Language Learners' Social Interaction during Study Abroad: Opportunities, Satisfaction, and Benefits

Language Learners' Social Interaction during Study Abroad: Opportunities, Satisfaction, and Benefits

Rikki Campbell (Monash University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0169-5.ch029
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There is a common belief that one of the best methods for learning a foreign or second language is to develop social relationships with native speakers and to communicate with them using that language. In order to increase such interactional opportunities, participation in study abroad programs where the target language is spoken is frequently recommended. However, language learners often report disappointment in their degree of interaction and friendship development with native speakers while abroad. With a focus on learners of Japanese, the study reported in this chapter examines the contexts in which study abroad students in Japan find opportunities to interact and establish friendships with native Japanese speakers, and discusses the participants' satisfaction with and benefits of such interaction and friendships. The results draw upon 36 questionnaire responses, as well as in-depth interviews with four focal informants, all of who experienced a study abroad in Japan between 2010-2013.
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The study reported in this chapter responds to the call of several researchers (e.g., Mendelson, 2004; Segalowitz et al., 2004; Spenader, 2011) for more focused investigation of students’ opportunities for, and the nature of, social interaction during study abroad. Spenader (2011), for example, suggested that ‘language educators should examine this contact to inform our understanding of how these interpersonal relationships are supported by program environments and what role they play in the individual language learning experience’ (p. 15). Although the current study does not investigate second language acquisition specifically, it examines the opportunities learners have for interaction with native speakers, and the perceived contribution of this to gains in communicative competence and other outcomes. Furthermore, because this study investigates learners who participated in a variety of different study abroad programs, it is also able to elucidate some features of program design that influence learners’ interaction. This study will expand upon the current literature by examining the experiences of 40 learners of Japanese who studied abroad in Japan.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Gaijin [Japanese]: Literally meaning ‘outside person’, this Japanese expression refers to ‘foreigners’, though is more often used when referring to Caucasians.

Communicative Competence: A linguistic term that refers to the ability to function in a communicative setting. This requires grammatical knowledge of the language, as well as social knowledge of how to use it appropriately.

Native Speaker: A person who has acquired and used the language(s) in question from early childhood, often, but not always, as their first language.

Social Interaction: The behaviour, actions, and exchanges between/among two or more individuals. Although social interaction often involves language or ‘talk’, it is not a requirement as it is for linguistic interaction.

L2: A person’s L2 or ‘second language’ is any language that they are learning or know in addition to their mother tongue or first language.

Target Language (TL): A language in addition to someone’s mother tongue or first language that they intend to or are in the process of learning.

Immersion: In terms of language learning, this refers to constantly being surrounded by the target language and culture.

Informal Language: Colloquial language used in more casual, relaxed situations, usually with people one knows well. In Japanese, this involves considerable changes in grammar and vocabulary.

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