A Comparison of Spanish Second Language Acquisition in Two Different Learning Contexts: Study Abroad and the Domestic Classroom


  • Norman Segalowitz
  • Barbara Freed
  • Joe Collentine
  • Barbara Lafford
  • Nicole Lazar
  • Manuel Díaz-Campos




study abroad, second language acquisition, Spanish


In this paper, we report the results of a study that compared differences in the linguistic gains made by native English-speaking students from the United States who were studying Spanish in one of two different contexts of learning. One was a regular university classroom situation in Colorado; the other was a study abroad program in Alicante, Spain. We examined the gains students made on a number of linguistic dimensions: oral proficiency, oral fluency, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and communication strategies. In addition, we investigated the relationships between these variables and a variety of background factors, including aspects of language learning readiness. As far as we know, this is the first study to examine such a comprehensive array of variables associated with linguistic performance as a function of context of learning. Each of the individual studies that contributed to the full report of this project can be found in a special issue of the journal Studies in Second Language Acquisition edited by Collentine and Freed (2004). When those studies are looked at as a whole, they lead to general interpretations that were not immediately apparent when considering each of the reports separately. In this paper, we review these results, discuss the larger picture that emerges, and speculate on future questions about the effects of the study abroad experience on second language acquisition (see also Freed, Segalowitz & Dewey, 2004, for a related study).


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Author Biographies

Norman Segalowitz

Norman Segalowitz is Professor of Psychology, and Associate Director of the Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance at Concordia University in Montréal. He has published extensively on cognitive processes implicated in second language acquisition. He is especially interested in how insights from basic cognitive psychology and from applied second language acquisition research can mutually inform each other, leading to greater success in language learning by different populations and in different learning contexts.

Barbara Freed

Barbara Freed is Professor of Second Language Acquisition and French Studies at Carnegie Mellon University. She has published extensively on input and acquisition in second language learning. She is particularly interested in the role of context of learning as a variable in SLA: how context interacts with learner qualities at different stages in the acquisition process, and with specific aspects of L2 use. Her recent work focuses on the acquisition of fluency as it relates to these issues.

Joe Collentine

 Joe Collentine is Associate Professor of Spanish and chair of the Department of Modern Languages at Northern Arizona University. His research interests include the acquisition of mood and complex syntax by second language learners, input-oriented teaching methodologies, computer-assisted language learning, and the comparative effects of study abroad on the acquisition of Spanish.

Barbara Lafford

 Barbara A. Lafford is Professor of Spanish and Linguistics at Arizona State University-Tempe. Her current research focuses on the acquisition of Spanish as a second/ foreign language by adults in different contexts of learning and the use of computer-based technology to teach second languages. She recently coedited a volume that critically reviews major works in the field of Spanish SLA, Spanish Second Language Acquisition: State of the Science.

Nicole Lazar

Nicole Lazar is Associate Professor in the Department of Statistics at the University of Georgia. Her main areas of scholarship are in the social and behavioral sciences, including archaeology, psychology and linguistics. She is also interested in the history and sociology of statistics as a discipline, the role of statisticians in society, and the ways in which statisticians interact with other scientists.

Manuel Díaz-Campos

Manuel Díaz-Campos is Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at Indiana University, Bloomington. He has published on acquisition of sociolinguistic variables in L1, acquisition of second language phonology, and topics in Spanish laboratory phonology. He is especially interested in phonological variation in child and adult language, as well as in the acquisition of second language phonology by native speakers of English who are learning Spanish.


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How to Cite

Segalowitz, N., Freed, B., Collentine, J. ., Lafford, B., Lazar, N., & Díaz-Campos, M. (2004). A Comparison of Spanish Second Language Acquisition in Two Different Learning Contexts: Study Abroad and the Domestic Classroom. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 10(1), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.36366/frontiers.v10i1.130