Second language linguistic development in study abroad contexts

To the authors’ knowledge, there are no quantitative studies on SHLLs’ linguistic development during an SA program, with the exception of Marqués-Pascual (chapter 10, this volume). However, the large body of SA research on second language development suggests that in general, greater gains are made in speaking and listening than in reading and writing (see Dyson, 1988; Llanes, 2011; Meara, 1994). This may be due to the fact that conversational opportunities in a TL likely increase dramatically as compared to AH contexts, whereas opportunities to consume or produce written discourse may not increase to the same extent. Additionally, in SA learners are socialized in the local speech community naturally through exposure and interaction, but the same socialization in writing is not necessarily parallel, as it is a much more conscious and deliberate process.

Although empirical studies suggest that the SA context offers more benefits than AH studies for the global improvement of second language abilities, especially oral skills, findings have been contested due to the research methodology used (Llanes, 2011). Early SA studies (Carroll, 1967; Dyson, 1988; Freed, 1995, 1998) found that weaker speakers tended to demonstrate greater gains from an immersive experience than stronger speakers. However, since most of these studies used global proficiency assessments (such as the OPI) to measure gains, researchers have questioned whether it is actually true that more advanced speakers do not improve as much, or rather whether global proficiency assessments are simply more sensitive to capturing gains for lower-level L2Ls than for advanced speakers (Llanes, 2011, p. 195). This methodological concern suggests that a clear understanding of the sojourners’ linguistic profiles when collecting data is vital to accurately measuring language development.

Oral development studies using a CAF framework to measure progress for L2L sojourners show that participants made more gains in fluency (Lafford & Collentine, 2006; Mora & Valls-Ferrer, 2012) but not necessarily in accuracy (but see Juan-Garau, 2014; Marqués-Pascual, 2011) or complexity. SA research on CAF measurements in writing has found similarly mixed results, suggesting that while there may be development in one or more aspects of writing skills during an immersion experience, not all dimensions of writing improve. For example, Freed, So, and Lazar (2003) found growth in complexity and lexical density but not accuracy or fluency3; Lord (2009) reports improvements in accuracy but not fluency or complexity; and Pérez-Vidal and Juan-Garau (2011) and Pérez-Vidal and Barquin (2014) report gains in complexity and fluency but not accuracy.

One area of linguistic development that demonstrates a reliably positive effect of SA is the lexicon (Martinez Arbeláiz, 2004; Tracy-Ventura, 2017). Lexical growth reported in these studies has been attributed to the fact that learners who have the opportunity to live in an immersion context have the

Linguistic development in study abroad 185 possibility to build more authentic networks of second language word associations because they have access to several naturalistic learning environments.

Overall, the studies described in this section suggest that SA programs can contribute to linguistic development among L2Ls. However, little data exists regarding whether the same patterns hold true for SHLLs in SA, as they have been largely absent from SA research. Since there is considerably more work on the development of SHLLs’ linguistic skills in the AH context, we now examine those studies in order to identify key concepts that might be beneficial for exploring SHLL development in the SA context.

The linguistic development of SHLLs in at-home contexts


Early research in the field of Spanish as a heritage language often compared the oral production of SHLLs to that of Spanish-speaking monolinguals and posited that SHLLs were unable to produce or maintain the academic register of the language as monolinguals did (e.g., Achugar, 2003; Montrul, 2008; Valdes & Geoffrion-Vinci, 1998). In an analysis of oral academic language, for example, Achugar (2003) compared the academic presentations of an SHLL and a monolingual student. Using concepts from systemic functional linguistics (Halliday, 1973, 1990), including the use of projection (reported speech) and expansion (elaborating, extending, and enhancing) as well as the absence of hesitation, she found that the SHLL resorted to more reported speech, relied on English to convey meaning, and did not project an authoritative voice as compared to the monolingual speaker.

Another line of research in SHLL oral development has focused on identification of the types of non-native-like “errors” that SHLLs commit during oral discourse. Fairclough and Mrak (2003) analyzed 40 semidirected interviews with two groups of SHLLs, with and without formal education in the HL, applying an error-analysis framework (Corder, 1973) that focused on morphosyntactic and lexical errors of omission, addition, substitution, and order. They found more lexical errors among the participants than morphosyntactic ones, but highlighted that there was no significant difference in error production between the instructed and noninstructed groups, which questions the role that classroom experience plays in the development of oral accuracy. Lynch (2008) analyzed the oral production of nine intermediate-level SHLLs and L2Ls of Spanish in oral interviews on a variety of cultural topics. Transcriptions were analyzed to identify grammatical features such as gender agreement, seriestar (“to be”) distinction, and aspectual and mood distinction. Lynch found no substantial differences in grammatical accuracy between the groups at the intermediate level, suggesting that there are more similarities between thesegroups than previously believed, at least at the intermediate level. He did, however, find that SHLLs used more English than their L2L counterparts.

More recently, research on global proficiency has focused on characterizing the oral linguistic profiles of SHLLs using the OP1 guidelines (Ilieva, 2012; Swender et al., 2014; Viera & Arispe, 2020). Swender et al. (2014) report a functional breakdown in the transition between the “Advanced” and “Superior” levels of the OP1 which prevented speakers from obtaining a Superior rating. They describe Superior-level tasks such as dealing with topics abstractly and supporting opinions as generally not being addressed at the required level of abstraction, and participants instead diverting the focus of their attention to narrations of personal experience (pp. 436 437). They also suggest that the use of English by participants affected ratings. Similarly, in exploring the oral skills of HLLs of Hindi and Urdu, Ilieva (2012) found that HLLs produced extended and fluent discourse but lacked control of some basic structures and academic vocabulary, personalized their narratives even when prompted by the interviewers to discuss abstract topics, and displayed high levels of interference from English.

Rubio (2003) combined the use of the OPI with CAF measurements to compare SHLLs and L2Ls in order to highlight the specific areas in which students made linguistic gains according to language background. The OPI was used for data collection and transcribed for analysis. Fluency was analyzed by mean length of utterance, and speech rate was measured by words per minute, percentage of unfilled pauses, and filled pauses. For the lexical analysis, Rubio used the vocabulary diversity measure proposed by Malvern, Richards, Chipere, and Duran (2004). The diversity measure shows “the proportion of unique words (types) relative to the total length of a text” (Mitchell et al., 2017, p. 27). Participants were 19 students of Spanish, rated “Advanced” on the ACTFL OPI scale and with different linguistic backgrounds: SHLLs, L2L missionaries recently returned from a two-year stay in a Spanish-speaking country, and traditional L2Ls. The SHLLs outperformed the other groups in terms of words per minute and pauses, but there was no significant difference between the SHLLs and L2Ls on lexical diversity. These results suggest that even though SHLLs were more fluent in the language, their lexicon was similar to that of L2Ls.

The writing skills of HLLs

This section reviews key research on writing in the AH context that may serve as a basis for examining SHLLs’ writing development in the SA context. Drawing on systemic functional linguistics (Halliday, 1973; 1990), Colombi (1997, 2000, 2002), Achugar and Colombi (2008), and Patino-Vega (2019) explored how SHLLs at the university level develop their writing skills by measuring their movement from a colloquial register toward a more academic one within the oral-written continuum. Specifically, these longitudinal studies (Achugar & Colombi, 2008; Colombi, 2000, 2002;

Patino-Vega, 2019) investigate how academic writing progresses from orallike to a style characteristic of academic, written discourse, as evidenced by increases in lexical density, nominalizations, and embedded clauses, as well as decreases in grammatical intricacy.4 Using these measurements, the results suggest that the development of biliteracy among SHLLs requires significant time - “the condensation of the information and the use of nominalizations and grammatical metaphor do not become part of their repertoire until the end of their first year of instruction” (Colombi & Harrington, 2012, p. 251).

In addition to the need for significant time to develop advanced writing skills, several studies suggest the need for explicit writing instruction (Colombi & Harrington, 2012; Torres, 2016), adequate scaffolding opportunities to support the writing process (Beaudrie, Ducar, & Potowski, 2014), and the development of writing through stages (Schwartz, 2003). Torres (2016) found that students reported improving their writing after receiving writing instruction through a “flipped classroom” technique, whereby they watched videos at home on effectively crafting essay elements such as introductory paragraphs, thesis statements, and conclusions and then practiced those strategies in the classroom.

A third strand of research has found that peer-to-peer collaboration can also have a positive effect on HL writing. For example, Bowles (2011) explored collaborative writing between L2Ls and SHLLs in a mixed class and found that each group improved their writing by leveraging their partner’s skills. Specifically, SHLLs appeared to benefit from their L2L partners’ understanding of orthography and accent placement, while the L2Ls leveraged their HLL partners' lexical knowledge during the writing task. In another case, Reznicek-Parrado et al. (2018) explored the biliteracy development of SHLLs during mandatory tutoring sessions conducted by more advanced HLLs. Their findings reveal growth in the tutees’ lexical and grammatical complexity after tutoring assistance, as well as positive attitudes toward the tutoring sessions in terms of skills and confidence. Both of these studies suggest that SHLLs’ writing can benefit from peer interaction, be it through interactions with other SHLLs or with L2Ls (see also Marijuan, chapter 12, this volume).

The studies in SHLL orality and writing reviewed here suggest a number of important findings. First, these learners tend to rely on more oral-like, informal language (often English influenced) to carry out tasks in academic settings, such as structured interviews, academic presentations, or academic essays, and tend to discuss abstract topics by reverting to narrations of personal experience. Second, SHLLs’ writing language development takes significant time (more than one semester) and is often facilitated by explicit instruction, scaffolding, and revision processes. Third, peer-to-peer collaboration seems to be beneficial for SHLLs in terms of teaching writing mechanics and promoting confidence. Nevertheless, more research is needed to clearly establish the interplay between these findings and the diverse learning trajectories of SHLLs in SA contexts. In the following sections, we propose areas for future research that may enhance our understanding of HLLs’ writing and orality in SA.

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