The Homestay in Intensive Language Study Abroad: Social Networks, Language Socialization, and Developing Intercultural Competence

By Shiri, Sonia | Foreign Language Annals, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

The Homestay in Intensive Language Study Abroad: Social Networks, Language Socialization, and Developing Intercultural Competence


Shiri, Sonia, Foreign Language Annals


Introduction

Among the varied housing options that are available to study abroad students, homestay arrangements are widely believed to offer learners many advantages (Kinginger, 2009a; Schmidt-Rinehart & Knight, 2004). As the literature has corroborated, accessing and engaging with native speakers in the local community is often a challenge, especially for students in short-term programs (e.g., Allen, 2010; Dewey, Ring, Gardner, & Belnap, 2013; Freed, 2008; Goldoni, 2013; Kinginger, 2009b; Trentman, 2013a; Wilkinson, 1998), and the host family often offers the only point of regular contact with native speakers that is available to students outside the classroom (Kaplan, 1989; Tanaka, 2007).

However, despite the apparent promise, the literature on homestays for university-level students has borne contradictory, and sometimes counterintuitive, findings concerning the effectiveness of the home-stay experience in supporting learners' developing language proficiency and increased understanding of the culture (DuFon & Churchill, 2006; Freed, 2008; Kinginger, 2009a; Rivers, 1998). In fact, some findings outright questioned the value ascribed to the homestay and suggested that it is not as conducive to language and cultural immersion as previously thought (e.g., Crealock, Derwing, & Gibson, 1999; Rivers, 1998; Tanaka, 2007; Wilkinson, 1998). While some findings reported that students benefited from the additional amount of comprehensible input that was provided within the homestay setting (Manchen~o, 2008), others indicated that students gained facility only with "chitchat" or banal conversations that were formulaic and repetitive rather than providing students with anticipated opportunities for extended communication or participation in deep cultural exchange (e.g., Segalowitz & Freed, 2004).

To better understand the power of the homestay experience and to help offset the perception of students as "deficient" or lacking in motivation, as Wilkinson (1998) characterized it, calls were made for further research, not only on the outcomes of the homestay experience but also on the interactions within the homestay setting, particularly for languages other than French, Spanish, Russian, or Japanese (Freed, 2008; Kinginger, 2009a; Wang, 2010; Wilkinson, 1998). This study is the first to investigate Arabic learners' perceptions of the role of the homestay experience in Tunisia, a country that is primarily Arabic-speaking but is also bilingual in French with growing usage of English. Specifically, the study explored the actual composition of the social networks to which American students of Arabic had access through the homestay placement, examined the ensuing frequency and types of language socialization in this unstructured component of the program, investigated students' reflections on their linguistic and intercultural growth that they attributed to the homestay, and considered the impact of these variables on students' progress toward greater proficiency as measured by the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Tunisian Arabic. While this study was intended to illuminate the language socialization opportunities afforded by the social network of the home-stay in Tunisia, the findings have direct implications for study abroad in other parts of the diglossic Arabic-speaking region as well as for socialization in other bilingual or multilingual settings in which there are marked differences between the standard and nonstandard varieties of a language.

Background

Classical Diglossia

Arabic has been classified as a diglossic language (Ferguson, 1959); that is, a language in which two varieties, one considered high and one low, are used by native speakers in different contexts. For example, most oral interactions in Arabic-speaking societies are conducted in one or more of at least five commonly spoken regional Arabic varieties, also known in English as dialects, vernacular Arabic, or colloquial Arabic. …

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