Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Striving for the Third Space: A U.S. Professional's Experiences in Chinese Workplaces

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Striving for the Third Space: A U.S. Professional's Experiences in Chinese Workplaces

Article excerpt

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Given the fast-growing global economy, there is an increasing demand for linguistically and interculturally competent professionals across a range of governmental and nongovernmental enterprises. This need is reflected in the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages (The National Standards Collaborative Board, 2015), which confirm that foreign language education must prepare students to use the language "to function in academic and career-related situations" that require them to use language proficiently to address content across a range of disciplines. However, Kramsch (2014) pointed out that the disciplinary connections that are envisioned by the Standards "did not get realized at the college level." Moreover, although the growing efforts to prepare futuremembers of the international work force have been described and documented (Brecht et al., 2013; Damari et al., 2017; de Sam, Dougan, Gordon, Puaschunder, & St. Clair, 2008; Malone & Rivers, 2013; Mansilla & Jackson, 2011; Rivers & Brecht, 2018), relatively little is known about learners' postprogram professional experiences. This case study investigated one U.S. student's postgraduation experiences working in China through the theoretical lens of the "third space" to conceptualize the observed cross-cultural interactions in Chinese workplaces. The findings revealed distinct, yet consistently emerging, instances in which the subject used the Chinese language in unconventional ways to negotiate meaning. By examining the rich detail of this meaning-negotiation process, the case study demonstrates how the subject appropriated the target language for his own use and constructed through discourse a cultural reality that differed from that of native speakers (NSs). On one hand, the findings echo Kramsch's (2009) description of a multilingual subject, who is "defined by the linguistic and discursive boundaries it abides by in order to, now and then, transgress them" (p. 185). On the other hand, the inclusion of evaluations of the foreign professional's performances by his native Chinese counterparts also brought to light the nuances in expectations regarding global talent within the evolving international business landscape. NS criticisms of the U.S. professional's unconventional use of Chinese challenged the idealistic expectation that multilingual subjects can pass as "NSs" or use "native-like" language to communicate idiosyncratic meanings. Instead, this study provides insights into an effective and desirable third-space persona that will better prepare multilingual professionals for the complexities of an unpredictable global world.


In recent years, a paradigm shifthas challenged the traditional view of languages as composed of phonetics, grammar, and vocabulary; this shifthas led to a greater understanding about the processes and patterns of diversification (Blommaert & Rampton, 2011) and has generated a new understanding of "what it means to mean" across languages and cultures. This view of language in society has yielded new conceptualizations, such as third space and "symbolic competence."

2.1 | Third space

The concept of third space, explored under various names in various social science disciplines, including cultural studies (Bhabha, 1994), literacy education (Gutierrez, Baquedano-Lopez, & Tejeda, 1999; Kostogriz, 2002), philosophy and literary criticism (Bakhtin, 1981), and foreign language education (Kramsch, 1993), refers to a space that is located between dualities, an arena of dialogue, hybridity, exploration, and invention. On the basis of the semiotic theory (Barthes, 1977; Peirce, 1898/1955), the concept of third space has its important antecedent, known as "thirdness." According to semiologists, including Peirce, a sign not only has an object to which it is related but can also evoke in the mind of its interpreter another sign, which Peirce called "the interpretant. …

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