Learning a Second Language: A Vehicle to Another Self?

Muneerah Al Shuhail, University of York, United Kingdom;          Abstract: Learning a new language has implications on the learner’s sense of self i.e. identity and on his/her social and cultural views (Duff, 2013; Norton & Toohey, 2011). This is based on the idea that this process involves a learner being put in different positions and going through new experiences which may result in changes on the personal level (Norton & Mckinney, 2011). In addition, language learning cannot be separated from the target language’s culture and values which might lead the learner to re-evaluate his/her own social and cultural views (Duff, 2011). Although research on the relationship between language learning and identity has gained attention in recent years, most studies focus on how learner identity affects the learning process and its outcomes. However, not much attention has been paid to how language learning may lead to changes in how a person views themselves and their society. In this sociolinguistic study, the goal is to investigate whether learning English as a foreign language (EFL) affects how Saudi female learners (n=6) view themselves, society and culture. The study uses second language socialization as a theoretical framework because of its comprehensive approach that acknowledges the dynamic nature of identity (Duff, 2011, 2013). A longitudinal multiple case study design is used in this investigation. Data from interviews and monthly diaries indicated that participants associated learning EFL with being more knowledgeable, confident, and understanding. As they learned English language and learned through English they were able to establish an identity for themselves as successful, respectful and respected individuals. These changes appear to be linked to the participants’ agency in learning English which is triggered by their investment in it due to globalization and personal aspirations. These findings signal that socialization takes place in foreign language settings and has implications for the identity of the learner.

Key words: identity, second language socialization, case study

List of references:

Duff, P. (2011). Second language socialization. In A. Duranti, E. Ochs and B. Schieffelin (Eds.),  The Handbook of Language Socialization (pp. 564–586). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Duff, P. (2013). Identity, agency, and second language acquisition. In S. Gass & A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp. 410-426). London, New York: Routledge.

Norton, B., & Mckinney, C. (2011). An identity approach to second language acquisition. In D. Atkinson (Ed.), Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (pp. 73–94).

Norton, B., & Toohey, K. (2011). Identity, language learning, and social change. Language Teaching, 44(04), 412–446.



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