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Keywords:

  • Spanish as a foreign language;
  • fluency;
  • monitoring;
  • skill acquisition;
  • study abroad

Abstract: In an effort to understand better how and why accuracy in speaking develops during study abroad, a group of 16 U.S. students of Spanish as a second language were followed during their 6-week program in Argentina. They were interviewed in Spanish at the beginning and the end of their stay, each time followed by a stimulated recall session. They were also given a questionnaire on their views about language learning and observed in a wide variety of social contexts. The data collected this way, along with a written proficiency test and an aptitude test, both given at the beginning of their program, along with students' comments on their classroom experiences in the United States, paint a picture of students who are motivated and eager to practice and who hope to improve their speaking proficiency dramatically, but who quickly feel that they are stalled and lose their motivation as a result. The explanation that emerges from both the quantitative and the qualitative data is that the students' shaky grammar knowledge and their virtually total lack of proceduralized knowledge made it impossible to make much progress automatizing their knowledge; even speaking accurately without trying to be fluent was largely impossible, even for rather basic structures, and even at the end of the 6 weeks abroad. It appears that the promise of study abroad remains unfulfilled without adequate preparation in the form of proceduralized or at least declarative knowledge of the second language grammar.