Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Stepping out of the Comfort Zone: Profiles of Third-Year Spanish Students' Attempts to Develop Their Speaking Skills

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Stepping out of the Comfort Zone: Profiles of Third-Year Spanish Students' Attempts to Develop Their Speaking Skills

Article excerpt


This qualitative study focused on the learning experiences of four third-year Spanish students enrolled in a college-level Spanish composition and conversation course. The study provided insights into the impact of expanding out-of-class opportunities to engage in communicative tasks through the use of streamed feature films, online chats, and video journal assignments on the development of higher levels of oral proficiency. Data sources included transcripts of in-class and out-of-class speaking assignments, downloaded chat threads, SOPI results, ethnographic interviews, and a post-course survey. The data revealed that learners utilize online resources to support different learning agendas. These agendas, in turn, influence the types of second language (L2) learning strategies students employ while processing richer input like feature film. Implications from this study suggest that design issues of control and manipulation in electronic course supplements are crucial to facilitate the intake necessary for developing higher levels of oral proficiency.

Key words: online chats; speaking skills, streamed video; third-year college language courses; video journal assignments

Language: Spanish


Recently during an ethnographic interview, I asked Claire, one of my third-year Spanish students, what she remembered most about Spanish 301, Advanced Conversation and Composition. She replied: "Doing the videos." "Doing the videos" entailed recording oneself speaking for 10 minutes on a topic structured around three questions related to a feature film. When I asked Claire what made the assignment so memorable, she replied: ". . . because it takes people out of their comfort zone." As the interview progressed, she described the comfort zone as speaking in the present tense. Speaking in the past tense and using "skills that really weren't practiced" in the first and second year were outside the comfort zone. Coaxing students at the third-year level out of their comfort zone has long been a challenge for second language (L2) instructors.

Review of the Literature

The debate between Glisan and Donate (2004) and Rifkin (2004) highlighted the complexities and tensions inherent to the challenge of facilitating student progress toward advanced-level proficiency in the university undergraduate program. Research confirms that students generally begin the third year of studies at the intermediate-mid to intermediate-high proficiency levels (Bueno, 2003; Magnan, 1986; Rifkin, 200O).1

In order to facilitate advanced level proficiency, Glisan and Donato (2004) have advocated re-envisioning the curricular model for majors in foreign languages and developing and disseminating proficiency-oriented curricular and instructional practices that have been proven effective. Rifkin has reminded us that time is an additional "necessary but not sufficient ingredient in the foreign language proficiency recipe" (2004, p. 480). Whether instructors teach an advanced conversation course, an advanced grammar and composition course, a literary survey course, an advanced culture course, or other types of content-based courses at the third-year level, they face the challenge of providing both experiences that promote advanced level proficiency in all three communicative modes and that facilitate the learning of content.

Second language acquisition (SLA) research indicates that three essential processes are involved in progressing to the next level of oral proficiency: input processing, system change, and output processing (Van Patten, 2003). Input processing involves attending to comprehensible messages in the target language and making new links between form and meaning. This association of form and meaning has the potential for being incorporated into the learner's interlanguage, the evolving organizational scheme of how the target language operates to express different functions. System change comes about when the learner makes changes to the interlanguage to include a new form-meaning connection. …

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