A presentation at the 2013 Joint SELF Biennial International Conference and Educational Research Association of Singapore (ERAS) Conference on 10 September 2013.
Me and those English-speaking elites: Uncovering the identity of one minority ELL in Singapore
The minority English language learner (ELL) in Singapore is one who does not have English as a home language nor considers English as one’s first language even though Singapore’s education system and virtually every aspect of civic life uses and promotes English as a first and official language. Using the narrative inquiry method, I explore one minority ELL’s (“Rachel”) past and present schooling experiences in learning English.
Through the lens of primary and secondary Discourses (Gee, 2012), I examine how social relationships and investment (Norton Peirce, 1995; Norton, 2000) have contributed to Rachel’s identity as an ELL. In her foundational school years, Rachel’s English language learning experiences were marked by judgment and humiliation. While her secondary school experience saw more positive experiences through safe houses such as the school band, the fear of using English among English-proficient users remained. At the post-secondary level, Rachel was motivated to improve her English through cumulative successes and a desire for school success. Coming from a working-class background, Rachel’s investment in learning English increased as she saw herself as a future financial provider for her family. Nonetheless, Rachel’s identity as an ELL and the process of gaining cultural capital continue to be at odds with her primary Discourse as a predominantly Mandarin-speaker.
The implications of this research include encouraging similar ELLs to tap on positive identities for language learning, as well as helping them come to terms with tensions between their primary Discourse and the secondary Discourse of school.
Gee, J. P. (2012). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourse (4th ed.). Oxford: Routledge.
Norton Peirce, B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. TESOL Quarterly, 29(1), 9–31.
Norton, B. (2000). Fact and fiction in language learning. Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change (pp. 1–19). London: Longman/Pearson Education.