Project Strands

Strand 4

The influence of multilingual identity on foreign language learning

This strand investigates the transformative power of multilingual identity in the context of foreign language learning (FLL). We aim to chart the development of multilingual identity and its relationship with attainment and motivation in two broad categories of adolescents in the early stages of classroom-based FLL: monolingual learners (English L1) becoming multilingual through acquiring competence in a second language; and multilingual learners (e.g. EAL speakers of Punjabi and Lithuanian) extending their linguistic profile through learning an additional language. As UK schools are increasingly multilingual, there is a need to investigate the relationship between the development of multilingual/transcultural identity and FLL, and to explore the classroom as a site for the construction of multilingual identity (cf. S2, S3). The premise is that, regardless of linguistic profile, language learners’ enhanced understanding of what it might mean to be multilingual, and of themselves as developing multilinguals, leads to greater motivation and achievement in school, to enhanced social cohesion, and to engagement with lifelong language learning. We ask:

  • What are the patterns of progression in FLL of monolingual and multilingual learners?
  • How do they develop their multilingual identities through the process of FLL?
  • What is the nature of the relationship between the development of a multilingual identity and progress in FLL?
  • Can pedagogical intervention support the development of multilingual identities and so influence progression?

Mixed methods are used to capture cognitive and social dimensions of identity and motivation in FLL. Academic performance data on 1200 pupils in 6 secondary schools will be tracked over 2 years, and independent variables of FL attainment and of multilingual identity indicators examined against a range of mediating factors (e.g. linguistic profile, socio-economic status, age, home language proficiency, performance in other subjects). Questionnaires at three points will map how far pupils identify themselves as multilingual, their attitudes to multilingualism and motivation for FLL. Repeated semi-structured interviews will be conducted with 32 Year 8 pupils (from intervention and matched non-intervention classes). A range of ‘indirect’ methods such as metaphor elicitation techniques, drawings and story writing will also be used. UK data will be supplemented by the results of a parallel project at the University of Bergen.

An intervention programme will be applied in two FL classes (ca. 60 pupils) using identity-focused tasks to elicit dialogic interaction around cultural, cognitive and social themes, drawing on resources generated by other strands. Post-intervention identity indicators, target language attainment and motivation indicators will be compared with those of matched-pair control pupils with the aim of defining the transformative potential of multilingual identity at the level of the group and the individual.

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