Is studying abroad the best way to become fluent in a language?

Contributors: Laura Bacchus | Reviewers:  Ha Nguyen | Date: 2022-05-08

Photo by Abby Chung on


Studying abroad is often considered the best way to improve fluency in another language because it offers many opportunities to speak with native speakers in an immersive environment. This study compared English-speaking university-level French learners in three different contexts. The first context was a traditional semester foreign language classroom setting. The second was a domestic immersion program, in which students spent a summer taking French courses while also speaking only French with other members of the program, participating in extracurricular activities in French, and living in French-only housing. The third was a study abroad program in Paris. The study compared the groups’ development of fluency, defined as ability to speak quickly and without silence or fillers. The study also investigated whether there were differences between the groups in the time spent using French, and whether differences in time using French affected fluency development.

Research methods

To measure gains in speaking fluency, interviews were recorded with each participant at the beginning and end of their fall semester or summer program. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed for fluency based on several measures including speech rate and how long participants spoke without hesitating, using filler words, repeating themselves or making grammatical corrections. The participants also completed a detailed questionnaire about all their activities in English and French at the beginning and end of their programs.


Students in the domestic immersion program experienced the greatest improvement in oral fluency. The study abroad group also made some gains in speaking fluency but fewer than the domestic immersion group, while the traditional foreign language class made no significant gains. The domestic immersion students spent the greatest amount of time using French of the three groups, and the study abroad group used more English than French outside of class. The domestic immersion students also wrote several reports in French, and time spent writing in French was significantly related to gains in speaking fluency.

Practical Implications/Significance

This study challenges the belief that study abroad is necessarily the best way to maximize time spent using a second language and improve fluency. Context alone does not promote learning but rather the amount of time using French was the decisive factor. Additionally, writing may support speaking fluency because it requires learners to process language more deeply and therefore makes it easier to produce when speaking.

Original Text:  Freed, Segalowitz, N., & Dewey, D. P. (2004). Context of Learning and Second Language Fluency in French. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 26(2), 275–301.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s