In response to a growing demand for highly proficient speakers of foreign languages, both from private and government sectors, an added emphasis has been placed on developing communicative skills in the foreign language classroom. While time in a target language culture certainly plays a valuable and needed role, this research demonstrates that innovative curricular design and development in the university foreign language classroom can equal if not exceed uptake that occurs in extended immersion environments. A thorough description of the research design is provided, including the application of lexical items (connectors), listening, reading, written exercises, and videoconference debates involving students from National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia and Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Assessment instruments used to measure language uptake among students included pre- and post-written proficiency testing and oral proficiency interviews in one’s respective target language as administered by certified American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) raters. In addition, students completed a background language questionnaire designed to elicit data relative to individual learner motivation.
This research examines the degree to which stated proficiency levels for L2 Russian curricular materials align with frequency-based corpora data and reflects a comparative analysis of four contemporary L2 Russian textbooks published in the United States that target students at the Intermediate/Advanced threshold. In particular, the researchers compiled a corpus comprised of lexical items from the aforementioned textbooks and compared them with the 5,000 general vocabulary frequency lists by Sharoff, Umanskaya, and Wilson (2013) and fiction and mass media lists by Lyashevskaya and Sharoff (2009). Findings suggest that the curricular design of the textbooks reflects a conscious effort on the part of the authors to introduce and recycle vocabulary at the stated level; however, a careful review of frequency data reveals insufficient overlap at the 3,000-5,000-word band and a considerable number of vocabulary items that exceed the range associated with the target proficiency. Findings likewise underscore the value of frequency measures as an objective method for selecting vocabulary that elicits both level-appropriate and domain-specific discourse, which, in turn, assists textbook designers with making data-driven decisions regarding the content of foreign language textbooks with a communicative emphasis.