SLA Theory and Erasmus Students' Realities in Latvia

Strong, Dina

University of Latvia, Latvia


Much of the earlier research has claimed that immersion in the Target Language (TL) is invaluable to the SLA and the degree of contact with the TL speakers is the key factor in acquiring the sociolinguistic and sociocultural knowledge. The aim of this study was to investigate how much communication takes place outside the L2 classroom with the TL speakers, how this interaction is socially constructed and how learners respond to these constructs to use, resist or create the opportunities to practice their L2. Profound understanding of what the L2 learner faces outside the classroom and how the language learning is socially determined is essential for successful language acquisition. SLA is a new, underresearched and undervalued field of study in Latvia. This study was inspired by the range of research conducted in other countries on the linguistic experiences of Erasmus students in study abroad contexts, recurring discussions of Latvian as an L2 instructors facing the challenges of teaching Erasmus undergraduate students as well as the researcher’s wish to test some of the existing SLA theories. The primary source of data for this qualitative study was obtained from the diary entries of the students followed by meetings and interviews. The data was cross-collated on basis of different sites in which each student had opportunities to practice Latvian and individual profiles were written up. This approach provides a deep understanding of how language practices function in different sites and the individual students’ experiences change across time, offering different opportunities and putting constraints on the practice of the TL. The research findings indicate that TL speakers are often unwilling to engage in the negotiation of meaning with the students, who already are isolated from the TL because of living together with other Erasmus students at the student accommodation and at the university where all the exchange students are grouped together for their classes. The students felt intimidated by the strangers (NSs) and were most comfortable speaking Latvian in familiar, friendly, unthreatening environment. Also, their language learning experiences were marked by unequal relations of power, where the students’ contact with the NSs was determined by their gender and ethnicity. The experiences of the students in this research neither concur with what Spolsky defines as “natural language learning”, nor do they comply with the abstract linguistic notion of competence. The research concludes that learning of an L2 is not just a skill but a complex social practice that involves the identities of the language learners in ways that have not received sufficient attention in SLA or by the L2 instructors, who tend to ignore what “the right to speak” may imply for their students.

Session: Paper session
Various Topics
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 13