"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Identity and Learning Across the Pond

Hi Literacy Friends:  I lied. I'm not going anywhere.  I can't seem to let go of our blog-o-sphere just yet!

So, if you can see past my maternal pride, I wanted to share some language-learning and identity stuff about my son,  as well as get some feedback and ideas from you.  Hey, if we can't use our offspring as study subjects, what's the point in being a parent?

As you may recall, my 'Andrew' (age 17)  is spending the summer in a foreign country.  As part of his language learning experience, he is attending high school with his host student.  Andrew is one of two Americans in a high school of about 1000 students.

Much to my delight, Andrew and I are communicating by texting through an app, something he discovered and set up.  Our conversations have turned into a literacy, diversity, and identity lesson for both of us.

As a 17-year-old in his home culture, I see Andrew's identity as malleable and susceptible to influences good and bad; as a 17-year-old immersed in a new culture and language, I see his identity in a state of ambivalence.  Here's my data:

facebook updates include new hometown (he spent the first 6 years of his life in this host country)
using the second language (L2) on facebook
rush of new facebook friends from the host country

buying new clothes to "not look like an American tourist"
eating new food "because that's what they eat here"

Based on these observations, I think Andrew is investing himself in the L2 identity.  He's embodying the culture through clothing and food, and using the L2 to connect with people.  In doing these things, I believe  he's opened himself up to experiencing some culture clashes.  Here's what he wrote in his texts to me:

"They (people in host country) correct me when I _____________."

"But, they don't care when I ________________."

 "We can _____________ in school."

"But, we can't _____________ in school."

"I was asked if I hated Belgium now(World Cup stuff)."

"I was asked about the trade agreement between _________ and the U.S. and I was clue-less."

In my humble and truly biased opinion, I believe he is more aware of these cultural 'tests' and acts of 'discipline'  because he truly wants to belong.  Does that mean if he didn't care as much about belonging he wouldn't care as much about the ways he is being molded to fit in?  He is discovering that there is more to being in a culture than dressing and eating the part.  He also wrote the following:

"I help the English teacher."

"I answered questions in geography class (in L2)."

I hope these are signs that he is persevering.  Of course, if he is invested in belonging, and the host student/school/culture is determined to make him fit in, are these two complementary goals making learning happen more easily and quickly?    In other words, what would be the case if he hated it and didn't want to fit in?

How much do we set aside our first culture/language identity in order to fit-in?   How does age fit into this process?  How much more difficult would it be to belong in a new culture and language if one is not in such a privileged position and the new cultural 'discipline' stings a lot more?  Do you think it makes a difference to the host culture when the outsider is an 'American,' with a 'backpack of privileges?'

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  I would love to hear your thoughts on L2 learning, identity, and culture.

1 comment:

  1. You raise a great ethical question here: What if our learners want to assimilate into our mainstream culture? Who are we to redirect them toward their own diversity and ethical roots? Hmmm. I don't like this question, because it presupposes a level playing field. In the case of your son, his agency, as you imply, allows him to extend into the exotic new country, which he experiences as an education and an enrichment, and knows that the bridge back to mother(land) is assured. He does not risk losing his native English, or cutting himself off from his history and family narratives. Whereas, this is likely not the case for many ESOL students, and therefore the responsibilities of ESOL teachers to students is not the same? Do you agree?


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.