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Stepin (Student Travel & Education Programmes International) is a company located in Bonn that organizes and supervises work & travel, study & travel, and school exchange programmes for German and international customers. Many of Stepin’s activities are related to English-speaking countries, and therefore the company has a natural interest in understanding the development of linguistic competence in foreign languages and the stay abroad context.

In 2010, Bonn Applied English Linguistics and Stepin started cooperating together, bridging the gap between academia and the business world. Stepin highly values the kind of research we here at BAEL are pursuing and wanted to support us in our studies, while at the same time, are highly interested in the results of our research activities, as they might influence how people think about and value a stay abroad as a means of enhancing linguistic and cultural competency.

BAEL studies these phenomena in the course of a larger project called PRA.PRO (Pragmatic Profiling) that is concerned with the different conventions of “acting with language” in different varieties of English. At the same time PRA.PRO investigates how German learners of English acquire this kind of competence and how a stay abroad influences the usual course of competence development. The method used to pursue this goal involves gathering a lot of data from native English speakers and German learners of English alike.

To ensure compatibility of the collected data, we use slightly modified versions of the Questionnaire on English Usage (QEU) for this purpose. Stepin supports this endeavour by helping us contact native speakers of English, utilizing their connections to schools and other institutions in the respective countries and recruiting their local partners’ help. They also give us access to large groups of German students that travel abroad under Stepin’s various programs. We evaluate the pragmatic competence of these students over the duration of their stay abroad to measure the effects of their exposure to a native speaker environment, hopefully gaining insight into this “other” kind of foreign language learning that goes beyond what schools can teach. The partnership between BAEL and Stepin is continually working on expanding the study of the English language, and, with our joint endeavours, providing the tools of academic growth to new study abroad students in English intensive environments.

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