Linguistic Environment

Exchange students' linguistic environment at Scandinavian universities

Exchange students who come to Scandinavia are often motivated by an intention to improve their proficiency in English rather than the local language. They take classes in English and may find themselves living in a lingua-franca English bubble, acculturated to an international-student subculture. A few do break out of the bubble, learn the local language, and experience the local culture. We want to find out which factors in the environment and the students' behaviour assist in breaking out, and which lead to improvement either in English or Danish/Swedish. Our project involves two institutions in Denmark and two in Sweden.

Our research project investigates the language experiences of students while on exchange in Sweden or Denmark. It seeks answers to the following questions, among others:

1 What is exchange students’ experience of the bi/tri-lingual environments in which they are moving? Which languages are associated with which domains? Who do the students speak to? In which language(s)?
2 Which language(s), if any, do they want to learn or improve?
3 How successful are students in improving their second language skills? In what particular skills are improvements likely to be most evident?
4 What factors are associated with success in improving skills in either local languages or lingua franca English? 5 Are there institutional measures that could be taken to influence the process of language improvement? How useful are pre-sessional courses, for example?

Each student is interviewed (and recorded) three times. Students staying for two semesters are interviewed once more at the end of their stay. Interviewees are rewarded with a cinema voucher for each interview.

The interviews enquire about students’ expectations/experiences with regard to language use, their motivations for learning languages, their reasons for selecting the host country and institution for their exchange, their perceived progress with the local language and English, etc. They also complete forms detailing how much of their total interaction with other people is spent in interacting with particular types of people, and what languages are used.

Students are also given language proficiency tests, designed to give an overall impression of whether there is progress, rather than to assess details. The main test requires students to describe a picture, talking for around two minutes, first in English, and then in Swedish/Danish if possible. This is complemented by a simple Swedish/Danish vocabulary test.

Group: Language and Communication

Philip Shaw
Beyza Björkman
Richard Nordberg

Funding: Nordic Council of Ministers

Duration: 2005-01-01 - 2007-12-31

KTH research database:

Keywords: Exchange students, Language acquisition, Lingua-franca English

Related publications:

Published by: TMH, Speech, Music and Hearing

Last updated: 2012-11-09