This month we published Discourses, Identities and Investment in Foreign Language Learning by Jennifer Martyn. In this post the author explains what inspired her to write the book.
The story of this book goes back to my own history of language learning. Access to other languages at an early age outside of the classroom context stands out as being crucial in not only developing my own plurilingual repertoire, but also in piquing my interest in the way in which language learning is socially situated and a fundamentally political activity that can draw in some whilst excluding others.
A range of contradictory discourses surround foreign language learning (foreign language learning usually describes classroom-based learning of a language that is not generally used by the speaker in their wider community). At secondary school, languages can be perceived as difficult and inessential, but also assets in the jobs market. Language learning is sometimes also perceived as something that girls and women are better at, an ideology that stubbornly endures.
Although each person has some degree of agency in terms of whether or not they choose to study a language or which language to study, we are all very much influenced, whether we are aware of it or not, by the discourses of language learning that circulate in our communities and across wider society. Languages are talked about and represented in a myriad of ways, all of which mediate our perception of them and our learning experiences. Whether or not one has access to a language, both in the literal and figurative senses, can also determine language learning experience. Some of us have access to other languages from an early age, while others do not. Nor are all languages valued equally in the marketplace and in wider society.
As a socially situated activity, language learning, then, is far from straightforward. Structural barriers, gendered language ideologies, and discourses of elite multilingualism, for instance, coalesce to make language learning seem difficult, unnecessary, uninspiring, or simply ‘not for us’. In the Irish context, there is limited research on sociolinguistic perspectives on foreign language education, particularly at the secondary school level. By employing an ethnographic perspective, this book investigates what young language learners think about language learning, while locating their experiences and beliefs within broader societal discourses and practices. It is hoped that this book contributes to a discussion of the social forces that mediate the learning experience in Ireland and elsewhere.
For more information about this book please see our website.
If you found this interesting, you might also like Portraits of Second Language Learners by Chie Muramatsu.