Within a European context, the long-standing Erasmus+ programme has facilitated inter-university student exchange for significant cohorts of both language and non-language specialist students who spend a sojourn at a partner university in a (non-)target-language country. In the case of language studies, such sojourns are strongly encouraged, reflecting the folkbelief of the benefits of immersion in the target-language community. That belief is built around the premise that students have extensive opportunities for intensive language exposure which enhances language development in a way that is more constrained in the at-home context.
This presentation draws on the body of research on second language acquisition in a study abroad context to problematize the premise (and promise) underlying study abroad. The focus especially targets the nature of linguistic development while abroad in relation to the variable gains made and the inter-learner variation at play in such development. Against such a background, the presentation then explores a range of factors that are seen to constrain the potential of study abroad such as in relation to opportunities for language contact and the role of individual factors in the learner’s experience abroad.
The presentation ends with some reflections on learner needs while abroad (and on their return to our classrooms), and how we as language instructors might support our students to enhance the opportunities available in overcoming the multitude of challenges that they face. Some questions for the future are also considered in relation to areas where there is a gap in our knowledge but where future research will serve to further enhance our understanding of the relationship between a study abroad experience and language learning.
Interview with Martin Howard
“We need to be realistic about language learning abroad”