LAMiNATE Talks: Linda Fischer, Michael Evans, Yongcan Liu & Karen Forbes (Cambridge University). ‘We are multilingual’: Multilingual identity development through participation in the languages classroom.
Education has a fundamental role in shaping the identity of young people. Language is centrally important in this; it is through language that we (re)negotiate our identity(ies) and as our communicative repertoires change during schooling and across the lifespan so too might our identity(ies). Perhaps surprisingly, explicit engagement with linguistic and multilingual identity is rather uncommon in languages classrooms. This talk begins with a brief discussion of identity research in the SLA field, clarifying our understanding of identity as a psychological, situated and relational construct. We consider multilingual identity to be shaped by what we refer to as the ‘three Es’. The first ‘E’ is learners’ experiences with languages and language learning (i.e. their exposure to and use of the various languages in their repertoire across a range of social contexts). The second is learners’ evaluations of languages and language learning. This includes both self-evaluations (e.g. self-efficacy, future self) and other-evaluations (e.g. of parents, teachers and friends). The third ‘E’ is learners’ emotions in relation to languages and language learning (e.g. feelings of pride, enjoyment, motivation etc.).
Premised on the idea that all learners are in fact multilingual, whether they identify as such or not, a case is made for using the language classroom as a site where learners are (explicitly) offered the agency to develop their multilingual identity. We discuss reasons why multilingual identity development might be important in a school context and beyond and offer findings from empirical research that show additional learning gains might relate to a multilingual outlook. A model that provides a structure within which students might explore the extent of their current linguistic repertoire, their linguistic identity and identifications and which offers them the agency to (re)negotiate these in terms of a multilingual identity is presented and empirical results from a classroom intervention presented. Finally, we introduce our teaching programme - “We are multilingual” (WAM) - built on our research and empirically tested in a range of secondary schools in England.