Learning Outcomes for Russian: A Comparison of Academic-Year and Summer Immersion Instruction

Benjamin Rifkin, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Many in our field bemoan the lack of nationally recognized tests to assess our students’ language skills. Using the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines for listening and reading, I have developed tests for listening and reading comprehension for use at the Russian School of Middlebury College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I have also developed a test of grammar and syntax for use at these two institutions; this test is based on a series of principles indirectly related to the proficiency guidelines for speaking and writing. In my presentation, I will describe these computerized tests (which do not consist of any multiple-choice questions), the principles or criteria on the basis of which they were developed, and the range of scores earned by students at different levels of instruction in the course of several administrations of the tests. In my discussion of students’ results, I will describe the differences in language gain for those students enrolled in an academic year program of study (150 contact hours over nine months’ time) and those enrolled in a summer immersion program (170 contact hours over nine weeks’ time). I will compare students’ results on these new tests with results in oral proficiency interviews for a sample of the students tested. Lastly, I will compare my findings with regard to learning outcomes (as demonstrated on these tests) with those reported by Thompson in her 1996 study (of students of Russian), by Brecht, Davidson and Ginsberg in their 1993 study (Predictors of Language Gain during Study Abroad), of Magnan in her 1986 study (of oral proficiency of students of French), and of Carroll in his 1967 study (of the language competency of graduating seniors who majored in foreign languages.) I will conclude my presentation with questions for the field regarding directions for future research and curricular reform.

Works Cited

Brecht, R., D. Davidson, and R. Ginsberg. 1993. Predictors of Foreign Language Gain During Study Abroad. Washington, DC: National Foreign Language Center.

Carroll, J. B. 1967. “Foreign Language Proficiency Levels Attained by Language Majors Near Graduation from College.” Foreign Language Annals 1:131–151.

Magnan, S. 1986. “Assessing Speaking Proficiency in the Undergraduate Curriculum: Data from French.” Foreign Language Annals 19: 429–437.

Thompson, I. 1996. “Assessing Foreign Language Skills: Data from Russian.” Modern Language Journal 80: 47–65.