Reading skills and vocabulary development as a result of a study abroad experience

2018 edition

Judith Borràs

Engaging in a study abroad (SA) experience is an extremely popular activity that many students undertake with the objective of improving their L2 skills. Many researchers have investigated the effects of SA experiences on several L2 areas, but findings vary depending on the area under research. While the impact of SA on oral skills, vocabulary, pronunciation and listening seems to be positive, the impact of a sojourn abroad on other skills such as writing is rather unclear, and on other areas such as reading, research is practically non-existent.

Moreover, most of the studies which document the linguistic impact as a consequence of an SA experience focus on students who travel to countries where the language they are studying is the official language, for example, students of English in the UK (traditional SA). There are very few studies that investigate the linguistic impact when the sojourn is conducted in a country where the L2 is not the official language but it is used as a Lingua Franca (ELFSA) (Koylu, 2016), for example learners studying abroad in Germany but using English to communicate.

Given that most of the studies focus on traditional SA, the present study attempts to shed some light on the development of L2 reading skills both in a traditional SA and in an ELFSA context. Moreover, since the few studies that have explored the impact of SA on L2 vocabulary development have found improvements after an SA (Zaytseva, 2016) and some studies in the vocabulary literature have found that greater vocabulary knowledge results in better reading skills (Nation, 2001), another goal of the study is to examine the possible relationship between L2 vocabulary knowledge and L2 reading development in an SA setting.

To do so, the L2 vocabulary and reading development of a large group of L1 Catalan/Spanish bilinguals, learners of English (L2), engaging in a semester-long SA experience will be examined. Participants will be asked to a) read a text, b) take a proficiency test, and c) explain and write a story in English before and after their SA experience. Once these data are obtained, the following measures will be calculated: reading rate, proficiency (raw scores of the test), and several vocabulary measures (lexical diversity, accuracy, fluency and sophistication).


Koylu, Z. (2016). The influence of Context on L2 Development: The Case of Turkish Undergraduates at Home and Abroad. Graduate Thesis and dissertations. University of Florida (The USA).

Nation, I.S.P. (2001). Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zaytseva, V. (2016). Vocabulary Acquisition in Study Abroad and Formal Instruction: An investigation on Oral and Written Lexical Development. Graduate Thesis and dissertations. Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF): Barcelona.