Language Learning at the Professional Level: Participant Views of the Russian Flagship Experience

Darya Shakhova, ACTR

This presentation is based on the qualitative analysis of 161 retrospective self-reports (94 bi-weekly language utilization reports and 67 weekly internship reports) completed by the 2004-05 cohort of Russian Flagship Program participants (n=9) in the course of their academic year in Russia. The report data are supplemented with student comments on mid-year and final program evaluations collected at the conclusion of fall and spring semesters, as well as observational data from on-site resident director, wherever possible.

Both types of self-reports, designed in the form of semi-structured questionnaires, prompted participants to reflect on their everyday language learning experiences within and outside classroom context. In language-utilization reports, questions focused on specific communicative episodes, perceived performance on various linguistic tasks, accounts of communicative successes and challenges, as well as learner goals and views on optimal strategies for dealing with problem areas. In internship reports, students were asked to reflect on the cumulative experience of the internship to date, including its influence on their professional, cultural, and linguistic growth.

The reports were originally intended as learning aides for Flagship participants, to help them become more effective students of language by taking active and conscious control of their learning. At the same time, surpassing their function as language-learning tools, they invited spontaneous and free-minded reflections on academic, professional, and social aspects of living in a foreign culture, adding to our understanding of what it means to be an advanced-level learner taking part in high-intensity, full-immersion study-abroad program.

The analysis of student reports also reveals interesting data on group dynamics, the effect of program cycles on student morale, changing perception of self-performance, experiencing culture shock on a higher level, and, finally, the participants' view on the interplay of various program components, such as group lessons, individual tutorials, peer tutoring, internships, and homestays. The goal of the discussion will be to share these unique "insider" perspectives of advanced-level language learners striving to attain "superior" Russian proficiency in the setting of the Flagship program, with the view toward contributing to our understanding of advanced-learner profile and making recommendations for program administration.