Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

David I. Hanauer, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Sharon K. Deckert, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Stuart Chandler, Ph.D.

Abstract

Study abroad is an under-researched domain of language learning. Moreover, most investigations of this phenomenon adopt traditional structuralist approaches, wherein outcomes of study abroad are assessed solely in terms of proficiency gains as measured through conventional exams. The present study builds upon an emerging body of poststructuralist research that foregrounds connections between language study abroad and the reconstruction of learners’ identities (e.g., Block, 2007; Kinginger, 2010). More specifically, it utilizes Kramsch’s (2009) notion of subjectivity to argue that language learning is a phenomenon that affects the entire human being (Hanauer, 2012) while bringing focus to how learners themselves define and evaluate the successfulness of their study abroad experiences.

The study adopted a longitudinal mixed-method approach encompassing interviews, narrative essay writing, and poetry writing tasks to investigate how perceptions of self and language learning evolved among Americans studying Japanese in Japan (n=9) and Japanese studying English in the United States (n=10). The specific research questions were:

1. How do students’ subjective understandings of language learning and study abroad experiences involve views of the self?

2. In collecting data on personal experience in different genres (narrative interview, narrative essay writing, and poetry writing), what are the values and qualities of each of the data elicitation methods used?

Individuals who most consistently provided all three data types (4 Americans; 3 Japanese) were selected for qualitative case studies. Results demonstrated that their understandings of their experiences abroad changed according to idiosyncratic dynamics, yet they all eventually viewed their experiences abroad as significant life transitions into adulthood. Some derived great meaning from moments when they were able to use the target language in authentic situations outside the classroom, while others abandoned language learning and determined other goals for their study abroad. Quantitative analysis of the entire dataset made use of a computational linguistic approach to systematically measure the degrees of expressivity present in the corpus of texts in each genre.

The study concludes by recommending the establishment of a system of routine mentoring sessions or conferences wherein study abroad learners are provided with more opportunities to contemplate the meanings of their ongoing language learning experiences.

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