John Watzke, University of Iowa
Since the early 1990s, study abroad has increasingly become an option for students of Russian both at the high school and college levels. These opportunities have expanded with the passage of the Freedom Support Act, through initiatives overseen by the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR), sister-city relationships, and a number of individual school, college, and private organizational programs. The benefits of study abroad, while rarely disputed, have received little attention in the Russian language research literature, particularly as it relates to second language acquisition (SLA). The publication in 1993 of "Predictors of Foreign Language Gain during Study Abroad" (Brecht, Davidson, and Ginsberg) provided the necessary data analysis, interpretations, and ensuing questions to support a research agenda on study abroad as it relates to SLA, materials development, and the timing and quality of these programs.
The purpose of this paper is summarized by three goals.
1) to provide an overview of research on the benefits and optimal conditions for the study abroad experience;
2) to review the analysis of ACTR data on study abroad (Ginsberg, 1992) and assess its interpretations and implications for SLA and programmatic and instructional planning (Brecht et al., 1993);
3) to support the continuation of this research agenda through the recommendation of data analysis strategies, research questions, and the formulation of predictor variables.
This paper will begin with an overview of current research on study abroad (DeKeyser, 1991; Freed, 1990; Lafford, 1995), its relationship to foreign language programs (Liskin-Gasparro and Urdaneta, 1995), and the innovations that this growing research base holds for programmatic development (for example, Long, 1997; Warden et al., 1995). The focus will then turn to the Russian language teaching profession and the landmark "predictors" study. This discussion will focus on the compatibility of the results of data analysis with interpretations and implications for SLA and materials and programmatic development. The questions raised during this discussion will lead to the final portion of the paper--prospects for increasing our understanding of the role of study abroad in the teaching and study of Russian language. This section will suggest strategies for strengthening existing regression (predictor) models (Johnson and Wichern, 1998), study designs, questions to be addressed, and variables which might lead to an increased understanding of SLA during study abroad and the pragmatic applications for designing optimal study abroad experiences.
BibliographyBrecht, R., Davidson, D. and Ginsberg, R. (1993). Predictors of foreign language gain during study abroad. Washington, DC: The National Foreign Language Center.