Me and those English-speaking Elites
Uncovering the Identity of One
Minority English Language Learner (ELL)
in Singapore
S...
Identity
positions
Investment
Identity
NortonPeirce,1995
Norton,2000
Inequitable
social
structures
Past,
present,
future
Discourse
(with a capital ‘D’)Gee,2012
Distinctive ways of being
Socially recognisable
identities and activities
Primary
D...
Image: http://designdrizzle.com/25-amazing-sculptures-mind-blowing-creativity-out-of-wooden-matchsticks/matcjstick-design1...
Singapore: English Only?
English as lingua franca v. native tongue
(Alsagoff, 2010)
More English-dominant speakers at home...
Who is a minority ELL?
Home language environment =
Mother tongue, no/little English
Not international ESL (English as
2nd
...
Case Study:
“Rachel”
Singaporean Chinese,
Mandarin/Hokkien-speaking
home background
Relatively lower
English proficiency
P...
Research Questions
How have Discourses and social
relationships influenced Rachel’s
English language learning experience?
...
Methodology
15 students wrote
responses to two prompts
on past & current English
learning experience
6 students selected f...
Flickr: Marc Wathieu
80 min semi-structured
interview
Data analyzed
according to themes
Questions about
family, school,
cl...
Flickr: bhima
Limited English
Primary Discourse =
Mandarin speaking / working class
Limited right to speak during English
...
R: My English foundation is not that good. Then I
just feel very inferior when they are talking to me
in English. When I r...
Primary school English teacher
Instead of encouraging me, she laughed and
criticized me, [said] that … I am a disgrace to ...
School band
Interacted with students with better
English; used more English than Chinese
Peer coaching
Used Chinese as lin...
By starting a blog about things that inspire me
and share my thoughts is part of learning and
sharing information with oth...
Flickr: HaoJan
I: Can you describe the students in your class and your
diploma?
R: Oh, there are all very good, way better...
Identity Positions
Flickr: Dima Bushkov
Successful
student
Future
worker
Family
provider
Investment in
language learning
Mushfake Identity
Fear of speaking to
proficient English speakers
still lingers
Feels more at ease with
Mandarin speakers ...
Limitations of study
Could have better triangulation with
observations and journal
reflections
Reliance on introspective
s...
Conclusions
ELLs become more invested in
language learning when they take
on positive identity positions
Mushfaking can po...
Discussion Questions
Are there really minority ELLs?
To what extent do we see
them as marginalised?
Do you know any mushfa...
References
Alsagoff, L. (2010). English in Singapore: culture, capital and identity in linguistic
variation. World English...
Sherrie Lee
sherrie@tp.edu.sg
LinkedIn | SlideShare | Twitter
@orangecanton
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Me and those English-speaking Elites: Uncovering the Identity of One ELL in Singapore

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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.

References
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.

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  • Understanding the Identity of a Minority ELL in Singapore
  • A person ’s identity is situated within a larger social world where there are “inequitable, social structures which are reproduced in day-to-day social interaction” (Norton, 2000, p. 5). Norton refers identity to “how a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed across time and place, and how the person understands possibilities for the future” (p. 5) Norton borrows Bourdieu ’s (1991) terms to explain how learners invest in a second language with the understanding that they will acquire a wider range of symbolic (e.g. language, education, friendship) and material resources (e.g. capital goods, real estate, money) (Norton Peirce, 1995, p. 17).
  • Discourse (Gee, 2012), with a capital ‘D’, is composed of distinctive ways of … acting, interacting, valuing, feeling, dressing, thinking, believing with other people and with various objects, tools, and technologies, so as to enact specific socially recognizable identities engaged in specifically socially recognizable activities (p. 152). Furthermore, there are different types of Discourses that can be largely categorised as primary Discourses or secondary Discourses. Gee (2012) describes primary Discourses as taking place primarily in the home where “people are apprenticed early in life during their primary socialization as members of particular families within their sociocultural settings” and “constitute our first social identity and something of a base within which we acquire or resist later Discourses” (p. 165). These later Discourses are secondary Discourses, “those to which people are apprenticed as part of their socialization within various local, state and national groups and institutions outside early home and peer-group socialization” (p. 165).
  • When one ’s primary Discourse is at odds with his or her secondary Discourse, the person may have a mushfake identity. Having a mushfake identity means making do with something less when the real thing is not available (Gee, 2012). Applied to an identity of an English language learner, mushfaking is about having partial acquisition of one ’s secondary Discourse (and its language practices) but applying knowledge of the Discourse in order to exert a legitimate presence (Gee, 2012). For example, if the Discourse of school is made up of predominantly English-speaking students and teachers, and if I do not have a high proficiency in English language, mushfaking means using whatever English I know but being conscious of how I need to speak more formally when I interact with my teachers.
  • While it is not unusual for an outer circle country like Singapore to have English as a lingua franca which competes with local languages as a legitimate native tongue (Alsagoff, 2010), the demographic changes suggest that English is increasingly the main language for many families (Singapore Department of Statistics, 2011). Nonetheless, there exist students whose home language is predominantly a non-English one, thus affecting their language learning experience.
  • The term “minority ELL” is used, first, to refer to the relatively small group of students who are brought up predominantly in their mother tongue (or heritage language) compared to the increasing number of students who use English as the main language in their homes, and second, to differentiate them from the international ESL students in Singapore.
  • Rachel: student at School of Business, Temasek Polytechnic I taught her Business Communications in 2011. At the time of the research in 2012, Rachel was in her second year of a three-year Diploma course in Business. As a Chinese, Rachel does not belong to a minority race but in terms of language use, her preference for using the Chinese language and relatively lower English proficiency compared to her peers places her in the minority. Furthermore, Rachel ’s educational track was earmarked for technical-vocational studies where she spent three years at the Institution of Technical Education (ITE) straight after secondary school, thus reinforcing her minority status as a student at the polytechnic where the majority of students come directly from secondary school.
  • Research questions: How have Discourses and social relationships influenced Rachel ’s English language learning experience? What has motivated Rachel ’s investment in learning English and how has it changed over time? What identity positions have been useful in helping Rachel learn English?
  • Rachel was chosen among a group of 15 of my former students who were still studying at the polytechnic. Students were asked to email responses to two prompts regarding their English language learning experience from primary school till now. 6 students were selected for face-to-face interviews based on the quantity and quality of responses. Rachel was finally selected because she represented a minority ELL.
  • 80 minute semi-structured interview comprised questions about family, school, classmates and teachers. E.g. Describe the relationship you had with your classmates. Data was analyzed according to themes of primary/secondary Discourse (Gee, 2012), social relationships and investment and language learning (Norton Peirce, 1995). 3 months later, met up with Rachel to verify analysis and find out if she had any final thoughts to share.
  • Rachel ’s primary Discourse language of Chinese had low value of linguistic capital in her interactions with English-speaking peers. She had a limited right to speak during English lessons in primary and secondary school; also peer interactions in primary school There was no investment in English language learning in her foundational years
  • Primary school English teacher Instead of encouraging me, she laughed and criticized me, [said] that … I am a disgrace to her. I remember clearly that she said ‘stupid’ Email response Secondary school English teacher R: I just remember favoritism. I: To those who can speak English? R: Yah. … She ask them to sit near her, then she will keep asking them questions and not us, and ask us to keep quiet. Interview
  • Safe houses: “sites that are relatively free from surveillance, especially by authority figures, [and] are considered unofficial, off-task, or extrapedagogical” (Canagarajah, 2004, p. 121). Positive social relationships in school band and peer coaching sessions promoted language use; Claimed right to speak with more proficient English speakers School band: interacted with students with better English; used more English than Chinese Peer coaching: used her own linguistic capital – Chinese – in exchange for a more valuable one - English Invested in reading and blogging – safe environments to practice language skills; no need to interact with English-speaking elites
  • … I join [the] band, I have a lot of friends. Actually band helped me to improve my speaking of English. Interview R: … they normally fail their Chinese. But when I teach them, they actually pass. I: So did you get better grades [in English] because they helped you? R: Yep, I got a B because they help me. Interview By starting a blog about things that inspire me and share my thoughts is part of learning and sharing information with others Email response
  • Despite finding some success in increasing her English proficiency and gaining more confidence because of these successes, Rachel continued to regard English language-related subjects as a challenge at the post-secondary level (polytechnic). Nonetheless, Rachel became more invested in improving her English as she realized good grades in English language-related subjects and writing assignments contributed to her goal of getting a polytechnic diploma which assured her of a job to support her family. I: Can you describe the students in your class and your diploma? R: Oh, there are all very good, way better than me. Like what I say, feel very inferior. I: Did they behave in any way that made you feel that way? R: Maybe the way they speak, the way they do their homework. They get prepared before coming to lessons. The way they bother themselves to answer teachers' questions, participation. Interview I do feel afraid of speaking and writing when I am working as a group with the power elite (English elite). However, I do know that I need to make mistakes so that people can correct me and is a process of learning. Email response
  • Identity Positions Successful student Future worker Family provider Three identity positions are inter-related. Being a successful student means doing well in assessments which leads to academic progression and ultimately graduating with a diploma. Having a diploma is a means to securing a job. Having a job provide financial resources to provide for her family. Rachel was invested in language learning in these identity positions and future orientations of herself.
  • Fear of speaking to proficient English speakers still lingers (Polytechnic) Feels more at ease with Mandarin speakers or less proficient English speakers. (ITE) Yet, Rachel only considers interactions with proficient English speakers as language learning opportunities, particularly within her project groups. Thus having to communicate with highly proficient English-speaking interlocutors in social settings continues to limit Rachel’s right to speak. However, in academic settings, Rachel is able to exercise her identity as a successful student and learns English from her English elite peers. Mushfake Identity: Using identity positions to overcome anxiety when interacting with English-speaking elites
  • Reliance on introspective self-reported data Could have better triangulation with observations and journal reflections
  • Tensions between primary and secondary Discourses are a result of inequitable social structures Mushfaking can potentially help one overcome the tension between primary and secondary Discourses. ELLs become more invested in language learning when take on positive identity positions.
  • Discussion Questions Are there really minority ELLs? To what extent do we see them as marginalised? Do you know any mushfaking students?
  • References Alsagoff, L. (2010). English in Singapore: culture, capital and identity in linguistic variation. World Englishes, 29 (3), 336–348. Canagarajah, S. (2004). Subversive identities, pedagogical safe houses, and critical learning. In B. Norton, & K. Toohey (Eds.) , Critical pedagogies and language learning (pp. 116–137). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge 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). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change . London: Longman/Pearson Education. Singapore Department of Statistics. (2011). Census of population 2010. Available from http://www.singstat.gov.sg
  • Sherrie Lee LinkedIn | SlideShare | Twitter @orangecanton
  • Transcript of "Me and those English-speaking Elites: Uncovering the Identity of One ELL in Singapore"

    1. 1. Me and those English-speaking Elites Uncovering the Identity of One Minority English Language Learner (ELL) in Singapore Sherrie Lee Temasek Polytechnic 2013 Joint SELF Biennial International Conference and Educational Research Association of Singapore (ERAS) Conference
    2. 2. Identity positions Investment Identity NortonPeirce,1995 Norton,2000 Inequitable social structures Past, present, future
    3. 3. Discourse (with a capital ‘D’)Gee,2012 Distinctive ways of being Socially recognisable identities and activities Primary Discourse Secondary Discourse Original1990 +=
    4. 4. Image: http://designdrizzle.com/25-amazing-sculptures-mind-blowing-creativity-out-of-wooden-matchsticks/matcjstick-design16/ Mushfake making do with something less when the real thing is not available Gee, 2012
    5. 5. Singapore: English Only? English as lingua franca v. native tongue (Alsagoff, 2010) More English-dominant speakers at home (Singapore Department of Statistics, 2011). Image: http://www.todayonline.com/commentary/can-english-be-singaporean-mother-tongue What about the non-English speakers?
    6. 6. Who is a minority ELL? Home language environment = Mother tongue, no/little English Not international ESL (English as 2nd Language) students  Flickr: Cliff Muller
    7. 7. Case Study: “Rachel” Singaporean Chinese, Mandarin/Hokkien-speaking home background Relatively lower English proficiency PSLE “C” / N-Levels “B” Former Normal Tech and ITE student
    8. 8. Research Questions How have Discourses and social relationships influenced Rachel’s English language learning experience? What has motivated Rachel’s investment in learning English and how has it changed over time? What identity positions have been useful in helping Rachel learn English?
    9. 9. Methodology 15 students wrote responses to two prompts on past & current English learning experience 6 students selected for face-to-face interviews “Rachel” chosen as case study Flickr: wenzday01
    10. 10. Flickr: Marc Wathieu 80 min semi-structured interview Data analyzed according to themes Questions about family, school, classmates and teachers Verified analysis with Rachel Discourses social relationships investment Narrative Inquiry
    11. 11. Flickr: bhima Limited English Primary Discourse = Mandarin speaking / working class Limited right to speak during English lessons and peer interactions Low investment in language learning
    12. 12. R: My English foundation is not that good. Then I just feel very inferior when they are talking to me in English. When I respond, I respond back in broken English, how to say, [pause] not in full sentence. So they will think what is this girl trying to relate? I: You mean that say that to you? R: No, they just give me that face. Interview Flickr: Jan Tik Primary school classmates
    13. 13. Primary school English teacher Instead of encouraging me, she laughed and criticized me, [said] that … I am a disgrace to her. I remember clearly that she said ‘stupid’ Email response Secondary school English teacher R: I just remember favoritism. I: To those who can speak English? R: Yah. … She ask them to sit near her, then she will keep asking them questions and not us, and ask us to keep quiet. Interview
    14. 14. School band Interacted with students with better English; used more English than Chinese Peer coaching Used Chinese as linguistic capital in exchange for English Reading and blogging Using English skills in a non-threatening environment Safe Houses Flickr: gaylon Canagarajah,2004
    15. 15. By starting a blog about things that inspire me and share my thoughts is part of learning and sharing information with others. Email response … I join [the] band, I have a lot of friends. Actually band helped me to improve my speaking of English. Interview R: most of my friends, I mean, those elites in English, actually help me in my English language. They prepare those assessments for me to do, guide me through. …[T]hey normally fail their Chinese. But when I teach them, they actually pass. I: So did you get better grades [in English] because they helped you? R: Yep, I got a B because they help me. Interview
    16. 16. Flickr: HaoJan I: Can you describe the students in your class and your diploma? R: Oh, there are all very good, way better than me. Like what I say, feel very inferior. I: Did they behave in any way that made you feel that way? R: Maybe the way they speak, the way they do their homework. They get prepared before coming to lessons. The way they bother themselves to answer teachers' questions, participation. Interview English = Challenge I do feel afraid of speaking and writing when I am working as a group with the power elite (English elite). However, I do know that I need to make mistakes so that people can correct me and is a process of learning. Email
    17. 17. Identity Positions Flickr: Dima Bushkov Successful student Future worker Family provider Investment in language learning
    18. 18. Mushfake Identity Fear of speaking to proficient English speakers still lingers Feels more at ease with Mandarin speakers or less proficient English speakers Social interaction limits Rachel’s right to speak but academic context gives her incentive to learn from peers Mushfake Identity: Using identity positions to overcome anxiety when interacting with English-speaking elites
    19. 19. Limitations of study Could have better triangulation with observations and journal reflections Reliance on introspective self-reported data
    20. 20. Conclusions ELLs become more invested in language learning when they take on positive identity positions Mushfaking can potentially help one overcome the tension Tensions between primary and secondary Discourses are a result of inequitable social structures Flickr: Toni Blay
    21. 21. Discussion Questions Are there really minority ELLs? To what extent do we see them as marginalised? Do you know any mushfaking students?
    22. 22. References Alsagoff, L. (2010). English in Singapore: culture, capital and identity in linguistic variation. World Englishes, 29(3), 336–348. Canagarajah, S. (2004). Subversive identities, pedagogical safe houses, and critical learning. In B. Norton, & K. Toohey (Eds.), Critical pedagogies and language learning (pp. 116–137). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge 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). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change. London: Longman/Pearson Education. Singapore Department of Statistics. (2011). Census of population 2010. Available from http://www.singstat.gov.sg
    23. 23. Sherrie Lee sherrie@tp.edu.sg LinkedIn | SlideShare | Twitter @orangecanton

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