Academic journal article Education

Multiple Voices, Multiple Realities: Self-Defined Images of Self among Adolescent Hispanic English Language Learners

Academic journal article Education

Multiple Voices, Multiple Realities: Self-Defined Images of Self among Adolescent Hispanic English Language Learners

Article excerpt


Recent studies in SLA have focused attention on the need to better understand language learners' subjectivities--interests, motivation, expectations and needs (Norton-Peirce & Toohey 2001: New London Group 1996) as a basic requirement for an understanding of the educational implications of the cultural and linguistic differences that are increasing becoming part of the social features of life in the 21st century. At the core of the current thinking in language learning is the assumption that acquisition of knowledge should prepare learners for "new forms of social participation ... and link our students' communities--real, virtual, and imagined--with those of their counterparts in other cultures and worlds" (Luke and Elkins 1998, p. 6). From this theoretical perspective, teaching ESL particularly in middle schools, raises two fundamental issues: the need to understand learners" needs, interests, preferences, values and desires on one hand and on the other hand, the need to reconcile these with the demands of the "New Times," (Luke and Elkins 1998, p. 4) characterized by global electronic forms of communication (Willis 2003) and intercultural texts and multiple languages (Luke and Elkins 1998).

With the ever-expanding capitalist, high-tech, computerized global market, there is a radical shift in the traditional demands of language learning--from acquisition of appropriate rules of usage comparable to native speaker's competence to mastery of multiple discourses and texts (Luke 2000) or multiliteracies (New London Group 1996)--language skills that are sociopolitically acceptable as symbolic capital (Bourdieu 1991) in situated social practices of a given community whether at schools, workplaces, laboratories, shopping malls or on the streets of Los Angeles. From this perspective second language teaching and learning in middle schools cannot escape from dealing with how the English language is implicated in "the construction of knowledge, power and identity" (Luke 1996 p. 7) in specific socio-cultural and economic contexts in which discourses and texts are used. Norton-Peirce (1995) rightly observes that students learn a second language as an investment to gain access to the social practices of communities they desire to belong to.

This viewpoint has enormous implications for language teaching. Teachers are then faced with the challenge and opportunity of teaching students to engage critically in the analysis and reconstruction of discourses and texts (Luke 2000). Luke sums up the challenge as "building access to literacy practices and discourse resources, about setting the enabling pedagogical conditions for students to use their existing and new discourse resources for exchange in social fields where texts and discourses matter" (p. 449). Luke's point presupposes the notion that educators will identify and define the "complex social identity and multiple desires" (Norton-Peirce 1995, p. 18) of learners on one hand, and on the other hand identify, select and frame the attendant multiple discourses, languages, and registers (New London Group 1996) as resources for language learning with the ultimate purpose of building students' capacity to become agents of new forms of social participation and social change (New London Group 1996; Luke 2000, 2004; Luke and Elkins 1998; Norton-Peirce and Toohey 2004, 2001).

Culture, Identity and Language Learning

Contemporary studies in cultural identity, cultural difference and language learning such as Norton-Peirce (1995); Luke (2000, 1996); Gunderson (2000); McCarthy et al (2003); Pennycook (1999); Harklau (2000); McKay and Wong (1996); Norton-Peirce and Toohey (2001) and Canagarajah (2004, 1993) have identified conflict of cultural identity as pivotal in who succeeds or fails in language learning. These studies argue that fundamental to language learning is the understanding of how language is "constructive of social formations, communities, and individual identities" (Luke 1996 p. …

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