In response to the need for more research on Russian language acquisition beyond the intermediate and advanced proficiency levels, the present study examines pragmatic language use outside of the classroom during study abroad by learners of Russian who performed at the advanced level in pre-program oral proficiency interviews (OPIs) and who attained the superior level in post-program OPIs. These learners are compared with those who performed at the intermediate level in pre-program OPIs. Findings are based on participant reports of time spent using Russian outside of class and on their narratives about incidents of cooperative discourse between themselves and native speakers in informal settings.
The Russian Flagship Program, an education initiative funded by NSEP and implemented through American Councils, is designed to increase language proficiency among learners of Russian from the advanced level (“2”) to at least the superior level (“3”). In addition to their involvement in a formal, highly-structured curriculum at St. Petersburg University, Flagship students regularly completed Language Utilization Reports (LURs), on which they recorded the number of hours they spent per week using Russian outside of the classroom, including the time they spent at their internships, with friends, in public transportation/shopping, reading the press, attending cultural events, watching TV, and so forth.
The Flagship students were compared to intermediate-level students who participated in regular semester and academic-year programs, and who likewise completed LURs. The data used in this comparison show that Flagship participants used Russian more often overall than their counterparts in the semester/AY programs. In particular, Flagship participants chose to spend more time with their language tutors, and used Russian more often at their internships, with friends, and in reading the press, all of which were perceived as valuable sources of linguistic input, according to Flagship participants.
Flagship and semester/AY participants were also asked to provide brief narratives of their experiences (“successes” and “challenges”) using Russian during a given week. These narratives reveal differing perspectives on their ownership of Russian as they engaged in various speech acts (requests, apologies, expressing opinions, etc.) with native speakers. Their ownership of Russian, as they perceived it, fluctuated according to the type and complexity of the speech act and how well they were able to negotiate the speech act. The way in which Flagship and semester/AY participants defined their “successes” and “challenges” also differ according to the type and complexity of the speech act and coincides with their respective oral proficiency levels.