Finding a Place for a Foreign Language Among Possible Selves

Finding a Place for a Foreign Language Among Possible Selves

Simla Course
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-3738-4.ch012
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This chapter discusses how learning English as a foreign language was affected by and has impacted the author's sense of self as an individual throughout their journey as a language learner and later as a language teacher and researcher. The author looks into the place of English in their ever-changing sense of self in this process and argues that there was a dynamic interaction between their sense of self and the English language. To give meaning to this interaction, the author uses the framework of L2 motivational self-system. Tracing the critical incidents in their journey of language learning, the author argues that their initial learning experiences were influential in shaping their current sense of self and future possible selves. This in turn impacted on the way they gave meaning to future learning experiences, suggesting a complex, dynamic, and multifaceted relationship between language learning and learners' selves.
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In this chapter, I intend to make sense out of my journey as a learner, teacher and researcher of English as a foreign language with the aim of providing insight into the dynamic interplay of motivational constructs in my encounter with English for over 30 years. As someone who draws on critical theory in her work, I believe that it is important for writers and researchers to clarify their stance from the outset. As a teacher-researcher of English as a foreign language, my position is that language learners are active agents. They are capable of giving or creating meaning in their interactions with their surroundings and in their experiences with the world. Although this is my understanding on a personal level, professionally I have also come to this conclusion through my studies on motivation for learning a foreign language.

As part of my work on motivation, I have come to hear several language learning stories of EFL learners. One consistent finding in research in motivation for language learning is the dynamic nature of language learners and the dynamic interplay of motivational constructs within an individual’s story of language learning. This was certainly the case in my research too. It was fascinating at times to hear how individuals’ motivational orientations changed over the years and how they reflected the dynamic changes in those individuals themselves. In fact it is not uncommon to increasingly find research in applied linguistics aiming to understand individuals as unique and active beings and as such looking into the language learners’ life histories, identities and/or selves (see for example Norton, 1995; Ushioda, 2009). In this vein, narratives in research have proven to provide rich data, mapping the changes and transformations in the learners’ ever active and changing motivation throughout the years (Course & Saka 2021). The learners’ narratives have been anything but still; they chart the flow of their motivation, provide the account of their journey, giving an overview of how they transformed both themselves and their language learning experiences throughout the years of their language education. This dynamic change is not only fascinating to me as a language teacher/researcher but it is also recognized by the learners themselves. The act of reporting their language learning stories helped both me and the learners themselves get a better understanding of their choices and actions with regard to language learning and how these choices and actions fit in with their overall choices and beliefs in life. This became apparent to me when a language learner explicitly reported that through the act of narration, she came to a better understanding of some of her choices she made over the years in relation to learning English. This, actually, is not unexpected since narratives do not only help us make sense out of the social reality but available narratives also help agents make sense out of their own stories (Farell, 2018).

Thus, as a learner, teacher and researcher of English as a foreign language, and as someone who has been working on motivation to learn a foreign language, I attempt to trace my own motivational history in this chapter. I will do this with the aim that my privileged vantage point of both a learner and a researcher of English as a foreign language will help build on our understanding of learners as active agents with regard to foreign language learning motivation. To this end, I will first describe my most vivid memories of events that had impact on my motivation to learn English. Next, I will try to give meaning to these events within the broader discourse of motivation to learn a foreign language.

Key Terms in this Chapter

L2 Motivational Self System: A tripartite model that aims to explain the motivation to learn a second/ foreign language. There are three main components of this proposed model, i.e., one’s ideal L2 self, ought-to L2 self and learning experience.

Learning Experience: One of the three components of L2 motivational self-system, learning experience is the actual experience of learning a second or foreign language. It includes classroom procedures, textbooks, the teacher, curriculum, and so on.

Current Self: One’s perception of who they are, how they would be defined.

Critical Incident: An event in one’s life that leads to a change in their life trajectory.

Self-Efficacy: One’s belief, or set of beliefs, about their capabilities to perform a task.

Higgins’ Self-Discrepancy Theory: This theory suggests that a discrepancy between one’s perception of their current self and their ideal or ought-to selves is likely to result in motivated behavior as the individual will act to close this gap.

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