Background Information

What is important about this project?

Statistics on study abroad indicate that over 100,000 U.S. university students annually spend one semester or more studying abroad (Institute for International Education, 1998). These students are immersed in their new language and culture settings, and thus potentially have numerous opportunities for developing their second language and culture knowledge. In looking at the study abroad literature and programs, it is clear that students intending to study abroad receive limited if any preparation to be language and culture learners/users beyond how they would normally learn in a classroom setting. Thus, they depart for the programs lacking the strategies that would enable them to more effectively learn and use the foreign language and the culture in its own context. Clearly, there is a compelling need to better prepare this large group of learners prior to their departure, so that the learners themselves and their sending institutions can fully realize the learning benefits of the sojourn experience (Paige and Kappler, 1999).

Second language learner strategies encompass both second language learning and second language use (Cohen, 1998). Taken together, they constitute the steps of actions consciously selected by learners either to improve the learning of a second language, the use of it, or both. Language learning strategies include strategies for identifying the material that needs to be learned, distinguishing it from other material, group it for easier learning (e.g., group vocabulary by category into nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so forth), repeatedly engaging oneself in contact with the materials, and formally committing the material to memory when it does not seem to be acquired naturally (whether through rote memory techniques, the use of mnemonics, or some other technique). Strategies for using the language fall into four categories: retrieval strategies, rehearsal strategies, "cover" (coping) strategies, and communication strategies.

Culture learning involves seven principle dimensions: learning about the self as a cultural being (cultural self-awareness); learning about the elements of culture (e.g., values, beliefs, communication styles, customs); learning about a specific culture; learning about culture-general phenomena (e.g., cultural adjustment, adaptation); learning about how to become an effective culture learner; learning about the stages and correlates of intercultural development, and being able to assess one's own level of development; and learning about the relationship between language and culture.

Developing Materials to Support Study Abroad

Building on CARLA's previous research and teacher resources on language strategies and culture learning, CARLA received funding in 1999 to create a set of user-friendly materials designed to maximize study abroad with materials on language and culture-learning strategies, as part of its U.S. Department of Education's Language Resource Center grant. Since that time, the project leaders created, field-tested, and revised a set of three guides as part of the Maximizing Study Abroad series. The series includes the following publications:

Maximizing Study Abroad: A Students' Guide to Strategies for Language and Culture Learning and Use

Maximizing Study Abroad: A Program Coordinators' Guide to Strategies for Language and Culture Learning and Use

Maximizing Study Abroad: A Language Instructors' Guide to Strategies for Language and Culture Learning and Use

The initial writing phase (1999-2000)

The initial writing phase of this project took place during the 1999-2000 academic year. The writing team was led by Professor Andrew D. Cohen on the language learning strategies sections and Professor R. Michael Paige on the culture learning strategies sections. Two graduate research assistants, Julie C. Chi and James P. Lassegard worked in collaboration with Professors Cohen and Paige throughout the initial development of the guides. The field-testing and revision phase: part 1 (2000-2001)The field-testing and revision phase of the project was coordinated by Dr. Barbara Kappler (University of Minnesota International Student and Scholar Services) during the 2000-2001 academic year. The three guides were piloted with volunteer groups of language instructors, students engaged in study abroad programs, and study abroad program coordinators and advisors at the University of Minnesota and selected sites throughout the country. Based on the rich feedback received, the guides were extensively reformatted and revised to be more appealing and accessible to end-users.

The field-testing/implementation phase:  Part 2 (2001-2002)

During the third and final phase of field-testing and development of the guides, prototypes were used to fully explore the range of options in which the materials could be used effectively. The core leadership group (Cohen, Kappler, and Paige) worked with faculty and staff from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Global Campus at the University of Minnesota to demonstrate how the guides could be used in a wide range of teaching and study abroad contexts. As part of this demonstration phase, Margaret Demmessie, a seasoned instructor of Spanish, taught a special "study abroad" section of beginning third year Spanish using materials from the instructor and student guides. Each student in this special course section received a copy of the Students' Guide; their response to this publication was very positive.

In addition to using the materials in a language course, special workshops were held during Fall 2001 and Spring 2002 for students planning to study abroad. Kappler facilitated another round of focus groups with language instructors from various language departments and program coordinators from the Learning Abroad Center at the University of Minnesota. In May 2002, CARLA sponsored an intensive workshop on how to use the guides, which attracted the participation of more than 40 language instructors and study abroad program professionals. Half of the participants were staff and faculty at the University of Minnesota, while the other half came from study abroad programs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Maryland, and Colorado. By fall 2002, the first editions of the Students’ Guide and the Program Professionals’ Guide were published as part of the CARLA working paper series. Both guides were widely circulated to a national audience of leaders in the field of study abroad, and the response from students and professionals indicated these publications met a national need.

Final development phase for the Language Instructors’ Guide (2002–2003)

The third guide in the Maximizing Study Abroad series was targeted at the needs of language instructors, and while the materials and philosophy behind the guide were complementary to the first two guides, the needs and focus of the classroom language teacher in using the materials were quite different because not all students in language classrooms are directly preparing for study abroad. Given this difference, the authors and the development team at CARLA thought it was critical to take additional time to make sure the materials were further tested and revised by practicing language teachers.

In fall 2002, Meagher joined the team of authors to help create and revise activities for teachers to use in the classroom and to provide input on writing throughout the guide based on her experience in regularly using the materials in her Spanish classes at the University and with a group of Spanish instructors at a study abroad site in Spain. After another round of major revisions to the guide, a draft was circulated to a group of colleagues at the University of Minnesota, Brigham Young University, and St. Cloud State University who provided in-depth feedback and ideas to make the final guide appropriate for the language-teaching context. The first version of the Language Instructors’ Guide was published in 2003.

Research on the guides and another round of revisions (2002–2006)

A U.S. Department of Education research project, “Maximizing study abroad through language and culture strategies,” began in September 2002 under the direction of Professors Cohen and Paige with active support from research assistants Holly Emert, Joseph Hoff, and Rachel Shively. The research included three related studies that investigated the use and impact of the Maximizing Study Abroad guidebook series for students, program professionals, and language instructors.

Based on the extensive feedback gleaned by the researchers from study participants, a core team of Maximizing Study Abroad authors decided to take on the task of crafting another revision to make the series the best that it could be. The revised edition of the Students’ Guide was published in August 2006 includes more materials to support language learning, additional student voices, and new activities.

Also as a result of the feedback from study abroad program professionals and language instructors, the three lead authors worked on merging, revising, and expanding the Program Professionals’ and Language Instructors’ guides into one comprehensive volume for use in a variety of study abroad and language instruction settings. This effort was led by Dr. Kappler Mikk with the active input of Professors Cohen and Paige and the tireless editing and desktop publishing support of Jennifer Schulz from the Office of Global Programs and Strategy Alliance (GPS Alliance). Maximizing Study Abroad: An Instructional Guide to Strategies for Language and Culture Learning and Use brings together the materials from both guide and adds facilitation support for the new activities found in the Students’ Guide.

We are pleased to be able to share the thoroughly revised and field-tested Maximizing Study Abroad guides nationally with a broad audience of people involved in study abroad. As we all know, enhancing students’ language and culture learning during their study abroad experiences is a holistic endeavor that ultimately requires the efforts of the students themselves, study abroad professionals, and language teachers. It is our greatest hope that these guides can provide support for the important goal of preparing students to make the most of their study abroad experiences.

2009 Revisions

In 2009, the Professionals' Guide and the Language Instructors' Guide were updated and merged into a single Instructional Guide.

The guides are now available through the CARLA working papers series.


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