In their study The Role of Individual Differences in the Study Abroad Context: Cognitive Capacity and Language Development During Short-Term Intensive Language Exposure, Sarah Grey, Ellen Serafini, Jessica Cox, and Cristina Sanz investigate the effects of short term study abroad on second language acquisition, and what role student cognitive capacity plays in these effects. The authors tested advanced-level students on their lexical and grammatical second language (L2) capability in Spanish before and after a five-week study abroad program in Barcelona, Spain. By doing this, they hoped to answer “Does a 5-week L2 intensive language experience abroad lead to improved L2 grammatical and/or lexical development in advanced learners, as measured by accuracy and latency?” and “Are working memory and/or phonological working memory related to the degree of L2 grammatical and lexical development over a 5-week intensive language experience program?” Based on the accuracy and reaction time results of the students in the pre-and post-program grammatical and lexical judgment tests, the authors determined that “…advanced proficiency learners can and do improve their L2 abilities during a 5-week intensive experience abroad.” In addition, they determined that “…advanced-level participants improved in their L2 morphosyntactic and lexical judgment accuracy over the 5 weeks abroad, regardless of potential variation in their cognitive capacity.” They conclude “that intensive study abroad, even for only 5 weeks, is useful for making significant progress in the L2 at an advanced proficiency level” and that this progress was “not constrained by variation in learners’ cognitive resources.”
The results of this study have strong implications for study abroad and language education. As pointed out in reports such as the Council on Foreign Relations’ 2012 US Education Reform and National Security and the Committee for Economic Development’s 2006 Education for Global Leadership, internationalization of US education is essential for US economic and national security. An important component for both of these priorities is foreign language skills, in fact, the CED report even has a subsection titled “Knowledge of Foreign Languages and Cultures is an Economic Necessity”, where they argue that due to the increasingly globalized marketplace, US businesses now need employees with foreign language skills in order to communicate with foreign customers. As far as national security goes, the CFR report warns that “Americans’ failure to learn strategic languages, coupled with a lack of formal instruction about the history and cultures of the rest of the world, limits U.S. citizens’ global awareness, cross-cultural competence, and ability to assess situations and respond appropriately in an increasingly interconnected world.” Clearly foreign language skills are essential to the future of the US economy and national security, but how best to go about acquiring those skills? What if students can’t afford a full semester or year of study abroad, or can’t fit it in their curriculum? These are the two most common barriers, but both can be circumvented by cheaper and less time-demanding short-term abroad programs, which this study shows that “even for only 5 weeks, is useful for making significant progress in the L2 at an advanced proficiency level,” regardless of cognitive capability. By foreign language results in that short of a time frame, businesses may even be able to send their employees abroad for language training if necessary. This study should aid US economic and national security through the promotion of accessible short-term study abroad programs for intensive language study.
Grey, S., Cox, J. G., Serafini, E. J., & Sanz, C. (2015). The Role of Individual Differences in the Study Abroad Context: Cognitive Capacity and Language Development During Short‐Term Intensive Language Exposure. The Modern Language Journal, 99(1), 137-157.
Heintz, S., & Isaacson, W. (2006). Education for global leadership: The importance of international studies and foreign language education for US economic and national security.
Klein, J. I., & Rice, C. (2014). US education reform and national security (No. 68). Council on Foreign Relations.