Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Length of Stay Abroad: Effects of Time on the Speech Act of Requesting

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Length of Stay Abroad: Effects of Time on the Speech Act of Requesting

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

It has long been assumed that the combination of immersion in the native speech community and formal classroom learning creates the best environment for learning a second language. The power of this assumption is such that there is a popular belief shared by students and teachers, parents, administrators and funding bodies, that students who spend a period abroad are those who will ultimately become the most proficient in the use of their language of specialization (Freed, 1998). For this reason, an increasing number of students have taken part in study abroad programs recently. The diversity of study abroad programs these days is representative of the rising number of students (be these undergraduates or postgraduates) and professionals that are experiencing these stays abroad. For instance, students involved in studying modern languages in the UK have to spend some time abroad as a compulsory part of their degree (their third year has to be spent in another country in most cases).

When the European Union was created in 1993 its main objective was to facilitate citizens' mobility between EU member states. Its cooperation in the field of education is represented by the SOCRATES programme, adopted in 1995. SOCRATES incorporates ERASMUS - originally the European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (see Coleman, 1998). It is one of the best known exchange programs in Europe, 1.5 million students from 31 different universities have benefited of an ERASMUS study period abroad to date, and the numbers rise every year (European Union Education Archives, May 20081). These data suggests that the experience of living abroad has become increasingly appealing and more viable, to the European community at least. In addition, many undergraduate and postgraduate students choose to go to university in the UK regardless of whether they have secured institutional funding or not. Furthermore, students from a wide range of nationalities take part in UK university courses every year, providing this country with the largest intake of international students (Coleman, 1998). Still today, there is unequal demand for European languages, English being the most popular. This preference is followed by Spanish, French and then German. There are three main options why students choose to live abroad, these are: to work as a foreign language assistant, on a work placement or as a student (university students being the largest group of non-resident British in the UK). The term generally used to refer to these populations is "residence abroad".

Residence abroad programs offer the opportunity for their participants to learn another culture, express themselves in another language and experience a different context to their own. Participants in residence abroad contexts are usually exposed to a great amount of L2 input and they are required to utilise L2 in different situations. These practices are generally regarded as beneficial for the development of language learners' proficiency in their second language (Coleman, 1998). Learners in a sojourn abroad or an exchange programme learn about a culture that is different from the learner's own culture, and this difference is an important part of the learning experience (Regan, 1998). Researchers are also aware that acquisition is a multidimensional phenomenon and entails linguistic, pragmatic, sociolinguistic and sociocultural aspects. Exchange or foreign students are placed in a new social and linguistic environment and they have to communicate with other people even though they may not have all the necessary means at their disposal to do so. The learner thus needs to be able to learn new things and communicate simultaneously. Furthermore, there are many factors that can contribute to the experience of living and studying abroad, for example the culture of the host country, the purpose and motivation of the learner, or the level of proficiency.

Research on study abroad contexts had not experienced too much interest until the publication of Second Language Acquisition in a Study Abroad Context (Freed, 1995), the first book devoted to integrating a group of cross-linguistic studies which explored the relationship between the study abroad setting and language learning. …

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