The Boren Awards: A Report of Oral Language Proficiency Gains During Academic Study Abroad (2015)

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By Leah Mason, Christopher Powers, and Seamus Donnelly

The Boren Awards: A Report of Oral Language Proficiency Gains during Academic Study Abroad explores the language gains made by U.S. undergraduate and graduate students who received Boren Scholarships and Fellowships for language study overseas between 1996 and 2011. To the authors’ knowledge, this report is, in size, the largest presentation of data on oral language proficiency development by U.S. college and university students during study abroad, and, in scope, it represents the greatest number of host countries and languages studied to date.

The research questions guiding this report address how several factors affect language gain in the study abroad environment: duration abroad; initial oral proficiency; the relationship between initial oral proficiency level and duration abroad; and gender, education level (academic status), academic major, language category of difficulty, and knowledge of other languages.

Highlights of this report include the following:

  • Analysis of 2,466 Boren Awardees.
  • Most Boren Awardees study abroad for six months or longer and make an average gain of two sublevels on the ACTFL scale.
  • New language learners can gain as many as four sublevels on the ACTFL scale and achieve the Intermediate Low level by studying abroad for three months or fewer.
  • For students who start at the Intermediate level, studying abroad for six months or longer is critical to reaching advanced levels of proficiency.

The basis of these findings are detailed in this report, along with additional analysis regarding length of study, initial proficiency levels, academic levels, gender, and differences among languages.

The Boren Awards provide unique funding opportunities for U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests, and underrepresented in study abroad, including Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

The report is authored by:
Leah Mason, EdD, Assistant Director, Project GO and Language Training Center Programs
Christopher Powers, Director, Education Abroad Programs
Seamus Donnelly, Research Assistant