Toward a Second Language Socialization Perspective: Issues in Study Abroad Research

By Wang, Chilin | Foreign Language Annals, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Toward a Second Language Socialization Perspective: Issues in Study Abroad Research


Wang, Chilin, Foreign Language Annals


Abstract: The last few decades have seen a proliferation of research on study abroad (SA). A review of SA research literature shows general inconsistencies and inconclusiveness on certain issues, particularly on SA outcomes and their factors. This article discusses such inconsistencies in terms of the highly variable contexts and vastly unstable nature of second language acquisition (SLA). It is evident that the amount and the quality of interactional encounters with native speakers, along with learners' identity, play a major role in language acquisition in the SA context. Accordingly, the researcher argues for a socialization perspective on documenting and interpreting the SLA process in the SA context, with an emphasis on learner identity.

Key words: identity, qualitative research, second language acquisition, socialization, study abroad

This article presents a brief review of research literature on study abroad (SA) with a focus on the inconsistencies and inconclusiveness of certain issues. An argument follows for a second language socialization (SLS) perspective as the best approach to construe the otherwise puzzling phenomena. Wilkinson (1998) called for a shift of SA studies from the ''product,'' such as linguistic gains and attitude change after SA, to the ''process,'' i.e., what actually happens before, during, and after the sojourn that brings about the outcome. In echoing such advocacy for a focus on process, the researcher argues for documenting and interpreting the process of the SA experience from a language socialization perspective.

Background of the Study

The practice of study abroad has a long history, and research on SA has proliferated in the last few decades. As an increasing number of SA programs are being offered to secondary school and higher education students as part of their learning experience, SA research literature is vital in shedding light on the positive values and the challenges of SA.

Review of Literature

This section presents and reviews the research literature on SA and socialization to show the factors being studied in the field of SA research, and the interconnections of SA, identity, and SLS. The present study addresses the complexity of language acquisition within the SA context, as demonstrated by the inconsistency and variation of outcomes reported in much of the research literature. The researcher proposes a language socialization framework as the most appropriate approach to encompass the highly variable elements and interactive nature of second language acquisition (SLA) in the SA context.

Study Abroad

A majority of the existing research literature on SA has focused on the outcome, or the ''product,'' of SA in the improvement and changes of language skills, pragmatic and cultural competence, affect, and attitudes (e.g., Allen & Herron, 2003; Carroll, 1967; Freed, 1995a, 1995b; Spenader, 2008). Other SA studies have explored the process of SA, emphasizing the experience and the evolving elements from the experience. Among the many factors studied were duration of SA, students' proficiency level, accommodation settings, motivation, individual differences, identity and level of acculturation, and formal instruction.

Is SA Necessary?

Though questions on the value and necessity of naturalistic language input for learning a second language (L2) have been raised from time to time (e.g., Rothman & Iverson, 2007), the positive aspect of SA has been generally supported by a large number of studies (e.g., Allen & Herron, 2003; Balaz & Williams, 2004; Huebner, 1995). The importance of SA in SLA is strongly advocated by Kubler (1997), who, based on extensive experience as a foreign language program director, argued that SA should be seen and planned as ''an essential component'' of foreign language curriculum, so that students can achieve advanced foreign language proficiency in the full cultural context. …

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