Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Effect of Study Abroad Homestay Placements: Participant Perspectives and Oral Proficiency Gains

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Effect of Study Abroad Homestay Placements: Participant Perspectives and Oral Proficiency Gains

Article excerpt

Study abroad is often viewed as the ideal environment for language learners to de- velop their abilities because it is assumed to provide a depth of immersion into the tar- get language that is rife with interactions with native speakers. Living with a local host family is further seen as the optimal context to foster language gains due to the opportunities for target language input it affords.

The conventional wisdom about the guaranteed benefits of the homestay has been challenged, however, by studies questioning the richness of student- host family interactions (Diao, Freed, & Smith, 2011; Iino, 2006; O'Donnell, 2004; Segalowitz & Freed, 2004; Wilkinson, 1998) and finding that homestay students do not make greater language gains than learners in other living arrangements (Magnan & Back, 2007; Rivers, 1998; Vande Berg, Connor-Linton, & Paige, 2009). Al- though two parties constitute the homestay dynamic, few studies have considered the host family perspective in investigating study abroad language contact and gains (Engel, 2011; Kinginger, 2013b; Knight & Schmidt-Rinehart, 2002).

With increasing numbers of U.S. uni- versity students participating in study abroad (Institute for International Education, 2013), it is critical to examine the language gains students make after a period abroad and steps programs can take to further promote language learning. The present study explored student and host family attitudes at the beginning and end of semester-long study abroad programs for Spanish, Mandarin, and Russian in order to gain a deeper understanding of the connections between the homestay experience and oral proficiency gains. By investigating the perceptions of both study abroad learners and their hosts about the homestay relationship, the study aimed to provide additional insight into how this type of study abroad placement can foster language development.

Background

Research on Language Learning During Study Abroad

According to Freed (1998), early research on language learning in study abroad con- texts primarily used criterion-referenced tests to measure language growth. While these studies suggested a positive relation- ship between time spent abroad and second language acquisition, many lacked control groups and used measures that were unable to draw fine distinctions in language gains or conclusions about individual variation in results. Freed noted that later studies moved beyond exclusively test-based data to inves- tigate the relationships between language development, student characteristics, and specific experiences abroad.

Kinginger (2011) enumerated three re- search trends that grew from the results of early outcomes studies that showed great differences in individual achievement after periods abroad. First, studies attempted to correlate language gains with quantitative accounting of student activities and target language use; second, ethnographies and case studies examined student perceptions of the study abroad sojourn; and most re- cently, researchers have pursued mixed- methods studies incorporating qualitative analysis of student behaviors and perspec- tives with assessment of language learning outcomes. Still, little of this in-depth analy- sis of the study abroad experience has in- cluded concurrent investigation of the host perspective (Kinginger, 2013b). Most previ- ous study abroad research has also focused on learners of one language, most commonly French or Spanish (Llanes, 2011).

DuFon and Churchill's (2006) review of research findings indicated that learner en- gagement with the host community is a key factor in language acquisition during study abroad because the opportunities for and quality of interaction vary greatly and are mediated by both learner approaches and host culture practices. Recent studies exam- ining study abroad outcomes have identified the need for interventions to support language development by encouraging students to in- crease their engagement with native speakers (Back, 2013; Cadd, 2012; Du, 2013; Goldoni, 2013; Kinginger, 2011), including homestay hosts (Knight & Schmidt- Rinehart, 2010; Martinsen, 2010; Vande Berg et al. …

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