In 2010, CAL was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Education International Research and Studies Program to fund a study designed to provide study abroad programs, students, host families, and institutions of higher education with information on how to optimize the language learning benefits of the homestay setting. This research addresses a call in the field of education abroad to investigate means to promote student engagement with authentic target language, particularly with host families, during study abroad, which can often be limited despite a widespread belief in the superiority of the homestay setting for language gain.
In the study, 90 host families of students participating in semester-long language programs in Peru and Chile, Russia, and China were trained in strategies to increase meaningful conversational exchange with students. Oral proficiency gains of the experimental group students were then compared with gains of 60 students in the same programs whose host families did not receive the training. The study used a pretest-posttest design to collect multiple points of data from participants—Simulated Oral Proficiency Interviews (SOPIs), recordings of natural conversations in the home, and surveys from both students and hosts.