Perspectives on Mediated L2 Learning during Study Abroad: Identity, Motivation, and Learning Strategies

Perspectives on Mediated L2 Learning during Study Abroad: Identity, Motivation, and Learning Strategies

Kaishan Kong (University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0169-5.ch028
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Informed by multiple sociocultural and sociolinguistic conceptual frameworks that highlight the compelling implication of identity, motivation, and mediation in second language (L2) learning, this chapter examines how the sense of self and aspirations of multiple Chinese students have affected their strategies in L2 experiences during study abroad in the United States (US). Data sources included in-depth interviews, ethnographic observations, focus group discussion, social media posts and other documents. Within the specific study abroad context under discussion, substantial data from three focal participants divulged that multiple identities, self-positioning in imagined communities and motivation interacted with each other in mediating L2 learners' experience and investment selections. In other words, their feelings, sense of self and envisioned learning goals influenced and mediated their attitude and strategies in interacting with others.
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Globalization, economic development and easier transportation have led to an increasing number of study abroad programs serving millions of students. China is the top country that sends most international students to the US. In 2014, China retained its leading place as sender of approximately 274,439 students to the US for academic degrees, taking up over one-quarter of the total international students’ enrollment in the US (IIE, 2014). The popularity of study abroad is also reflected in the increasing amount of scholarship in this field. The benefits and challenges in study abroad have been discussed for decades. While some scholars have argued that study abroad leads to linguistic gains, increased cultural competence and other communicative skills (i.e., Carlson, Burn, Useem & Yachimowitz, 1991; McCabe, 1994; Milstein, 2005); other researchers evidence that study abroad proposes risks in anxiety and varies in results depending on the context and individual differences (e.g., Barron, 2006).

Amid the substantial studies to explore the advantages and disadvantages of study abroad and to assess the effectiveness of programs, however, language learning during study abroad is researched in a measurable quantitative sphere. These measurable language gains include overall language proficiency (i.e., Brecht, Davidson & Ginsberg, 1993; Freed, 1998; Lindseth, 2010), nuanced growth in diverse linguistic aspects (i.e., Bretch et al., 1993; Kinginger, 2008; Lafford, 1995) and comparing linguistic gains across contexts (i.e., Freed, Segalowitz & Dewey, 2004). A large amount of the existing scholarship is ‘highly product-oriented, focusing on the measurable advances students [made] in language proficiency and linguistic knowledge while abroad’ (Pellegrino, 1998, p. 91).

Although previous studies have generated significant insights in the field, a missing piece is the participants’ own perspectives of their study abroad process. In recent decades, increasing scholars shifted their questions from what knowledge is learned to how knowledge is learned and why it is learned in a certain way. To unravel the learning process, scholars find the point of departure in learners themselves: their identity, motivation and strategies. For instance, Haneda (2005) explored the relationship between L2 learners’ participation in class and their desires; Chang (2011) evidenced the importance of considering students’ past histories and imagined community when studying their academic journey during study abroad through two doctoral students’ L2 experience. Gaining in-depth understanding of each person’s story will be a powerful tool to understand why this person learns the L2 in a certain way. Scholars continue to call for more light shed on the process of learning from the students’ point of view.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Culture: A complex way of life shared and practiced by a particular group of people, such as languages, arts, beliefs, values, behaviors and symbols. It is a changeable and fluid concept.

Mainland China: The geopolitical area under the direct governance of The People’s Republic of China. It does not include Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan.

Study Abroad: The act of pursuing educational opportunities in a country different from your own.

Mediation: A learning process where individuals gain higher mental development through interacting with other objects and individuals.

Second Language Acquisition (SLA): A scientific discipline to study the process where a person learns a second language.

Motivation: A reason and desire a person has to direct behaviors in a certain way.

Emotion: A natural feeling caused by individual’s relationship with others and the environment.

Identity: A sense of self in multiple roles and varied contexts. Identities are socially constructed, contextualized, negotiable, changeable, dynamic and fluid.

Investment: Individuals’ endeavors and engagement to learn and sustain the use of another language.

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