Language learning autobiographies: a narrative analysis

Simon Coffey

King's College London, United Kingdom


First person narratives of language learning are being increasingly cited in SLA research literature as a means of deepening our understanding of the experience of language learning and how this can change over time. This tendency broadens the definition of learner from ‘recipient’ of input (either naturalistic or pedagogically structured) to that of social actor who enacts a range of complex interpersonal identities, both in and out of the classroom. This reframing of the way experience is described reflects developments in theories of narrative inquiry which position identities as contingent upon the interplay between sites of personal agency and the social structures which shape it. In this paper I present my ongoing PhD work for which I developed a narrative framework combined with an ethnographic perspective, I analyse a set of language learning autobiographies. The personal stories told, elicited as both written and spoken (interview) accounts, signal a range of discursive identities that learners draw on to explain their sustained engagement with language learning over time. Citing examples from two participant case studies, I show how different how rhetorical strategies and story telling devices enable participants to ‘perform’ specific narrative identities. Through telling their narratives, participants in my study, invoked recognisable cultural worlds (of institutions, social class, otherness) which both reinforced shared narrative positions and, at the same time, provided insights into how agency is structured by individual subjectivities.

Session: Paper session
Narratives 1 (self)
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 13