Learning Chinese in and Beyond Study Abroad: Two Longitudinal Case Studies of Language Learning Processes

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Lee, Sheng Hsun
Graduate Program:
Applied Linguistics
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
November 15, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Celeste S Kinginger, Dissertation Advisor
  • Celeste S Kinginger, Committee Chair
  • Ning Yu, Committee Member
  • James Lantolf, Committee Member
  • Xiaoye You, Outside Member
  • study abroad
  • Chinese
  • sociocultural theory
  • foreign language learning and teaching
Among students, language educators, and researchers, study abroad environments are believed to enhance language learning in every domain. The study abroad literature, however, has shown significant individual differences in learning outcomes, although few of these studies have longitudinally investigated language learning processes at the micro-ethnographic level. This thesis draws on Vygotskyan sociocultural theory to examine two American undergraduate students’ (John and Kevin) language learning processes, beginning in the classroom, during study abroad, and finally upon their return to their home institution. The analysis is based on a longitudinal, ethnographic database—18 diaries, 430 photographs, field notes, course materials, regularly recorded interactions in classrooms, tutoring and study abroad settings (125 hours), and interviews with the two participants and their families, teachers, classmates, and host parents in China (60 hours). The dissertation first shows how John gradually developed awareness of the role of compliments and ability to use them for various purposes in two homestays: expressing appreciation for food, maintaining his hosts’ positive face, developing cordial relationships, and defusing potential conflict. The dissertation then contrasts the two students’ multimodal, multisensory processes of learning table etiquette in Chinese homestays. It shows that learning everyday practices and associated language in the homestay abroad is an uneven, challenging process, but students and hosts can collaboratively transform problems into learning opportunities. Finally, the dissertation looks at Kevin’s failed attempt to study Chinese in an upper-level Chinese course offered at his U.S. home institution. The analysis of his classroom interaction, assignments, and interviews indicates that study abroad returnees may enjoy various advantages in the classroom, but that reintegration into home-based language programs can also present significant challenges both for students and for teachers. On the basis of these findings, implications for language program design, language learning research, classroom interaction, and pedagogy are discussed.