The field of study abroad for language learning has drawn extensively on related fields such as applied linguistics and psychology to conceptualize learners' experiences, which then informs how practitioners go about designing programs for those learners. Research has encouraged practitioners to increase learners' access to the target language (e.g., through speaking partners, content courses), but it has also become clear that while access might be necessary, it does not guarantee learner engagement and growth. This dissertation explores two unique conceptual frameworks for understanding language learners and presents empirical research that demonstrates the kinds of findings that these frameworks can produce. The common subject of analysis involved the experiences of participants who struggled to engage in speaking during an Arabic study abroad program. The first framework emerged from a grounded theory analysis and characterizes participants' struggles as a clash of expectations that required negotiation. The findings fit well with a recent "ecological turn" in language learning, and a review of study abroad research from an ecological perspective suggested avenues of research that would further develop the field's understanding of access, engagement, and the learners themselves. The second framework built on interdisciplinary insights to present a hermeneutic moral realist account of the same participants who struggled to engage in speaking activities. This approach revealed a moral ecology of unstructured speaking with unique moral goods, reference points, and tensions that the participants had to navigate as they tried to find good speaking opportunities for themselves. This dissertation positions these findings within current second language study abroad experiences, offering an ecological perspective and recommendations for students and faculty alike.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Instructional Psychology and Technology



Date Submitted


Document Type





Study abroad and language acquisition, study abroad programs, grounded theory, ecological theory, hermeneutic phenomenology



Included in

Education Commons