Narratives of language identity development of international English language students during study abroad
It is well known that language and identity are closely connected, and that language learning is associated with identity development. This is especially true for transnational students, whose experiences of living and studying abroad transform their understanding of themselves as linguistic individuals. International students who come to Australia to study English experience a period of qualitative change in language use and identity development. They expand their linguistic repertoires and construct language-related aspects of their identities. However, the monolingual mindset in Australian education and social discourse, as well as monolingually oriented English language teaching approaches tend to overlook the developing multilingual skills of international students and associated aspects of their identities.
This thesis explores this contradiction by seeking insights into the nature of identity and language changes that international English language students experience in the first months of living and studying in Sydney, Australia. It is guided overall by the poststructuralist view of identity as multiple and dynamic and builds on a model of second language identity by Benson et al. (2013). Through a series of qualitative interviews, multimodal diary records, and visual tasks, this narrative multiple-case study explores out-of-class experiences of nine participants and how they perceive, negotiate, and project their bi/multilingual identities while learning English. The changes in the students’ language identities are analysed in the context of linguistic, cultural, and social environments of Australia’s largest multilingual city. The theoretical model of second language identity by Benson et al. (2013) is revised.
The findings, presented in narrative format, reveal that study abroad experiences of international English language students in Australia are multilingual, rather than target language-immersive, in nature. Complex and dynamic processes of self-perceived, ascribed, and projected language identity change are uncovered. Finally, the findings demonstrate that participants’ identities as English language speakers are intertwined with other language abilities. Thus, the study foregrounds the often-invisible multilingual lived experiences of Australia’s international English language students and calls for multilingual approaches in language teaching that are attentive to individual learning goals, agency, language use, and investment in learning. It challenges the monolingual mindset and identity construction practices in education that marginalise language learners’ emerging multilingual identities due to the prevailing English-centred approaches.
The findings of the study have the potential to guide pedagogical and language policies in Australian English language teaching and international education sectors, to inform teacher training approaches, curriculum, and assessment, as well as to contribute to evolving definitions of language proficiency. In addition, the novel methodological approach in this research builds a deeper theoretical understanding and conceptualisation of language identity and contributes to multimodal and narrative research methodology in applied linguistics.