Reflecting the current age of mammoth globalisation and the desirability of having a second language in today’s world, study abroad (SA) is becoming increasingly popular amongst university students across many disciplines. Moreover, with the EU identifying a target of 20% participation in SA in 2010, the value of this activity is also being recognised on an intergovernmental level. Participants in SA programmes stand to gain not only invaluable experiences, in terms of expanding their social and cultural knowledge, but also in developing their second language (L2). While there now exists a multitude of SLA studies situated within this unique learning context, such studies vary enormously in the duration of their learner-participants’ stay in the target language community. Indeed, a review of the current literature indicates that the duration of SA in the existing research ranges from a couple of weeks to a full year. Given such diversity, it is difficult to draw substantive conclusions on the effect of duration of SA on L2 development, although a limited number of important studies have explored the issue (e.g. Davidson, 2010; Dwyer, 2004; Llanes & Muñoz, 2009; Serrano et al., 2012). Against this background, the current paper reports on a longitudinal study of French and Chinese learners of English over a nine month SA period. Initial, medial and final interview data were analysed in terms of Complexity and Accuracy which are considered two important, and often rivalrous, features of language performance (Ellis & Barkhuizen, 2005). The results of the study point to considerable individual variation, both within individuals (variation across observations) and between individuals (variation across participants) in scope of development, making it difficult to capture language gains in terms of a neat, linear pattern over time.
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