Friday, November 25, 2011

Identity and English Language Learners

The Problem 
To what degree is English and/or a ‘global identity’ part of English language learners’ self-perceptions?

The Study
Peter Roger, an applied linguist based in Australia, interviewed seven Korean women who were advanced learners of English and had each spent a considerable amount of time in an English-speaking country. His questions were aimed to get at the participants’ perceptions of themselves, their L2 (English), and the place of their L2 in a larger context. With regard to cultural associations, the participants predominantly linked English with Anglophone countries, especially the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, instead of viewing it as a global lingua franca. When asked whether they considered themselves global citizens, approximately half of the participants identified as such; the same participants felt that English was a vital part of their identity. The other half categorically denied these self-perceptions.

The Take-Home Message
As applied linguists/language teachers, we often believe that students do or should have language-related identities that they do not necessarily have. We are well aware of the expanding roles of English (English as a lingua franca, World Englishes, etc.), but English language learners may not see things through the same lens as us. Also, we might assume that EFL (or ESL) learners have incorporated English into their identities, but this might not be the case. In fact, some would be offended by this description, as they feel this would dilute their own identities (i.e., national, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and so forth). Therefore, instead of assuming or ascribing identities to our students, it may be more beneficial to open up a dialogue with them or have them write about how they feel about their target language. Journaling about their relationship with English (or another L2) could be especially insightful because both the student and teacher could observe changes over time. 

Article Citation
Roger, P. (2010). Reluctant and aspiring global citizens: Ideal second language selves among Korean graduate students. TESL-EJ, 14(3), 1-20.

Entry by Meghan Moran

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