Travelling to an English-speaking country:
Does it guarantee fast and effortless language learning?
It is no secret that many factors, not just one, make someone achieve proficiency in a foreign language. Several have been suggested, such as motivation, age, method, adaptation and particularly exposure to the target language, which has become the main justification for language immersion courses. These offer quick learning, sometimes in courses as short as two weeks, with good results. Is this the solution to all our language learning needs?
English abroad? Yes, please!
Schumann’s Acculturation theory (1978, 1986) argues that there is a close relationship between the leaner’s interest in the target language culture, the chance to interact with native speakers and the degree of success in mastering a language. Language programmes in English-speaking countries take advantage of this assumption. For one thing, students receive a great deal of language input all day long. Since they wake up, everything around is in English: the TV programmes, the transport signs, the ads in the street and the contexts for interaction, such as asking for directions, shopping, travelling around, etc. Without any doubt, these scenarios are translated into unique opportunities to use linguistic tools and interact in REAL LIFE situations (not “life-like” ones).
Another popular advantage is being taught by native speakers. Indeed, students will benefit from accurate pronunciation, not just in terms of articulation and stress but also pace of delivery, and will have the tools for imitation. It is also common to hear that being in an English-speaking country “unblocks your ears”, as learners will become aware of the vast diversity of accents in multicultural contexts, for example, if they are studying in cities like London or New York, with a high influx of foreign population.
Not all that glitters is gold
Indeed. Studying a language abroad may seem the perfect way to learn, but it should be noted that it has a number of limitations. In the first place, it is relatively prohibitive due to its costs; not everybody can easily afford a three-month stay in countries with a high cost of living, especially if they are not working at the same time (student visas may not allow them to work).
Other than that, there is an important point to make regarding language studying abroad. While studying in the target language country can cause excellent results and a marked improvement in language proficiency, some students may feel anxious because they do not have a language background solid enough to have a simple conversation. They are perfectly aware of this fact, which increases their anxiety enormously, making learning not easier, but a lot more challenging and somewhat frustrating. Time could also be a factor inducing anxiety, especially when the courses are very short and there is external pressure to perform; for example, someone who is sent by their company to learn quickly because there is urgent demand for a bilingual professional. Both cases echo what Krashen referred to as the “affective filter” hypothesis.
Language courses abroad, whatever their nature, are effective. We can be sure that there are countless success stories worldwide. However, we should be aware of their restrictions. In order to take full advantage of an immersion or language study programme abroad, the students interested should have a basic command of the language before travelling. Upon their return, the learning which took place abroad should be consolidated by means of formal instruction that helps learners use their experience abroad to develop their skills even further.
When your students ask you if it is a good idea to learn English abroad, what do you say?
Krashen, Stephen D. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon. Retrieved from http://www.sdkrashen.com/
· Schumann, J. H. (1978). The relationship of pidginization, creolization, and decreolization to second language acquisition. Language Learning, Vol 28/2
· Schumann, J. (1986). Research on the acculturation model for L2 acquisition. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, Vol 7/5
Mayra Yaranga (1985) has completed Doctorate studies in Education at UNIFÉ; she holds a Master’s Degree in Media, Culture and Identity from Roehampton University (London) revalidated by PUCP, a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from UPCH and the Professional Title of Licenciada from IPNM. Currently she works as Pedagogical Specialist and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacífico Language Centre. She is also Associate Professor at UNIFÉ. She has published papers in the fields of English Language Teaching and Cultural Studies