Intercultural Competence and Language Variety on Study Abroad Programs: L2 Learners of Arabic


  • Jeremy Palmer



Study abroad, Arabic, Intercultural competence, Tolerance


The issue of intercultural competence among students of Arabic has not received much attention in academic literature. The ability to comfortably thrive in more than one culture and language is certainly of importance for students in this age of global contact, exchange, and even strife. At a time of wars and frequent misunderstandings, cultural and linguistic tolerance and understanding between the Arab world and the West is paramount. Fortunately, more and more American students are signing up to study Arabic. Enrollments in Arabic at institutions of higher education in the United States increased 126% - more than any other language - between 2002 and 2006 (Furman, Goldberg, & Lusin, 2007). In order to understand Arabic language and culture well, it is generally accepted that students should spend time abroad in an Arabic-speaking country. The benefits of study abroad have long been praised (Carroll, 1967; Kinginger & Farrell, 2004; Berg et al., 2008). Contradictorily, however, there are not many American students who choose to study abroad in the Arab world each year (Gutierrez et al., 2009). 

            This paper presents the results of a research project that queried over 90 research participants who spent time on study abroad programs in the Arab world. These research participants completed an online questionnaire about their cultural and linguistic experiences abroad. This paper reports results pertaining to research participant difficulty in performing certain social and linguistic functions while abroad using an adapted instrument to measure acculturation from Ward & Kennedy (1999). The research participants were also asked about the amount of interaction in which they engaged with host nationals. Finally, research participants were asked about their use of Arabic language varieties. Results show that research participants were able to perform the social and linguistic functions with greater ease at the end of their study abroad programs. Results also showed that students who had exposure to spoken colloquial Arabic before arrival felt more acculturated at the beginning of their programs. Interestingly, research participants who interacted more with host nationals tended to speak more colloquial Arabic than the more formal variety. In addition, research participants in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan (to a lesser degree) had a greater desire to speak colloquial Arabic than those in Morocco and Yemen.


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Author Biography

Jeremy Palmer

Jeremy Palmer received his Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) from the University of Arizona in 2009. His interests include study abroad and intercultural competence, teacher training and professional development, and technology in foreign language learning. He is currently working as an assistant professor at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.


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How to Cite

Palmer, J. (2013). Intercultural Competence and Language Variety on Study Abroad Programs: L2 Learners of Arabic. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 22(1), 58–83.