Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Foreign Language Identity and Its Relationship with Travelling and Educational Level

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Foreign Language Identity and Its Relationship with Travelling and Educational Level

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study explored the relationship between identity and learning English by designing and administering a 30-item Foreign Language Identity Scale (FLIS) to 470 female participants enrolled in English courses offered at advanced levels in private institutes in Mashhad, Iran. The application of the principal axis factoring to the responses and rotating the factors resulted in extracting six latent variables, i.e., idealized society, idealized communication, idealized means, idealized opportunities, global connection, and global self-expression, explaining forty percent of variance in the FLIS. With the exception of the last, the first five factors revealed strong interrelationships among themselves and thus showed that female Iranians in Mashhad learn English by creating an identity in an idealized society in which they can acquire the means to communicate best and find the opportunity they lack, reveal and improve the personality they possess, get better jobs and connect to the rest of the world. The foreign language identity, however, seems to disappear when the learners go abroad and study at universities.

Keywords: Identity, Foreign language, Idealization, Higher education

1. Introduction

Kanno (2000) defined identity as "a person's understanding of who they are" (p.2) and McKinley and Sakamoto (2007) extended it to "an understanding of self in a given context" (p.8) after they posed seven open ended questions to 40 Japanese sophomore students majoring in English language in Japan and analysed their reasons why they did not adhere to their English in their class discussions and switched to Japanese arbitrarily. These students spoke the former as their second language (SL) because they had lived and used it as a language of communication in an English speaking country before they returned to Japan with their families.

Speaking English, according to Hashimoto (2000), involves a conflict between being a Japanese and behaving like a foreigner because it requires an 'individualistic' and 'aggressive' (Mouer & Sugimoto, 1986, p.399) mode of life running counter to Japanese innate shyness. After reviewing the answers given to the seven open-ended questions and interviewing their participants in order to have a better insight into their responses, McKinley and Sakamoto (2007) concluded that their fully proficient in-English-participants compromised the use of their second language skills in order "to assure social acceptance and harmony" (p. 26), i.e., they avoided speaking English whenever they could and switched to Japanese to reveal their shyness.

For some scholars, however, identity seems to be more than the understanding of self because its definition has escaped a clear demarcation so far. Menard-Warwick (2005), for example, brought up the fact by describing the current situation as "definitional confusion in the literature" (p. 254). She offers Ochs' (1993) definition of identity i.e., "a cover term for a range of social personae, including social statuses, roles, positions, relationships, and institutional and other relevant community identities one may attempt to claim or assign in the course of social life" (p. 288), as the most precise. Menard-Warwick does, nonetheless, believe that even Ochs' definition is vague because it includes the words "cover term" and "a range."

In spite of being long and detailed, Ochs' (1993) definition has firmly established identity as a social trait. It was, however, Tajfel (1981) who originally referred to social identity as individuals' membership in a social group and argued that if their emotional needs were not met by their identification with a certain group, they would change their affiliation. Giles and Johnson (1981, 1987) developed Tajfel's idea into an ethnolinguistic identity theory by suggesting language as a prominent marker of social identity. Sociolinguists such as Gumerz (1982) and Heller (1987, 1995, 1999, and 2001) extended the idea to the establishment of shared and unshared memberships by willfully adopting a given language to signal the type of membership. …

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