Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Dynamic Processes of Speech Development by Seven Adult Learners of Japanese in a Domestic Immersion Context

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Dynamic Processes of Speech Development by Seven Adult Learners of Japanese in a Domestic Immersion Context

Article excerpt


Although much has been written about study abroad, only a very limited number of existing studies have addressed language learning in domestic immersion programs, i.e., in contexts where adult learners participate in intensive formal study of the second language (L2) and use that language as the primary means of communication in their home country. Even fewer have considered the psychological impact of the immersion experience-either abroad or domestic-on language learners and the language learning process. What is more, as summarized in the literature review below, most existing studies have focused on the experiences of learners who have some prior L2 learning experiences. Thus, it is not clear how total beginners learn language in a domestic immersion context or in what ways their experiences differ from those of learners who come to the immersion experience with at least a very basic level of proficiency. Set in the context of emergentism, which views language learning as a complex and dynamic system (Larsen-Freeman, 2006), the aim of the present study was to better understand the process of language development in seven adult Japanese language learners who were enrolled in the Middlebury College (Vermont) summer language school and to provide prospective students and program directors with important information about what they can expect from participating in domestic immersion programs.

Literature Review

Domestic Immersion Context

Unlike immersion programs for children, in which the L2 is used as a medium of instruction to introduce the majority of the academic content, the goal of instruction in a domestic immersion experience for adults is to teach the target language and to provide consistent and continuous opportunities for communicative language use. Several program characteristics contribute to the unique learning environment offered in a domestic immersion context: (1) learners live in target language dormitories with other students and instructors of the language, (2) significantly more hours of classroom instruction are provided each day in comparison with traditional academic-year classroom settings, (3) learners are required to use the L2 exclusively and at all times outside of class, and finally (4) learners are provided with many opportunities to use and learn the L2 through extensive extracurricular activities such as sports, social events, formal lectures, and so forth. In spite of the many positive features of domestic immersion programs, the number of publications dealing with L2 learning in an intensive domestic immersion context is very scarce; a summary of published research is provided in Table 1.

Perceived Advantages and Disadvantages of Domestic Immersion Experiences

As summarized in Table 1, two studies have directly addressed the emotional and psychological impact of participation in domestic immersion programs. Lynch, Klee, and Tedick (2001) and Liskin-Gasparro (1998) found that the extent of learners' participation in social and extracurricular activities within the domestic immersion context had a substantial impact on learners' language development, most likely because such participation motivated and provided frequent opportunities for L2 use both within and outside of the classroom and also placed learners in communicative situations that challenged their linguistic ability and thus pushed subsequent development. Specifically, Lynch et al. found that learners at both lower and high proficiency levels tried to use Spanish in peer-peer interactions in the classroom as well as informal social interactions outside of the classroom; the analysis of pre- and post-program Oral Proficiency Interviews (OPIs) indicated that the higher the proficiency level upon entering the immersion program, the greater the likelihood that proficiency would improve over the course of the program.

However, both studies also revealed disadvantages of the domestic immersion environment. …

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