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Interaction and social networks with target language speakers during study abroad and beyond: the experiences of learners of Japanese

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posted on 01.03.2017, 01:52 by Campbell, Rikki Lee
A significant number of studies highlight the importance of informal interaction and social networks for second language acquisition and social support during study abroad. Many also indicate the importance of study abroad for providing language learners with opportunities to meet, interact, and establish social networks with other target language (TL) speakers. However, although an increasing amount of research has investigated the development of language learners’ social networks during study abroad, research examining learners’ ongoing network maintenance and development with TL speakers after their program completion remains scarce. The current study aims to address this gap in the literature by investigating the impact of study abroad on language learners’ engagement with the host country, its language and its speakers. In particular, focus is placed on interaction and social networks with TL speakers during study abroad and onwards throughout their life trajectories. The study employed a qualitative, semi-longitudinal and cross-sectional approach, focussing on 134 learners of Japanese language who had participated in a university-level study abroad program. Eight focal informants completed a series of in-depth interviews and one-week interaction journals, and online questionnaire data collected from 126 respondents further validated and expanded upon this data. The analytical frameworks that guided this study were based upon Boissevain’s (1974) criteria of network analysis, Fehr’s (1996; 2000) factors influencing friendship development, and Grosjean’s (1972) factors influencing language selection. Additionally, Norton’s (2000) notion of investment and Markus and Nurius’ (1986) possible selves theory were also drawn upon. This study increases our understanding of the nature of learners’ interaction and social networks both during and post-study abroad. It provides insight into the development and maintenance of TL-speaking networks, patterns of language use within them, and the various personal, environmental and situational factors influencing these practices. Of primary importance to network development/maintenance and language use both during and post-study abroad were the environments in which the informants engaged, and their ongoing investment in the TL. One of the key findings was that, for the majority of informants, study abroad was a seminal event that positively influenced their L2 self-concept and ongoing engagement with TL-speaking networks throughout the life trajectory. In particular, it was found that study abroad experiences often resulted in a shift in L2 identity from language learner to user, and that established patterns of TL use during study abroad were, in the majority of cases, maintained once informants returned to their home countries. The current study also increases our understanding of the role of Interactive Communications Technologies (ICTs), such as social network sites (SNSs) and smart phone applications, in post-study abroad contexts. An important finding was that in addition to increasing the ease with which networks could be maintained, SNSs such as Facebook in particular facilitated more frequent engagement with network members, providing enhanced opportunities for continued TL use and learning. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for study abroad programs and future program participants, as well as for future theoretical and empirical/applied research concerning the analysis of social networks and language selection.


Principal supervisor

Robyn Spence-Brown

Additional supervisor 1

Naomi Kurata

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts