The Psychometric Aspect of Threshold: Speaking, Reading, and Listening Proficiency during Study Abroad.

Ewa Golonka, Bryn Mawr College

The impact of study abroad on language proficiency for American students of Russian has recently been a focus of several research projects (Brecht, Davidson, Rivers, Fedchak, Pellegrino, Frank). In this study, such an impact was evaluated by assessing the effects of socio-biographical factors on different levels of proficiency as measured by the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), Reading, and Listening Proficiency Tests. This paper examines data collected by the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR) from 1984 to 1995 to identify variables affecting the transition to the next higher level in three modalities: speaking, reading, and listening. 1565 subjects who participated in ACTR-sponsored semester programs in Moscow and St. Petersburg were selected with complete pre- and post-immersion data available. Because of the fact that the majority of students crossed the Novice-Intermediate threshold in all three modalities, statistical analyses could not be performed, therefore his threshold was not evaluated. At the border between Intermediate and Advanced levels, however, three main results were obtained. First, participants with higher scores on Qualifying Grammar test were more successful in making the transition into the next level in speaking, reading, and listening. Second, knowledge of other non Slavic languages had a significant positive predictive value for crossing the threshold into the Advanced level in listening and reading. Third, gender was found to be significant only between the Intermediate High and Advanced levels. Other findings related to individual learner variables and learning histories will also be reported. At the Advanced-Superior threshold, none of the statistical tests showed significant values for either speaking, listening, or reading. This result suggests that there might be other mediating factors affecting the transition into the Superior level. Two implications are discussed: first, the effect that socio-biographical factors may have on the speed and success in reaching the Advanced level in speaking, reading, and listening; and second, the need for identifying mediating variables that may affect crossing the threshold into the Superior level.