An IT, Tralee lecturer has just completed a major research study into how Irish university students learn a language when they participate as part of their studies in a travel abroad programme. Currently, thousands of students from all over Europe and beyond spend at least a semester or a year abroad as part of their degree in order to perfect their language skills. Relatively little research has been done on this practice in Ireland or and elsewhere. Dr. Kristin Brogan, however, a lecturer in German and Intercultural Communication in the School of Social Sciences conducted a major study on Irish students studying in German universities as research for a PhD degree dissertation which she successfully completed in September. The study was conducted among Irish students from seven universities while studying in Germany and set out to investigate how they improved or failed to improve their language proficiency while abroad.
This research project study also highlights that monitoring by supervisors before, during and after the stay abroad will support the students’ overall learning and that the students also need to be able to reflect on their experience in order to benefit from it. The external examiners for Dr. Brogan’s work which was supervised by Prof. Muiris Ó Laoire have recommended that her thesis be published in an international academic book series, Peter Lang, Oxford.
Commenting on the award Professor Muiris Ó Laoire said, “This is the first major study of its kind in Ireland that thoroughly investigated the extent to which intercultural learning took place by focusing on, and scrutinising the changes that took place in students in their attitudes and identity while abroad. As an important outcome of their time abroad, students reported self-discovery, a change in their perception of “Irishness” and increased self-confidence but, at the same time, regretted that they did not integrate more with native speakers. Another significant finding of this study is that while not all students improved their language proficiency, students who improved their language also improved their cultural learning and adaptation”.