crucial difference, it is easy to see the conflicts that must arise for a native speaker of English learning Russian. The speaker, accustomed to only noticing word order, would have to a) learn to pay attention to case-marking endings and b) learn to rely less on word order. This combination of learning to do something new and at the same time "unlearning" old conventions may indeed be very difficult.
This notion leads to the following experiment. Recall that the original hypothesis is that some performance problems are due to the interaction of the language-specific processing protocols of the L1 and the L2. By having learners perform an experiment in a context where language-specific protocols are very salient, varying the processing load but keeping all other elements of the task constant, it should be clear whether or not the processing protocols themselves are having an effect on learner performance.
The basic details of the experiment are as follows. A list of 72 three-word Russian sentences was constructed. The sentences were carefully designed so that they varied in word order and case-marking. All six possible word orders of Russian were represented equally. Half of the 72 sentences were grammatical and half were ungrammatical, arranged in random order. A native speaker of Russian recorded the sentences on a tape, pausing briefly between each sentence. Next, the native speaker made a second recording in which he repeated the sentence and allowed a long lag time in between each sentence. The duration of the first recording was approximately six minutes; the second was approximately 20 minutes.
A group of native English speakers enrolled in a third-year Russian class was asked to listen to the first recording and report on an answer sheet whether each sentence was grammatical or ungrammatical or if they were unsure. After a brief rest period, the same students listened to the second recording and again reported the grammaticality/ungrammaticality of the sentences. A smaller group of native Russian speakers also performed this task to ensure its validity.
Recall that the recordings are identical except that in the first recording the sentences are read very quickly, whereas in the second recording the sentence is repeated and there is a long break in between sentences. Because of the speed difference, clearly the first recording puts a higher demand on the processing system. If performance is better on the second task, we can then conclude that the processing system itself is responsible for poorer performance on the first task. If processing load has no effect on performance, than performance on the two tasks should be identical.
The results of the experiment are somewhat curious. First, as predicted, performance did significantly improve on the second task, confirming the hypothesis that learners' performance is affected by processing. This was the main goal of the experiment. However, there were some secondary predictions as well, based on the word-order preferences of English speakers and the case-marking preferences of Russian speakers. These secondary predictions were sometimes confirmed and other times counter-indicated.
These results point to the complex interaction between word-order and case-marking and the need for further research. It would be desirable in the future to perform the above experiment on a larger subject group. Also, additional tasks which take into account the effects of unambiguous vs. ambiguous case-markers (such as the lexical-decision task described in Urosevic, et al., 1988) should be performed.
The main results are very clear, though. The second language learners examined in this study possess a high degree of linguistic knowledge, but are unable to put that knowledge to use in real time.
BibliographyAbramson, A., & Lisker, L. (1967, 1970). "Discrimination along the voicing continuum: Cross-language tests." Paper presented at the Sixth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Prague.
Richard D. Brecht, The University of Maryland at College Park and The National Foreign Language Center
For years, immersion training, whether abroad or in the US, has been integral, even crucial, to the language learning programs of the academy and the federal government, primarily because program heads and learners rely on the testimony of teachers and students concerning its usefulness. Russian in particular relies on immersion. Proficiency in Russian, one of the "Truly Foreign Languages," (Jorden and Walton, 1986) is held to be nearly impossible to attain without long-term, in country residence. Russian programs throughout the world traditionally use in-country immersion as the capstone in their language training programs. To date, rigorous, replicable methods of program design and evaluation for immersion have been lacking. The current paper details the Immersion Training Evaluation Kit (ITEK), a comprehensive evaluation system for immersion programs, detailing the characteristics of immersion language learning environments, the types of immersion programs, and the benefits expected from each type, based on research and development conducted by the National Foreign Language Center and the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.
Three basic qualities can be used to characterize the natural immersion environment and, accordingly, the learning which it influences: immersion is rich, it is real, and it is self-regulated. Immersion is rich in that learning is based exclusively on exposure to the target language and culture, which provides constant and often overly abundant input. Immersion is real in that learning is inseparable from the actual process of living; and, therefore, all communication has real consequences (Perelman, 1992; Blender, 1997). Immersion is self-regulated in that learning is in the hands of the learner (Pellegrino, 1994, 1998; Robinson, 1996). Each of these qualities has a positive as well as a negative impact on language learning. The ITEK details the types of immersion in terms of these characteristics and the actual immersion environment--study abroad programs, summer intensive- immersions environments (Thompson, 1996; Liskin-Gasparro, Wunnava, and Henry, 1991), short-term immersions, and experiential (i.e., heritage community-based) immersions, based on ethnographies of all types of immersion environments, performed by the National Foreign Language Center and ACTR. The ITEK then relates the types of immersion to the effects of immersion: changes in interlanguage (Brecht, Davidson, and Ginsberg, 1993), changes in learning behaviors, changes in affective behaviors, and changes in language use behaviors (Frank, 1996; Blender 1997). This paper presents a template for the design and evaluation of immersion programs, giving characteristics and expected outcomes of each type of immersion.
Richard Robin, George Washington University
In this presentation I examine writing in the Russian-language classroom in light of the changes in attitudes over the last twenty years. Researchers embraced the notion of writing as a cognitive *process*, delayed, timed, and recursive (Hughey, 1983; Raimes, 1987; Friedlander, 1990; Krapels, 1990; Swaffer, 1991). Researchers advocating this view maintain that the teacher should evaluate the process as a whole, not just the end result. The ability to communicate ideas is more important than surface accuracy, especially given evidence that explicit attention to surface errors is ineffective. (Semke, 1984; Jones, 1985; Dvorak, 1986; Cumming, 1989; Kepner, 1991, Scarcella and Oxford, 1992).
However, the process-oriented, communicative approach to writing conflicts with a proficiency-oriented teaching, which places the end result front and center. "Real world" writing (beyond short notes and personal correspondence) demands strict adherence to surface convention. Therefore, while students of Russian can attain some working proficiency in speaking, reading, and listening, i.e. ACTFL Advanced, whether they can attain *usable* proficiency in writing over the course of a normal academic program should be a matter of concern.
Given the dichotomy between writing as process and product, we would do best to look at writing not as a monolithic skill, but as several different skills, each with its own goal:
1. Writing as product (e.g. producing a usable business note based on templates).
2. Writing as process (global approach to writing based on read texts, as well as in academic compositions, diaries, e-mail exchanges).
3. Writing as preparation for paragraphed speech (the creation of hothouse specials).
4. Writing as a support skill for grammar (grammar exercises).
The presentation ends with suggestions for integrating the first three items into a Russian-language program from first through fourth year in an academic program.
BibliographyCumming, Alister. 1989. "Writing Expertise and Second-Language Proficiency." Language Learning 39:81-141.
Sarah Ann Mathews, Bryn Mawr College
Second language acquisition specialists concerned with the achievement of a truly functional competence in a foreign language have long acknowledged the importance of an extended period of study abroad for the development of advanced levels of proficiency in the study of Russian and foreign languages in general. This advocacy of study abroad derives from the opportunity it provides both for access to formal learning in institutes and universities and for access to informal learning in communication with native speakers of Russian in a natural setting, one that cannot be effectively reproduced in classrooms in the United States. Despite an increasing opportunity to study in Russia and emphasis of the value of study abroad, however, little empirical research has been done to determine precisely what determines that value, or the conditions under which that value is enhanced.
My paper relies on results from a study I am currently conducting for my doctoral dissertation that illuminates those conditions under which students improve their speaking and listening comprehension competence in particular while in Russia. The project is rooted in the ACTR/NFLC collaborative project "Predictors of Foreign Language Gain during Study Abroad," which identified gender as one of the significant predictors of successful language learning while abroad. Specifically, this analysis showed that men were more likely than women to make greater gains in listening comprehension, and to improve in speaking ability from a pre-program oral proficiency interview (OPI) score of 1+ to a post-program score of 2 and above (Brecht, Davidson, and Ginsberg, 1993). These results indicating that men are more likely than women to improve their listening and speaking skills during study abroad necessitate some explanation, since they find no support in second language acquisition research on gender differences in learning languages. Indeed, such research suggests quite the opposite, that women tend to be better language learners than men (Burstall, 1975; Boyle, 1987; Gardner and Lambert, 1972; Spolsky, 1989; Oxford and Nyikos, 1988; Politzer, 1983).
My paper attempts to account for the controversial results on gender found in the ACTR study, focusing on those conditions under which female students make improvements in their language proficiency during study abroad. The main hypothesis of the paper is that female students in Russia are less likely than male students to find the appropriate "caretakers" of their language when they live in dormitories (the living conditions of those students the ACTR/NFLC project examined), but that this situation is improved for those women who live in Russian homes during their study-abroad experience.
My analysis relies on data that I collected from ACTR study-abroad participants living in homestays in Moscow and St. Petersburg during the 1996-97 academic year and similar data previously collected from students living in dormstays. In order to maintain consistency for comparison with the data previously collected on the behavior of the dormstay students, the methodology I used during data collection was in large part modeled on the one used in its successful on-going precedent, the ACTR/NFLC study, which employed calendar diaries as one source for data on how students spend their time while in Russia. I asked students to complete calendar diaries for between one and three weeks during their semester-long stay in Russia. Students were instructed to record in calendar diaries what they did after class, whom they encountered, where they were, what language they spoke, and the duration of the encounter. This data has been coded and entered into the statistical program SPSS in order to manage the data and perform correlation analyses between the amount of time spent in a particular type of activity and speaking and listening comprehension gain. I use ACTR's pre-program and post-program oral proficiency interviews and listening comprehension test scores routinely administered to their participants for the purposes of assessing speaking and listening proficiency gain, as well as the relevant biographical data that ACTR collects from participants, such as gender, age, major, number of years studying Russian, etc. My paper presents the results of an analysis I am currently conducting comparing the gain in speaking and listening comprehension of those female students participating in study-abroad programs in Russia who live in dormitories and in Russian homes in order to determine what types of interlocutors lead to the greatest gains in speaking and listening comprehension proficiency while abroad. First, I plan to determine the significant interlocutors that influence listening comprehension and speaking gain by examining total duration of time spent with them according to various levels of gain. I will utilize specific data on the age, gender, relationship and nationality of the people with whom students reported spending time. Then I will look at the impact of the homestays versus dormstays to determine which type of living condition provides more opportunity for interaction with the best type of interlocutor for the best possible gain.
The paper concludes with suggestions based on the results of my analysis that will aid organizations and universities conducting study-abroad programs to Russia in guiding students to engage in behavior while in Russia that leads to maximal gain. Therefore, this paper ultimately benefits students who participate in study-abroad programs to Russia that have been improved based on its results.