Long-Term Patterns of Language Use After Graduation: The Case of ACTR Study Abroad Alumni

Kimberly Fedchak, Bryn Mawr College

Since its inception, the field of Second Language Acquisition has sought to understand how people learn foreign languages by studying language acquisition at various levels and in various contexts, including the home institution, US-based immersion programs, and study abroad programs. However, these studies relate only to the early phases of the overall learning career. This paper, in contrast, reports on the wide range of contexts in which foreign language knowledge and skills have been employed by students after their graduation from college. Such knowledge of language use after graduation will serve to inform language educators and program administrators about the current needs for foreign language knowledge and skills, and enable them to design and execute language programs that will better serve their students in both the long and the short term.

In 1997 the American Council of Teachers of Russian received a three-year grant from the US Department of Education designed specifically, in part, to investigate language use among ACTR study abroad program alumni since their graduation from college. At the end of its first year, the project has conducted several focus groups consisting of ACTR program alumni of various ages and from various professions. This paper provides a summary and analysis of the results yielded by these focus groups in the form of detailed descriptions of current language use and other relevant information, including the degree of atrophy or enhancement of the language skills of alumni since their graduation and the impact of knowledge of a foreign language on their careers.