A study of the effect of study abroad and the homestay on the development of linguistic and interactional practices by Spanish L2 learners




Abad Mancheño, Alfonso, 1972-

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Studies showing the importance of interaction in second language (L2) acquisition have led researchers to believe that the learning process is enhanced by interactional practices. Interaction provides comprehensible input that is modified to serve the learner's communicative needs. This input is especially apparent when learners are paired with speakers more proficient than themselves. Not only can interactions provide the learner with input, but they also create opportunities for learners to repair communicative breakdowns and gain feedback about these repairs. Learners can develop an ability to interact in the L2, also referred to as "interactional competence" (IC). The present study describes interactional practices between learners and native Spanish speakers (NSs), and the effect they have on the process of language acquisition and development of IC during a one-semester study abroad experience. The development of 16 learners' IC and proficiency is documented through both quantitative and qualitative methods of analysis in order to elicit triangulated conclusions. This study includes information about the learners and their interactions with NSs, and looks at contextual factors that may impact acquisition, such as amount of contact with NSs (type of housing, and time spent with native speakers per day). Their results were also compared with Spanish learners in the U.S. Results support the Interaction Hypothesis (Long, 1983) and show that learners with a lower level of proficiency rely more on the interactional resources of the NS as they develop a second language. As they advance in their mastery of the language, they tend to rely more on their own resources. The four factors used for this study--correction, negotiation, conversation management, and production--are good indicators of the improvements in conversational abilities of the learners who went abroad. Results also show that the family setting is more beneficial than the apartment setting because it creates more opportunities to negotiate for meaning. This research helps characterize and develop the importance of viewing language as a socially constituted, interactive phenomenon. The study calls for new research taking into consideration the housing factor, as well as the confidence of the learner as a facilitator in the development of IC, and likewise of linguistic proficiency.