The Effects of Study Abroad and
Classroom Contexts on the Acquisition
of Spanish as a Second Language
From Research to Application
Barbara Lafford Arizona State University
Joseph Collentine Northern Arizona University
Study-abroad (SA) contexts have traditionally been assumed by language professionals, school administrators, and students (and their parents) to be the best environments in which to acquire a foreign language and understand its culture. In the United Kingdom the [year abroad[ had its origin in the [grand tour[ of Europe by aristocratic children of means, who spent time abroad to attain the level of cultural knowledge (of Western civilization) that their status required. For many years American university administrators and foreign language instructors believed that a [junior year abroad[ experience living with host families from the target culture would help students broaden their cultural horizons and become [fluent[ speakers of the target language (L2), with more improved L2 pronunciation, grammar (morphosyntactic) usage, vocabulary knowledge, and discursive abilities than those possessed by learners who acquired the target language in the classroom at home.1
These assumptions were substantiated by Carroll's (1967) widely cited study, which looked at the language skills of 2,782 college seniors who went abroad. Carroll found that even a short duration abroad (touring or summer) had a positive effect on foreign language (FL) proficiency. Today, study-abroad experiences are still encouraged in the United States, as evidenced by the fact that 160,920 students went abroad in 2003 (NAFSA 2003). Moreover, in the United Kingdom a study-abroad experience has been obligatory for language majors for the last thirty years.
Recently, assumptions about the benefits of an SA experience have been challenged by Meara (1994) and Coleman (1996), who noted weaknesses in SA research in the 1960s to 1980s. Freed (1995a) also noted methodological shortcomings of empirical studies on study abroad during the same period: small size (N) of informant pool or short duration of treatment period, the lack of a control group, and extensive use of only test scores to measure gains. More controlled empirical studies on the effects of the SA experience on the development of learners' interlanguage systems appeared in earnest in the 1990s. Freed (1995a, 1998) noted that most research carried out on SA data from several languages (French, Spanish, Russian, Japanese) still confirmed old assumptions about the benefit of study-abroad experiences on the SLA process; however, some [surprising results] also came out of this research, especially regarding the lack of gain on measures of grammatical competence in learners who had studied abroad (see Collentine and Freed 2004).
This chapter critically examines the research on the development of interlanguage systems of learners of Spanish as a second language (SSL) in study-abroad and class-