New Research On Immersion

December 12, 2004

Benjamin Rifkin, Professor of Russian and Vice Dean at Temple University, released data from his research into language acquisition in the Spring 2005 issue of the Modern Language Journal, Vol. 89, No. 1.

Professor Rifkin taught in the Russian School at Middlebury and served five years as Director of the School. He also was chair of the Slavic Languages Department at Wisconsin and director of the university's Title VI Center for Russia, E. Europe & Central Asia prior to his appointment at Temple University.

Here are some excerpts from his study:

"The data show that the immersion-based instruction was more efficient in leading students to greater acquisition of the four skills as well as grammatical competence than the traditional classroom instruction." (p.  10)

"Most important, the findings suggest that the typical university foreign language program does not offer enough classroom instructional hours to help students achieve advanced level proficiencies if the students begin their study of the language in university and do not participate in an immersion experience."  (p. 12)

"Without an immersion experience, students of Russian will likely find it difficult, if not impossible, to break through this ceiling into advanced level proficiencies."  (p. 13)

"When we compare the data on Russian language gain in study abroad (Brecht, Davidson, and Ginsberg, 1993; Davidson, 2002, 2003) with the language gains shown by students in the Middlebury College Russian summer immersion program, reported in the current study, it is clear that students going abroad do not necessarily make gains as significant as those made by students in the Middlebury immersion program. .Students participating both in study abroad programs and in the Middlebury immersion program report anecdotally that they felt they had greater improvement in the Middlebury immersion program." (p. 14)

"... Students might be better prepared to get the most out of study abroad experiences by first participating in a domestic immersion program, such as Middlebury's.  When students participate in a domestic immersion program before going abroad, they may be better prepared to take advantage of the rich input and interactional opportunities in the study abroad program.  Instead of merely asking 'where' and 'what' questions, they will be better prepared to ask 'why' and 'how' questions and to engage in serious discussion of sophisticated topics with native speakers interlocutors, gaining not only in linguistic but also cultural proficiency as they do so."  (p. 15)

"Language program directors and instructors ... Should vigorously advocate for their students to participate in both domestic immersion experiences and study abroad programs in order to attain the best possible language learning outcomes. (p. 15)