[lg policy] Linguist List Issue: Identity and Language Learning (2nd Edition)

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Message1: Identity and Language Learning (2nd Edition)
From:Andrea Lypka alypka at mail.usf.edu
LINGUIST List issue http://linguistlist.org/issues/25/25-3857.html


Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-4041.html 

Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Sara Couture


Contemporary Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research within a critical paradigm synthesizes second language (L2) learning as a social practice negotiated between learner, teacher, and learning environment. The power dynamics between the language learner and target language speaker can empower or inhibit the learner from speaking in the target language and impact learning development. Drawing on Weedon's (1987) feminist poststructuralist theory and the Foucauldian notions of discourse and power, in this second edition of the book "Identity and Language Learning: Extending the Conversation", Bonny Norton challenges traditional SLA research paradigms on identity by exploring language learning in social and political contexts, and in tandem with learner identity or "the way a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed across time and space, and how the person understands possibilities for the future" (2013, p. 4 and p. 45). T!
 he participants in this study are five adult immigrant English language learners (ELLs) in Canada. The author investigates the lived experiences of  these participants, including their evolving language learning trajectories in academic and non-academic settings over the course of 18 months in Canada. Through these five case studies from research conducted in the early 1990s, the author reveals that learner identity, language learning, and power are inextricably linked. Drawing on the concepts of legitimate discourse (Bourdieu, 1977) and situated learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991), L2 learning is conceptualized as a social performance influenced by individual and social factors, such as motivation (D�rnyei, 2009), positioning in social structures (Davies & Harr�, 1990), race, gender, culture, learning environment, globalization, and power structures in society.

This book opens with a preface that acknowledges the importance of collaboration and peer review in the SLA field and then briefly refers to the updated content in the second edition. The updates include a comprehensive Introduction, an up-to-date literature review on identity, as well as an Afterword by Claire Kramsch that situates the book within the current SLA literature on identity and language learning.  In the Introduction, Norton states that this book expands on research on identity in SLA, poststructuralist theories on identity, and methodology, including a discussion on challenges of qualitative research on identity, critical research paradigm, researcher identity, and narrative analysis. Additionally, the author draws on relevant studies by pointing out the importance of global perspectives in language learning and teaching, multilingual pedagogies, and technology. Norton then discusses her evolving theoretical constructs of "motivation as investment," "imagined c!
 ommunities," and "imagined identities," provides future research directions, and concludes the Introduction with a brief description of the seven chapters of the book.

Chapter one begins with the brief vignette of a language learner, Saliha, (Ternar, 1988), who would like to practice speaking French with Madame Rivest for whom she works as a housekeeper. However, Saliha is being silenced by the unequal power relations at her workplace. Through her story, Norton argues that learner identity is inseparable from the learning situation and social contexts. 

The author questions SLA theories grounded in social psychology, such as Gardner and Lambert's (1972) theory of integrativeness and related theories on motivation (D�rnyei, 2009), arguing that they tend to focus more on the individual differences or social variables. By highlighting the discursively constructed nature of identity, Norton calls for a "comprehensive theory of identity that integrates the language learner and the language learning context" (p. 44). 

In the following section, the author provides an in-depth discussion of theoretical and methodological frameworks that informed her research agenda and briefly discussed the five case studies included in this book, including data collection and organization. Norton grounds her research in cultural studies, critical ethnography, and feminism, because research within these paradigms rejects an objective reality, contextualizes the individual-social relationships within existing power structures and historical contexts, as well as the participant-researcher relationship and the researcher's own lived experiences and beliefs in research as being a tool for "educational and social change" (p. 60). She documents "stories of resistance" (p. 8) of five ELLs, who were the author's former students and were in the initial stages of language learning. In order to highlight the participants' challenges and struggles to legitimize their status in the target language speaker community and !
 in their own ethnic communities in Canada, the researcher established a supportive relationship with her participants, collected participants' diaries, questionnaires, and follow-up interviews, and kept a researcher journal over the period of 18 months. Findings suggest that the diary study allowed the ELLs to practice writing in the target language, receive feedback, reflect on their language learning experiences, and use these entries for further discussions during the diary study meetings to make sense of their lived experiences.

Chapter three situates the five case studies within existing critical research on adult immigrant female learners' biography, identity, and workplace. Results from all of the studies presented in the chapter confirm the dichotomous position of immigrant language learners in relation to the target language community and the social networks at the workplace. In order to gain access to this community, learners are expected to communicate in the target language; however, to speak the target language, learners have to practice the language. If workplace discourses do not afford learners with opportunities to practice in English, some of them might feel silenced or denied of equal access to the "social and material resources that support acquisition of the language and literacy skills" (Hawkins & Norton, 2009, p. 30). For example, a study by Norton, Harper, and Burnaby in the 1990s reveals that female immigrant workers felt silenced by the institutional discourses at their workpla!
 ce. Specifically, participants in that study could not take part in the ESL program, because they had domestic commitments, perceived themselves as inferior speakers of English, and did not have opportunities to practice English at the workplace. 
In the current book, Norton provides rich descriptions of the study participants--two younger women, Eva from Poland and Mai from Vietnam and three older women, Katarina from Poland, Martina from the former Czechoslovakia, and Felicia from Peru--including their language learning experiences prior to the research, cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, learning goals, immigration reasons, and future plans as well as descriptions of their interactions at their homes and workplaces as sites for their language learning and identity formations.

The next two chapters provide an in-depth analysis of the learner profiles of the younger participants, Eva and Mai and the three older participants, Katarina, Martina, and Felicia with particular attention given on learners' perspectives on their language learning investment. Learner's voices are captured in ample interview excerpts linked with researcher interpretations, theoretical concepts, and related research findings. Drawing on the community of practice framework (Lave and Wenger, 1991), Norton highlights how Eva and Mai's gendered identities might have influenced their investment in language learning. Findings reveal that participants struggled with gaining access to their community of practice at their workplace. Specifically, Eva, who lived with a Polish partner and spoke Polish at home and was part of the Polish community, was initially linguistically marginalized and perceived at the restaurant she worked at as an "immigrant" who is "stupid" and "knows nothing" !
 (p. 100). However, due to exposure to English and practice in English, her identity shifted from a victim to that of a co-worker. In contrast, Mai's identity evolved from that of a skilled seamstress to a single woman who is unable to provide for herself if she is laid off. The language learning investments of the other three older women, Katarina, Martina and Felicia were further nuanced by their identities as mothers and their family relationships: they were invested in learning predominantly to provide a better life for their children. For example, although Katarina uses Polish at home, she is eager to learn English to gain access to a professional community and acquire a similar professional status in Canada that she had in Poland as a teacher. In a similar vein, Felicia's identity is influenced by positioning herself as a wealthy Peruvian as opposed to being positioned as an immigrant. When her husband takes on the role of the primary caregiver and language broker, Fel!
 icia's investment in learning the language further erodes. Martina's i
dentity is shaped by her identity as a mother, primary caregiver, and her positioning of her co-workers as children who are "doing nothing" (p. 136). 

In chapter six, pedagogical and theoretical implications of the study are addressed. First, using analyses and examples from the five case studies, the author indicates that some of the SLA theoretical concepts, including the acculturation model, natural learning, and the affective filter might not adequately consider inequitable power relations and might promote linear views on language learning, monolingual ideologies, and traditional, assessment-based views on education. Norton argues that feminist poststructuralist theories of subjectivity, theories of power, and critical research can explain learners' evolving identities, linguistic marginalization and challenges in learning investment. 

In the last chapter, pedagogical implications are discussed in light of the case studies. Findings reveal that workplace discourses suggest a deficient view of ELLs and such discourses may lead to the marginalization of learners from different ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and racial backgrounds. Drawing on the participants' expectations of their formal learning and Katarina and Felicia's classroom resistance stories, Norton explores the socially and ideologically constrained and performatively constructed English learner identity. In this sense, language learning is dynamic, influenced by a series of factors, such as identity, self-confidence, anxiety, motivation to speak, and investment to practice English, and can be dichotomous. Katarina's resistance to attending a language class can be more adequately understood if contextualized within Katarina's self-perception, professional identity, previous language learning experiences, and class expectations. Katarina had 17 year!
 s of teaching experience in Poland and had struggled to legitimize her professional identity in Canada. Through her investment in language learning, she sought to differentiate herself and possibly advance professionally. When the teacher failed to recognize Katarina's professional status and advised her not take computer classes, Katarina felt that her professional identity was being challenged. Similarly, when the teacher failed to mention Peru in an activity, Felicia felt that her wealthy Peruvian identity had been challenged.

Drawing from these stories of resistance, Norton furthers the call for adult immigrant language learning to be studied within both informal and formal learning contexts. Teachers need to integrate student-centered learning and create opportunities for students to deconstruct the relationship between language, power, and literacy, reflect on their language learning experiences, and practice in the classroom without neglecting theory and grammar instruction. By providing practice opportunities outside the classroom, teachers can create positive learning environments for ELLs by promoting an asset view of the ELL's culture and language in classroom.

In the Afterword, Claire Kramsch first reflects on Norton's passion for social justice and research and then situates her research in "the social turn in SLA" (Block, 2003), as well as globalization, technological advances, and geopolitical trends. Second, she revisits the foundational concepts of investment, identity, and imagined community that inform Norton's identity theory and then links this theory to Pierre Bourdieu, Chris Weedon, and Benedict Anderson, the theorists that influence Norton's research. 


The book is invaluable for both novice and experienced SLA researchers and scholars interested in inquiring about language learning and identity, because the author provides rich details and useful accounts on methodology and her research experiences: her noticing of discrepancy between theory and practice prompted her to continue her inquiry on learner identity.  Details about questionnaire modification, a discussion of the researcher-researched relationship, and data analysis process, as well as the insights the author gained in this process provide transparency in methodology. 

The concept of identity as dialogically constructed and socially negotiated seems to be the common thread among the case studies of five language learners. The qualitative methods approach and the longitudinal research design afford a deeper examination  of adult immigrants English language learning experiences. Additionally, the way the author analyzes, triangulates, and presents data from multiple sources, diaries, interviews, questionnaires, and researcher journal, further enhances the value of the study.

To further the theory building, Norton complements the psychological construct of motivation with the sociological constructs of motivation as investment, imagined community, and imagined identity, arguing that language learning is complex: English language learners' "investments [are] co-constructed in their interactions with their native speaker peers, and their identities a site of struggle" (p. 7) and language learners imagine themselves bonded to certain linguistic communities.

In "Identity and Language Learning: Extending the conversation", Norton has successfully combined international literature on SLA, identity, and social justice with pedagogical suggestions to create a volume that effectively takes a step forward in bridging the gap between research and pedagogy on language learning and learner identity in ESL environments. Even though these chapters center on language learning in ESL context, practitioners working with other languages could benefit from the findings and pedagogical implications. 


Bourdieu, P. (1977). The economics of linguistic exchanges. "Social science information", 16(6), 645-668.

Block, D. (2003). "The Social Turn in Second Language Acquisition". Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Burns, A. and Richards, J. (Eds) (2009). "The Cambridge guide to second language teacher education". New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Davies, B., and Harr�, R. (1990). Positioning: The discursive production of selves. "Journal for the theory of social behavior", 20(1), 43-63.

D�rnyei, Z. (2009). The L2 motivational self system. In Z. D�rnyei and E. Ushioda (Eds.), "Motivation, language identity and the L2 self" (pp. 9-41). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
D�rnyei, Z. (2009). The psychology of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gardner, R. C., and Lambert, W. E. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in second-language learning. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Harper, H., Peirce, B., and Burnaby, B. (1996). English-in-the-workplace for garment workers: A feminist project? "Gender and Education", 8(1), 5-20.

Hawkins, M., and Norton, B. (2009). Critical language teacher education. In A. Burns & J. Richards (Eds.), "Cambridge guide to second language teacher education" (pp.30-39). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, J., and Wenger, E. (1991). "Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation". New York, NY: Cambridge university press.

Lucas, T., and Villegas, A. M. (2013). Preparing linguistically responsive teachers: Laying the foundations in preservice teacher education. "Theory Into Practice", 52(2), 98-109.

Norton, B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. "TESOL Quarterly", 29(1), 9-31.

Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. "TESOL Quarterly", 31(3), 409-429.

Norton, B. (2000). "Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity, and educational change". London: Longman

Norton, B., and Toohey, K. (2011). Identity, language learning, and social change. "Language Teaching", 44(4), 412-446.

Norton, B. (2013). "Identity and Language Learning: Extending the Conversation". Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Norton, B. (2000). "Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change". Harlow, UK: Pearson Education.

Norton, B., and Toohey, K. (Eds) (2004). "Critical pedagogies and language learning". Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ternar, Y. (1988). Ajax la bas. "Canadian Woman Studies", 9(3).

Ushioda, E. (2013). "International Perspectives on Motivation: Language Learning and Professional Challenges". New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Andrea Lypka is a third year PhD student in the Second Language Acquisition and Instructional Technology (SLA/IT) program at the University of South Florida (USF). Her research interests include motivation, identity, and digital storytelling. 

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