Comparing Language Gains among Summer, Semester, and A-Y Study Abroad Students of Russian: Empirical Research Results through 1998

Dan E. Davidson, Bryn Mawr College/ACTR

A major topic of discussion in SLA research over the past decade has been the role of immersion learning in adult second language acquisition (SLA) and of the study abroad (SA) experience, in particular (Huebner, Freed, Dyson). The Russian field continues to play a prominent role in the larger discussions of SA, in part because of the critical role in-country training has come to play in the learning careers of American learners of Russian, but also thanks to the now 22-year-old longitudinal research effort led by ACTR in cooperation with Bryn Mawr College and the National Foreign Language Center to analyze in a sophisticated way the patterns of language gain among American participants in the ACTR programs in Russia. (Brecht, Davidson, Ginsberg; Brecht and Robinson; Pellegrino; Fedchak, Frank, Rivers, etc.).

While most prior research in the Russian field have been limited to the semester-length program of study, the present study offers the first statistically significant findings on language gains during summer and academic year study. Results are analyzed for patterns of gain in individual language modalities, adjusted in addition for initial levels of proficiency, learning histories, and other learner variables which may influence overall patterns of gain. The study also offers for the first time empirically based comparisons of language gains (by modality) for students participating in summer, semester, and academic year programs. The results are likely to be of interest for study abroad program administrators, teachers of Russian, and researchers in the field of SLA and study abroad.