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Research Explores Why Improving Language Skills Often Falls Short

By Dane Claussen, Ph.D., MBA, Manager of University Relations Athena Study Abroad

“Linguistic Loneliness and Study Abroad,” by Cynthia Slagter and Marcie J. Pyper was published in the Spring 2019 Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, posted April 24, 2019. Students learning the Spanish language from one college traveled to Spain (93), Peru (60), or Honduras (36) over a three-year period.

Data were gathered from surveys and language assessment before and after their study abroad, and interviews after their study abroad. For various reasons, most students had difficulties speaking Spanish as much as they thought they would or should, and their proficiency did not increase as much as they predicted.
One reason was that their language skills were too limited to meet their social needs. Students who are hesitant about meeting new people in the USA also will find that as or more difficult in another country using another language.

Slagter and Pyper make several practical recommendations, including discussing relevant research with students who are going abroad and helping students develop skills to talk with (especially asking good questions) of people (Americans and others) they don’t know.

The study’s strengths include use of a modified Language Contact Profile (Freed et al., 2004) and Versant Spanish Test (Pearson), gathering data over three years and about students’ experiences in three countries, from 123 participants.

The study’s weaknesses include self-reported data from students, data about study abroad in only Spanish-speaking countries, and not reporting the interview questions (although reported answers are suggestive). Gathering data about only one college’s students is probably not a limitation of this study (although it could or would be in others).

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