Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Intercultural Communicative Competence Development during and after Language Study Abroad: Insights from Arabic

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Intercultural Communicative Competence Development during and after Language Study Abroad: Insights from Arabic

Article excerpt


The study abroad experience affords rich opportunities for advancing language proficiency as well as intercultural competence among language learners. Among the record high 289,000 students who studied abroad during the academic year of 2012-2013 (Institute of International Education, 2014), about 2% spent time in the Middle East and North Africa, many in pursuit of cultural understanding of a region that is often perceived to be in conflict with the United States (Lane-Toomey & Lane, 2012, p. 5). While students stand to gain a great deal from developing intercultural competence while overseas, research dedicated to understanding such learning during study abroad and to measuring learning outcomes has yielded mixed results (Kinginger, 2009, 2011). Moreover, although study abroad programs have, with much greater regularity and validity, begun measuring language gains during studyabroadusing various standardized as well as qualitative tools, measuring student learning outcomes in the domain of intercultural communicative competence (ICC)continuestobechallenging and isthus rarely systematically undertaken (Schulz, 2007; Watson, Siska, & Wolfel, 2013). In particular, data-driven evidence on the impact of study abroad on the development of ICC for students who complete programs located in Arab countries is almost nonexistent (Shiri, 2015). The current study explored the implementation of a newly developed tool for measuring intercultural competence among American language learners during study abroad. The assessment tool emphasizes the communicative and reflective aspects of ICC and is closely tied to the language proficiency scales found through the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) and ACTFL (ACTFL, 2012a; ILR, n.d.). Furthermore, the study examined the role of the vernacular variety of Arabic, also referred to as "dialect," in promoting the development of ICC as well as the way in which students' intercultural competence was manifested and sustained upon their reintegration in the home society, two other areas of investigation that are underrepresented in the literature.


Arabic Learning and the Issue of Vernacular Varieties

The case for teaching Arabic dialects alongside Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) to college learners of Arabic as a foreign language is more frequently and more strongly being expressed. Studies focusing on students taking Arabic in the United States have indicated that the primary reasons for pursuing this language are traveling to the Arab world (Husseinali, 2006; Kuntz & Belnap, 2001), conversing with Arabic speakers (Husseinali, 2006; Kuntz & Belnap, 2001), and learning "how to socialize with Arabs" (Abuhakema, 2004). Learning about other cultures (Husseinali, 2006) and understanding the politics of the Middle East (Husseinali, 2006) are next in terms of importance for these students. A more recent study by Lane-Toomey and Lane (2012) focusing on nontraditional study abroad destinations indicated that American sojourners in the Middle East choose that region not only in anticipation of careers in government or international relations and to promote a deeper understanding of this region but also in search of a unique experience " off the beaten path."

However, Arabic language programs that prepare students for study abroad and eventual careers have been characterized mostly by what Ryding (2006) called "reverse privileging." This is the phenomenon whereby students learn MSA when they take Arabic classes at their home university, while a vernacular variety may be introduced later and is likely to be allocated disproportionately less instructional time and learned much less fluently. In this approach, the vernacular language of the "primary discourses of familiarity" is postponed or minimalized, while the language of secondary, formal discourse (i.e., MSA) is made central (Ryding, 2006, p. 16). Ryding (2006) argued that it is discouraging and limiting for students to be denied early access to the vernacular skills necessary to informally interact with Arabic speakers. …

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