Ana Cecilia Villarreal Ballesteros
Copyright © Ana Cecilia Villarreal Ballesteros 2010
A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
For the Degree of
In the Graduate College
As members of the Dissertation Committee, we certify that we have read the dissertation
prepared by Ana Cecilia Villarreal-Ballesteros entitled Professional Identity Formation
and Development of Imagined Communities in an English Language Major in
Mexico and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement for
the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Date: 04/09/2010
Linda R.Waugh
Date: 04/09/2010
Muriel Saville-Troike
Date: 04/09/2010
Richard Ruiz
Final approval and acceptance of this dissertation is contingent upon the candidate‟s
submission of the final copies of the dissertation to the Graduate College.
I hereby certify that I have read this dissertation prepared under my direction and
recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement.
________________________________________________ Date: 04/09/2010
Dissertation Director: Linda R.Waugh
This dissertation has been submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for an
advanced degree at the University of Arizona and is deposited in the University Library
to be made available to borrowers under rules of the Library.
Brief quotations from this dissertation are allowable without special permission, provided
that accurate acknowledgment of source is made. Requests for permission for extended
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SIGNED: Ana Cecilia Villarreal Ballesteros
It is a pleasure to express my enormous gratitude to Dr. Linda R. Waugh, my
dissertation chair. Her human kindness and intellectual generosity have accompanied me
all the way through the SLAT Program. Linda Waugh, since the first day we met, readily
provided her guidance and advice in all respects. Since then she has given me
immeasurable support in my academic development. I am eternally grateful that she
accepted to be my mentor. The courses I have taken with her have opened my mind and
have led me to discover new ways of thinking and researching. She is an excellent
teacher and scholar, the SLAT program is fortunate to have her leading and nurturing the
community and inspiring all of us into being better persons. I feel greatly honored that
she accepted to chair my committee.
I am also immensely grateful to Dr. Muriel Saville-Troike, an extremely generous
professor. The classes I took with her have left a profound mark in my heart and mind.
She set for me an ideal of what a great scholar is like. I remember my first day in her
class, I saw her sitting with all her material ready, checking the clock she would place on
the top of the classroom desk, waiting for the exact moment to begin class. I felt
intimidated by her presence but soon realized I had been very fortunate to meet a person
with a brilliant career, who has been key in the development of sociolinguistics and
second language acquisition and other related fields and that, with all her knowledge and
expertise, she was humble enough to honestly pause in her thinking and disserting to
consider the questions posed by newcomers to the field. She had the magic to turn my
naïve questions and interpret them in such a way as to make them intellectually
interesting and enlightening.
I also owe my gratitude to Jun Liu, Robert Ariew, Renate Shultz and Richard Lopez who
were very generous in sharing their experience and knowledge. To Mary Wildner-Bassett
and Richard Ruiz who kindly accepted to be with me in the last part of the process of
exams and dissertation work and provided valuable insights to this project.
I feel happy that I can thank Frank Malgesini who in many ways has made possible that I
could have a professional and academic career. Over more than twenty years, he has
believed that I could be a fine scholar and has provided me with uncountable
opportunities to grow in that direction. He has been the most brilliant and dedicated
professor I have ever met and the most generous friend I have had. Without his
intellectual nurturing and friendship I could not have reached this point in my career. He
has created for me and many of us the imagined communities we have inhabited and it is
by interacting with him that we have acquired an identity as successful professionals.
I want to acknowledge my parents, who gave birth to me, raised me and unconditionally
love me. They gave me a wonderful family and the gift of education. I want to thank my
brothers and sisters who have loved me and have supported me all my life. I want to
thank Ruben Alvarado for his help. He listened and shared my excitement in learning;
gave me two beautiful children Ana and Alicia who are the greatest joys of my life. They
have been patient and loving as I have been learning how to be their guide and support.
I dedicate this work to all my school teachers, professors, peers, friends and colleagues
since elementary school all the way through college whose lives have touched and shaped
my mind and heart. I especially dedicate this work to Frank Malgesini for being an
outstanding teacher, mentor and friend in all my professional life and to the memory of
my sister Irma for she was my mom and my teacher in many ways. I am forever indebted
to them.
LIST OF GRAPHS ............................................................................................................. 9
LIST OF TABLES ............................................................................................................ 10
ABSTRACT ...................................................................................................................... 11
Statement of the problem .............................................................................................. 13
Purpose of the study ...................................................................................................... 19
Research setting............................................................................................................. 21
Research techniques ...................................................................................................... 24
Summary of chapters and findings ................................................................................ 25
SPEAKERS: A PERSONAL REFLECTION .................................................................. 27
Introduction to this reflection ........................................................................................ 27
The Beginning of Language Learning .......................................................................... 27
The study abroad experience ......................................................................................... 30
Differences in imagined communities........................................................................... 32
Mediating a subject-position in two languages ............................................................. 36
My identity as a language teacher ................................................................................. 38
Our identity and imagined communities are fluid ......................................................... 39
COMMUNITIES AND PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY IN SLA ..................................... 42
Introduction ................................................................................................................... 42
Imagined communities .................................................................................................. 42
Imagined communities in educational settings ............................................................. 44
Imagined communities and second language learning .................................................. 47
Definition of key terms ................................................................................................. 56
Summary of theoretical framework............................................................................... 60
Research Setting and Participants ................................................................................. 63
Data collection and procedures ..................................................................................... 69
Research Objective and Questions ................................................................................ 70
Data Collection and Analysis ........................................................................................ 71
Questionnaires ............................................................................................................... 72
Language Learning Histories ........................................................................................ 75
Autobiographical Essay................................................................................................. 78
Analysis of data obtained from LLHs and Autobiographical essay.............................. 79
OVERVIEW OF THE LI COMMUNITY ....................................................................... 81
Description of the questionnaire ................................................................................... 81
Student Demographic Information ................................................................................ 84
Language Learning Background ................................................................................... 90
The Lengua Inglesa Program ...................................................................................... 118
Employment ................................................................................................................ 148
Future .......................................................................................................................... 149
CHAPTER 6: LEARNERS‟ STORIES .......................................................................... 154
Learning English in Mexico: The range of initial experiences ................................... 158
The public vs. private school system .......................................................................... 161
Learning English in the U.S. ....................................................................................... 174
The Lengua Inglesa Program ...................................................................................... 180
Gaining confidence in themselves as L2 users............................................................ 182
Imagined communities and identity: future plans ....................................................... 185
Participant.................................................................................................................... 200
The decision of studying language as a profession: entering the circle ...................... 200
Integration into a community ...................................................................................... 205
The role teachers play in the construction of an L2 professional identity .................. 209
The role of „old-timers‟ ............................................................................................... 212
Curricular and extra-curricular activities that aid in the construction of a successful
professional identity .................................................................................................... 214
Curricular and Extra Curricular courses, workshops and conferences ....................... 215
Working as interpreter ................................................................................................. 217
Job as teachers ............................................................................................................. 219
Special projects ........................................................................................................... 224
Thesis .......................................................................................................................... 225
CHAPTER 8: CONCLUSIONS ..................................................................................... 230
Educational experiences and identity .......................................................................... 231
The role of graduates and instructors in harnessing their imagination ....................... 235
The role of institutions and extracurricular activities.................................................. 236
Theoretical implications .............................................................................................. 238
Suggestions for further research .................................................................................. 242
APPENDIX A: STUDENTS QUESTIONNAIRE ......................................................... 245
APPENDIX B: SUBJECT‟S DISCLAIMER FORM- Questionnaire ........................... 253
PARTICIPANTS ............................................................................................................ 254
APPENDIX D: INFORMED CONSENT- FOCUS GROUP......................................... 255
APPENDIX F: INFORMED CONSENT- GRADUATES............................................. 259
REFERENCES ............................................................................................................... 262
Graph 1: Distribution of Age of LI students .................................................................... 85
Graph 2: Sex of LI students .............................................................................................. 86
Graph 3: Place of birth ...................................................................................................... 87
Graph 4: Secondary Education ......................................................................................... 88
Graph 5: Preparatory Education........................................................................................ 88
Graph 6: College Education .............................................................................................. 89
Graph 7: Distribution per semester ................................................................................... 89
Graph 8: Ways they have learned used or interacted in L2 .............................................. 90
Graph 9: Most significant way of learning English .......................................................... 92
Graph 10: Students comparison of their speaking to native speakers .............................. 94
Graph 11: Students‟ rating of their overall English proficiency ....................................... 95
Graph 12: Students‟ English use besides LI ..................................................................... 96
Graph 13: Situations in which students feel most comfortable using English ................. 98
Graph 14: Situations in which students have been uncomfortable using English .......... 101
Graph 15: Difficulties students have using English ........................................................ 102
Graph 16: How students think they can overcome difficulties ....................................... 105
Graph 17: Students‟ strengths using English .................................................................. 107
Graph 18: People who are good models as L2 learners .................................................. 108
Graph 19: Students who see themselves as Similar/Different to their role model ......... 112
Graph 20: Role and significance of English in their life ................................................ 114
Graph 21: Ways in which students first heard about LI ................................................. 118
Graph 22: Reasons students give for choosing LI .......................................................... 120
Graph 23: People who influenced students‟ decision of studying LI ............................. 122
Graph 24: Students who already knew someone studying LI......................................... 123
Graph 25: Differences between LI and previous educational experiences ..................... 124
Graph 26: Differences between LI and other university programs................................. 126
Graph 27: What students expected from LI before entering the program ...................... 128
Graph 28: Students who feel their peers have affected their development ..................... 130
Graph 29: Ways in which peers have been a positive influence..................................... 131
Graph 30: Ways in which peers have been a negative influence .................................... 132
Graph 31: Ss who think they have been affected by students from other generations ... 133
Graph 32: Positive influences from students of other generations ................................. 133
Graph 33: Negative influences from students of other generations ................................ 134
Graph 34: What students like the most about studying in LI ......................................... 136
Graph 35: What students dislike the most about LI ........................................................ 137
Graph 36: Classes that have greater influence in students‟ development ....................... 139
Graph 37: How much English students think they have learnt since they began LI ...... 143
Graph 38: How well students think they speak compared to their peers ........................ 144
Graph 39: Students who were employed ........................................................................ 148
Graph 40: Students‟ comparison of graduates from LI to similar professionals ............ 151
TABLE 1: The Lengua Inglesa Curriculum…………………………………………64
Recent work has shown the importance of identity in language learning and how
the desire to belong to an imagined community drives individuals to invest in their
learning (Norton, 2000). This work has documented that a mismatch between students‟
imagined community and the community envisioned by the teacher can have negative
outcomes on students‟ learning trajectories. Other research has explored how institutional
policies and their linked educational practices reflect differences in the imagined
communities each institution sees their students potentially joining in the future (Kanno,
2003) and how reading materials and the discourses reflected in them can affect learners‟
visions of themselves (Pavlenko, 2003). However few studies have tried to document
how an „imagined community‟ might be collectively constructed for others through a
complex interaction of social and cultural structures, circulating discourses, institutional
discourses, educational practices, group dynamics and personal histories that produce
visions of potential identities and their respective imagined communities in which
newcomers get socialized. There is a gap in current research on how „imagined
communities‟ and „identities‟ for second language learners get constructed, circulated and
made available to learners within institutional contexts.
Through this predominantly qualitative study involving questionnaires and
autobiographical research I studied the construction of imagined communities in an
English language major in Mexico. I explored how professional identities and their
related imagined communities are collectively constructed and made available to students
in order to understand how institutions, programs administrators and faculty members
could enhance the spread of successful professional identities and inspire/stimulate L2
speakers in their educational and professional trajectories.
Statement of the problem
The study of second language acquisition (SLA) is a vast field of inquiry that has
been approached from different disciplines. Broadly speaking linguistic, psycholinguistic
and sociolinguistic perspectives have each offered valuable insights that try to explicate
what exactly people come to know when they acquire a second language, what are the
processes involved in acquiring such knowledge and why some people are more
successful than others (Saville-Troike, 2006). From these perspectives the most
prevalent ones have been the first two and have constituted the mainstream approach.
Thus, acquiring a second language has been regarded as a predominantly linguistic and
cognitive activity. Only in the last decades has the field turned to more sociological views
of SLA. But rather than concentrating on a psychological/sociological divide, LarsenFreeman (2002) notes that the distinction between mainstream SLA and challenging
perspectives is more on the way learning has been framed within different traditions.
Based on Sfard (1998), she argues that there are two metaphors that explain this divide.
On one hand the „acquisition‟ metaphor sees learning as the individual
appropriation of systems whether these systems comprise linguistic or social norms that
are already out there for a person to „own‟. On the other, the „participation‟ metaphor
sees learning as a process of becoming member of a community and participating in its
practices. Larsen-Freeman contends that distinguishing perspectives in these terms is
more illuminating since regardless whether researchers work within a psycholinguistic or
sociolinguistic tradition, the difference stems in seeing learning as „acquiring and having‟
or as „becoming and doing‟.
Researchers working within this last metaphor have drawn from different
theories, especially from the work of Lave and Wenger (1991) on „Situated Learning‟.
The authors contend that learning is essentially social in nature and that it is a process of
participation in communities of practice. This participation is at first peripheral but
increases in degree and complexity as learners‟ engagement and appropriation of
practices increases. In Communities of Practice Wenger (1998) argues that the formation
of a community of practice involves the negotiation of ways of being among participants.
From this perspective learning, then, is not merely the appropriation of knowledge and
skills but the subject positioning learners can occupy as they interact with others in a
community. For example Norton (1997, 2000, 2001) used the concepts of imagined
communities and identity in connection with second language acquisition in her study of
immigrant women acquiring English in Canada in order to explain the outcomes of their
L2 learning. She used them especially as a way to explicate the non-participation of some
of these women in their English classes and their different interactions in the community
in the light of a complex set of relationships between the individual and the learning
context and the different power structures and social relationships relevant to the
learning. This research project, then, has been conceived within a participation metaphor,
considering that second language acquisition is a way of becoming a certain kind of
person and engaging in social practices within communities.
This study deals with stories in second language acquisition (SLA) in relation to
issues of identity and imagined communities. Most of the research in SLA is aimed not
only at explicating how people acquire a second language but also at why not everyone is
successful in doing so (Larsen-Freeman, 2000). Some research centers around debates of
the individual factors that influence the degree of success in SLA, e.g. age (Birdsong,
1999, Singleton 1992, Bongaerts, Van Summeren, Planken and Schilis 1997, Bialystok,
E. 2002, De Keyser, R. M. 2000); motivation (Gardner 1968, Dornyei 2003); aptitude
(Robinson 2001); L1 transfer in grammar, vocabulary, pragmatic competence, etc. (e.g.
Corder, 1981, Cohen and Olshtain 1993, Cook 1993). All this research has been
conducted within the acquisition metaphor that emphasizes individual and cognitive
issues. Within a shift towards research that integrates the social and cultural context of
learning (Schumann 1978, Firth and Wagner 1997, Rampton 1995, Leung, Harris and
Rampton 1997, Block 2000, 2007a, 2007b), researchers have explored the role of
learners‟ understanding of their own and others‟ role as members of communities and
how identity connects to why some learners are more successful than others.
Consequently the research reported in this work aimed at dealing with cultural
and social factors that contribute to the construction of positive identities for L2 learners
and their access to professional communities. It dealt with second language speakers
who, through their educational and professional trajectories, have gained access to social
networks that have allowed them to develop a positive professional identity in their
second language. One of the assumptions made is that success in SLA acquisition is not
based primarily on approximating learners‟ language to a target language norm but rather
success means being able to participate in communities we see ourselves as belonging to
and therefore there is no end point as possibilities change and emerge within specific
learning trajectories.
Recent work has shown the importance of identity in language learning (Norton
2000, 2001; Ivanic 1998, Pavlenko and Lantolf 2000), and how the desire to belong to an
imagined community drives individuals to invest in their learning (Norton 2000; Murphy,
Jin and Li-Chi 2004). This work has documented that a mismatch between students‟
imagined community and the community envisioned by teachers can have negative
outcomes on students‟ learning trajectories (Norton, 2000). Other research has explored
how institutional policies and their linked educational practices reflect differences in the
imagined communities each institution sees their students potentially joining in the future
(Kanno, 2003) and how reading materials and the discourses reflected in them can affect
learners‟ visions of themselves (Pavlenko, 2003). However few studies have tried to
document how an „imagined community‟ might be collectively constructed for others
through a complex interaction of social and cultural structures, social and institutional
discourses, educational practices, group dynamics and personal histories that produce
visions of potential identities and their respective imagined communities in which
newcomers are socialized.
Key concepts
For this project, an imagined community refers to the community we see ourselves
as belonging to in the process of learning a second language but also to the one we hope
to belong to one day as we project ourselves into the future as L2 users. This is slightly
different from Andersons‟ original concept. For him you could not possibly know all the
members of an imagined community, in his case referring to nations, and that is what
makes it imagined. In this project what makes a community we belong to „imagined‟
refers to the way one understands the community to be. In other words, each learner
imagines himself to be part of community or of various communities and the nature of
these communities, as envisioned by the learners, determines or influences the behaviors
as well as the goals and aspirations of the learner.
The concept of community and more specifically of speech community has been
largely used in anthropology and sociolinguistics but it has often been contested. It has
evolved from an initial rigid notion of a homogenous group of language users who share
sets of social and cultural norms and values to a more fluid one of people who interact for
social purposes even in cases of language and stylistic diversity. Morgan (2000, 2004)
proposes that a “speech community remains a resilient unit of analysis because the
definition of language that binds it is based on the notion of diversity of language,
varieties, and styles. What is shared among its members is knowledge of language
ideology and attitude toward language use” (p.38). This project started with taking for
granted the construct of communities and with the notion that communities do exist and
are relevant to the way people interact and develop an identity in and through the use of a
second language. It assumes that there is an imagined community of second language
users with diverse language learning histories that accounts for different levels of
linguistic proficiency and styles. Those learners who have acquired English as a foreign
language in a classroom, those who acquired English in a natural environment and those
who have in their background both experiences bring to the community different levels of
proficiency, sets of practices and expectations. All of them however seem at some point
to join in a common effort to succeed in an educational setting that grants for them
opportunities to develop a positive identity of second language users. Some become core
and central members and some remain at the periphery according to their goals and
personal preferences. All of them share, however, as Morgan proposes a co-constructed
language ideology and attitude toward their use of their second language. In spite of
students recognizing that this language, English, is their „second‟ language, they manage
to make this language theirs as they grow in an academic and professional environment
that relies on their ability to project themselves in that language as they write their
homework assignments, discuss classroom topics, do oral reports in class, write their own
book of poems, develop and perform an identity as English teachers and translators. They
are not students in this program only as a result of being English language users and
„English‟ happens to them not only as a result of globalization and linguistic imperialism,
but because they make English theirs as they do identity work and position themselves as
competent students and future professionals of English. They also play with the language
even when they greet and interact with each other; for example, saying “I does” knowing
that this use is deviant from a native speaker norm and making evident that speech
similar to this „play‟ is heard among some of their peers and in some of their own
students and that errors like this become the subject of study in their own classes. “I
does” becomes a stance that challenges the status of the stigmatized speech of second
language learners. Students cross language boundaries and develop their own set of jokes
about language use that display their own ideology as „second‟ language users and make
their peers realize and come into terms with their own „interlanguage‟ thus challenging
the idea of L2 users as deficient communicators (Belz, 2002). These „errors‟ are not only
present in their speech, they become emblematic of who they are. The community they
participate in becomes a territory to map and manage an L2 identity.
Identity in this project is the way we understand who we are and how we manage to
negotiate that understanding when we interact and participate in the practices of specific
communities. We often feel and think of our identity as one of our most precious
possessions. However, we never „possess‟ a stable and „unique‟ identity that we can keep
across time and space. As poststructuralist research has shown, our identity is constructed
in the midst of interactions and varies even in subtle ways as contextual factors are
altered and created. Learning and using a second language triggers changes in our
identity but we need to understand that an L2 identity interacts and intersects with other
identity work such as class, gender, nationality, profession etc.
Purpose of the study
My goal was to study imagined communities in an English language major in
Mexico because I wanted to explore how professional identities and their related
imagined communities are collectively constructed and made available to others in order
to understand how institutions, programs, administrators and faculty members can
enhance the spread of successful professional identities and inspire/stimulate L2 speakers
in their educational and professional trajectories. I developed the idea for this study in
large part by reading the work on language and identity of Bailey, Bucholtz, Gee,
Tabouret-Keeler, Ainsworth and Hardy, Mendoza-Denton and on L2 learning and
identity of Pavlenko, Lantolf, Belz, Ivanic, Kramsh and Norton among others. Although
there are differences among the work of these scholars on the relationship of language
and identity the common thread in their work is that they all recognize that identities are
not essentially given but produced in and through language. Identities are therefore
emergent in all our doings that involve using language and other semiotic resources and
systems and they are part of all communicative activities such as conversing, writing,
narrating, etc, but they are also constrained by social and cultural contexts, ideologies and
power structures. I became fascinated by the possibilities that these approaches offer to
our understanding of SLA processes and outcomes of groups and individuals in different
contexts. However, perhaps most importantly it provides room to question and challenge
simplistic and often prevailing views of what it means to learn a language, to be a second
language learner and user and to be successful at L2 learning. We live in an increasingly
global and intercultural world in which more than half of the population knows at least
two languages and populations are in constant flux. Though it seems that for a large
proportion of bilinguals the end point of learning is to be a deficient user of their second
language as conceived in the acquisition metaphor, within the performance metaphor
there is no such a thing as an end point. By contrast, the perspective of learning as
participating and becoming allows us to research bilinguals in the light of the practices
they construct and engage in, the way they understand themselves and the future they see
themselves partaking of. In short, I am interested in what programs do or can do to
enhance the construction of positive identities of L2 users and professionals and related
imagined communities from the perspective of the students‟ experiences.
Research setting
I conducted research on the factors that influence the construction of imagined
communities and identities of L2 users and professionals in an English major in Mexico.
I choose this context because successful L2 users and professionals in programs like this
cannot be defined by the acquisition metaphor. It is not by measuring their performance
against a native speaker norm that that we can understand their success or lack of it. It is
not knowing a second language and knowing something about how to teach that leads to
successful individual trajectories. It is rather feeling part of an international community
of language users and professionals that influences learners‟ engagement in practices and
encourages them to invest in their language learning and academic preparation.
Individuals that see themselves as part of greater whole find more meaning in what they
do. They are less likely to concentrate only on the local and they are more motivated
toward finding ways of appropriating and changing practices and becoming agents rather
than passive recipients of language. The participant metaphor described above allows us
to think of motivation, for example, not merely as an individual trait that drives
individuals to achieve their goals but rather as an aspect of interaction with an
environment. Motivation and opportunities for L2 learners and users are constrained by
the environment, and by the same token individuals act upon their environment,
continuously altering and recreating it.
As an L2 student I had many questions about the assumptions of students and
teachers in language classes. Although many students and many teachers seemed to
believe that exposure to native speakers was the best way to learn a language or perhaps
necessary for efficient learning, it often seem to me that when there were native speakers
they might not have been as effective as teachers as those who had perhaps never been to
an English speaking country. On the other I saw many teachers, who had long careers and
high reputations as English teachers but did not form part of a community. They often
seemed too limited in their range of techniques and their poor understanding of their
profession made them unable to adapt to different circumstances.
When I became a student in Lengua Inglesa, one of the things that I liked the most
was that things such as pronunciation and accent or even grammatical accuracy did not
have an overall influence on our development, but rather the ideas we expressed in
English and the things we could accomplish in and through English were the ones that
had an impact on our identity. The case of Edith Martínez, one of the participants in this
study, illustrates these points. She took some English classes in the public school system
that did not significantly contribute to her development as an L2 user. It was by listening
to songs that she gained some proficiency in English; she acquired vocabulary, practiced
her pronunciation and got some sense of sentence construction. She entered the Lengua
Inglesa program with an overall low level of proficiency as many students in this
program do. As she reports in her biography she felt afraid of participating in class and
unsure whether she could succeed pursuing a degree in an English medium of instruction.
She progressed in her participation in the LI community through mutual engagement in
activities, such as class discussions, extracurricular activities and most importantly the
practice she had in teaching. In her biography, she describes the wide range of
opportunities she had of teaching in different contexts. She has taught classes to students
of different age ranges and in several different institutions and built a reputation as a
competent English teacher, teacher trainer and program administrator. She designed a
picture dictionary to obtain her undergraduate degree and later completed a master degree
program. Her writing and speech might not be those of a native speaker but nonetheless
she has succeeded as a language professional and currently works in a prestigious
institution of higher education. Professionals like Edith Martínez seem to belong to an
imagined community of language professionals like the one projected in the 2007 report
of the Modern Language Association:
The language major should be structured to produce a specific outcome: educated
speakers who have deep translingual and transcultural competence. Advanced language
training often seeks to replicate the competence of an educated native speaker, a goal that
postadolescent learners rarely reach. The idea of translingual and transcultural
competence, in contrast, places value on the ability to operate between languages.
The general objective of this project was to research what experiences, factors,
and mechanisms foment the construction of an imagined community and related
identities. Specifically, the three main questions that this research attempted to answer
were: what educational experiences contribute to the development of a positive identity
as an L2 learner/user and professional; what role can programs and professors take in
enhancing the spread of successful professional identities and stimulating students‟
professional trajectories; and how does the success of graduates and former students
influence the concept of imagined communities for newcomers.
Research techniques
To explore these questions, I chose as a main strategy to collect the language
learning histories (LLH) and autobiographies of students and graduates from the Lengua
Inglesa program. Benson (2004) uses the term (auto)biography “to refer to a broad
approach to research that focuses on the analysis and description of the social phenomena
as they are experienced within the context of individual lives” (p.4) This strategy allows
us to focus on the description and analysis of language learning experiences and their
non-linguistic outcomes. In this project I wasn‟t concerned in analyzing the linguistic
competence of students but rather the focus was on the opportunities that an educational
community provides for learners to negotiate meanings, stances, and ultimately their
identity. I sought to understand the experiences of learners, what they see as important
and the accounts they give of their past, present and future.
The Lengua Inglesa (LI) program is a four and a half year undergraduate program
in a university in the northern part of Mexico designed to provide L2 speakers of English
with training in linguistics, literature, language teaching and translation. Students are
chosen based on their overall academic abilities measured by an admission test that is
general for the public university that hosts this program as well as by their overall general
proficiency in English measured by a series of written tests comparable to the TOEFL
and an oral interview. From the student population in this program, I concentrated on
focus group consisting 30 students of 8th semester. I instructed a workshop on language
and identity for these students and collected their LLH, which were used as data for one
of the chapters in this study. Another chapter is based on a case study of a former student
in the program who graduated in 1992, who agreed to participate in the study and wrote a
long autobiographical essay. Finally the other research technique employed in this study
was an open ended questionnaire administered to a 116 students out of the 125 students
enrolled during the spring semester of 2007.
Summary of chapters and findings
Chapter one has introduced the background and significance of this study. This
chapter has provided information on the setting of this research project by outlining the
history and nature of the LI program and the students who participated in it. I have stated
the research objective and questions and I have described the research procedures utilized
to collect data and the way data was analyzed. Chapter two presents my personal
reflection and explains from an experiential view my interest in the topic of this work.
Chapter three outlines past research on the study of imagined communities and identity
and how this particular study contributes to that body of knowledge. Chapter four
describes further the questionnaire used in this study, discusses the results obtained and
what these results imply about the language learning experiences of the students in
connection with their identity and the imagined communities they see themselves as
belonging to. The use of this questionnaire helped in analyzing the data of the following
chapter because it gave opportunity to students to freely respond to the questions
anonymously. In this way important data omitted in the language learning histories
surfaced. Chapter five draws on the data obtained from the language learning histories of
30 students in the program and discusses the data in connection with the contexts in
which these students have been immersed. It argues that their learning of English in
relation to their perception of the different contexts: the public and private school system
in Mexico, the study abroad experience and the LI program is implicated in the way they
perceive themselves as L2 learners and users. Chapter six presents the analysis of the data
obtained through the autobiographical essay of a former student of the program and
identifies the factors contributing to the formation of her professional identity in
connection to the different imagined communities she sees herself participating. Chapter
seven summarizes all the findings of the study, offers some implications for the study of
identity and imagined communities in LI programs and some suggestions for future
research. Finally, the chapter ends with some conclusions derived from the study.
“For a human, to be what you are, to „be yourself‟ always implies a reflective
process. One isn‟t simply what one is: one is what one thinks one is.” J.L. Mey
(2003: 343)
Introduction to this reflection
This personal reflection attempts to capture the source of interest in „identity and
imagined communities‟ in relation to L2 speakers that might partly explain this research
project not so much from a theoretical or empirical perspective as I have tried to do in
other chapters of this work but from a purely personal and experiential view. Research
specialists advise scholars to select topics that are of special interest to them, that they
care about and that allow them to reflect on their own experience. What follows is a
description of why identity and imagined communities is a topic of my interest, why I
care about it and a reflection of my experience as an L2 learner, user and professional.
The Beginning of Language Learning
I was born and raised in Chihuahua, Chihuahua Mexico where English is by far
the major foreign language learnt. It is an obligatory subject from secondary school to
college education in public and private institutions. As in many parts of the world, the
method of instruction in public education is a version of the Grammar-Translation
method mostly due to a combination of poor teacher training, low English proficiency of
instructors and large classes of seemingly unmotivated students. As a result, unless one
does something besides taking these compulsory courses, very little, if any, English is
learnt, apart from grammar rules that are easily forgotten for there is no need to learn
them except for answering an achievement test. I learnt vocabulary lists through
translation and memorization and learnt to manipulate grammar structures through
written drills or exercises. This context does not really grant possibilities for engaging in
identity work mediated by a foreign language any more than a math class does. However,
as some researchers have pointed out, given the spread of English and its status as a
world language, acquiring English is something that might be difficult to avoid. This is
my case, one not unlike many of the cases reported in this work. When I was 12 years
old, a student in secondary education, my father gave me the opportunity to take private
English classes at an academy, an opportunity that I embraced with optimism. Ironically
the institution in which I gained an initial proficiency in English was the Alliance
Français in Chihuahua. Later I studied at a different English academy. The transition
from one school to the other meant passing from being, feeling and acting as a poor
language learner to becoming a good one. This is perhaps the first connection I can make
between identity and L2 learning. As some SLA theories point out: being a good or bad
language learner is no longer considered the result of individual (cognitive/psychological)
traits or the result of learning strategies deployed by individuals as much as they are
identities that emerge out of the interaction with others in a given socio-cultural and
historical community of practice (Norton and Toohey, 2001). In the first context I was
the only 12 year old girl in a class of around 18 students, all of whom were either college
students or professionals from middle to upper class. It was in this context that I became
a poor language learner in relation to my peers. I did not have interesting stories to
contribute to class discussions and my opinions did not seem to have any authority in this
context. The higher degree of sophistication of my peers in terms of knowledge, skills
and resources gave me little room to exercise an agency to form an identity as a „good
language learner‟. In the context of the other language school, the situation reversed. I
was already in high school and was the oldest in a group of elementary to secondary
students of a similar background. Within months I made the transition from being a poor
language learner to a good one. My parents would now receive report letters through the
mail from my instructor who eloquently described my superior qualities as an English
learner. My English instructor at that time might be, by the way, indirectly responsible
that I am writing this dissertation. She was a student in an English major at a university
and became my role model as an English speaker and professional. When I was in her
class, I imagined myself belonging to a community of English teachers just like her,
confident and proficient in the language and excellent in her teaching skills. At that time
students in that Lengua Inglesa major started a Sunday publication in the major local
newspaper. I anxiously read the articles they wrote talking about issues related with
language teaching, translation and literature. I saw their pictures taking classes at the
university. That was one of the seeds that later on inspired me to join this community. I
began my college education in a technological institution studying engineering but
continued to cherish this dream and recall it everyday as I walked by the building where
the Lengua Inglesa program is located. I joined this program as a student and I am now a
professor in it. This is the context in which this dissertation project was developed.
All my evolving experience as an L2 learner and user, English major at the university,
English instructor in several schools and professor in this program relates in one way or
another to my „social and cultural identities‟ mediated by English. I am not going to refer
to those experiences because that is the focus of this research project and I will address
these issues, not in the light of my own experience but in the experiences narrated by
other students and graduates in the program.
The study abroad experience
Nonetheless I want to narrate more recent experiences that have spurred my
interest in the connection of SLA and identity. In the summer of 2003 I moved with my
family to the city of Tucson to start a doctoral program in Second Language Acquisition
and Teaching at the University of Arizona. This was a dream come true at a personal and
professional level. An opportunity of studying abroad was something I wondered about
since I was in my undergraduate years but I never thought it would actually materialize
due to family needs, marriage and children, and a job that drove me into another very
different direction. I saw classmates or graduates going to the US or England into
exchange programs or pursuing graduate degrees with some sadness. Later when I was
given an opportunity to become a faculty member at the university, the light of that old
dream turned on again. However it was something I did not see as happening for eight
more years. During this time I earned at a private university, a master degree in education
with a specialization in the teaching of English as a foreign language.
The year previous to my arrival in Tucson was a hard one, I invested time and money in
going through the sometimes fastidious and bureaucratic process of applying for a
scholarship and meeting all the requirements for international students such as getting
transcripts of studies, translations, takings tests, applying for a passport and visa,
submitting a valid proof of financial guarantee, going through immunizations, emptying
my house that I left for renting, etc.
One of the goals I expected to achieve out of this exiting experience was to
increase my level of proficiency in the language by living and studying in a country
where English is spoken. I had learnt from the classes I took in second language
acquisition that you can „break‟ a state of language fossilization by facing new
communicative demands and interacting with native speakers and then I passed this idea
on to my students. The major goal, however, was to advance in my knowledge, expertise
and confidence as a university professor. This goal was definitely met thanks to the
courses I took with fine professors in the program. Realization of the other goal however
did not occur as smoothly as I had thought it would. I remember my first day of classes at
the University of Arizona. I was nervous and wondered whether I would be at the level
required to succeed in the courses. I doubted whether in this context I would be able to
position myself as a competent user of the language with the required background
knowledge. As has been documented by Kinginger and Farrell (2004), Kinginger (2008)
and Pellegrino (2005) the study abroad experience is highly variable across individuals
and contexts, but in general they report that in terms of language development, the results
are not as anticipated. Individuals being „stripped‟ of their identity (linguistic, cultural,
academic, etc) find difficulties developing a comfortable position in a new environment.
Different studies report experiences of study abroad students that point to cultural,
gender, class, and national identity problems that arise when one crosses borders and is
immersed in a L2 language and culture.
In my first classes at the university without even realizing it at the time I started to
align more with other „international students‟ than with native ones, especially with those
that came from a similar culture. Thus I began to interact more, at least outside of class,
with other students from Colombia or Puerto Rico instead of trying to mingle more with
American ones. It seemed that there weren‟t many things to share with the latter group
and I began to loose sight of the objective of improving my English to the more
immediate need of surviving and preferably succeeding in living and studying in a
foreign country. Thus, I saw that I could share more with other students in a similar
situation than with native ones.
Differences in imagined communities
I greatly enjoyed all the courses I took at the University of Arizona. They inspired
me professionally and personally and for the most part I managed to become a competent
„international student‟. Nevertheless there were a few courses in which I did not feel
completely comfortable, my self-esteem was rather low and it was as if I could not
perform adequately. I felt as an unintelligent person who could barely utter a few words
that did not make sense in English. I can not point to one single reason for the way things
were in those classes but rather to the complex structure that makes up a class, including
the topics, students participating, the professor, the rapport and relationship or lack of it
among them, even the seating arrangement can impinge on the way things go in a class.
To exemplify some of the issues involved I will narrate some incidents in two
different classes that occurred in the first course sessions that might partially account for
the hardships I had in managing a positive target language mediated student position. In
one of them, the professor asked us to write a diagram in which we would represent our
„academic lineage‟. Some students could trace their influences back to people such as
Franz Boas and other prominent figures in linguistics and anthropology. The exercise
although pedagogically sound could also be taken as a name dropping session in which
people like me had no „names to drop‟. In the other class the professor conducted an
exercise in which we had to describe our home and how it reflected our personality and
who we were. She began modeling the activity by describing a huge collection of
children‟s books and the many objects that she had gathered over the years in her trips
around the world, her kitchen, etc. Then she passed the turn on to students to describe
their environments; when it was my turn I wasn‟t sure what to say since I had arrived in
Tucson carrying a couple of suitcases with the basics and was renting a small apartment
furnished with second hand items. I did not feel that I could describe my house back in
Chihuahua since I had dismantled it before moving to Tucson. These two incidents that
could pass inconspicuously for many students were in my experience not just pointing to
issues related to one‟s status as an academic or to one‟s socioeconomic class and how one
could be perceived by others but they related to my identity as an L2 user and my
performance in an academic setting. I saw it also related to the power structures
developed in a class in so much as it affects the confidence and participation in class
discussions important for a second language learner and user. As Angelil-Carter (1997)
points out, a classroom is a site of interaction and the way in which an L2 learner comes
to speak or remains silent are responses to the immediate situation and to whether the
learner‟s life, culture and identity are visible and valued or not.
Moreover, in the first of the two classes I mention in this reflection in which two
incidents occurred, my involvement in the practices of that academic community
remained throughout the course as a „marginal form of non-participation‟ and in the
latter I just opted for dropping the course. Similar experiences were analyzed by Norton
(2001) in her work with immigrant women in Canada on Non-participation and imagined
communities. Norton draws upon the work on situated learning and participation in
communities of practice of Lave and Wenger (1991) who argue that “we not only
produce our identities through the practices we engage in, but also define ourselves
through the practices we do not engage in” (p.164). Newcomers, they say, learn and
construct an identity through a process of legitimate peripheral participation. This occurs
when individuals new to a community interact with more experienced members and
increasingly participate in the community‟s practices in order to become full members.
This requires, however, access to other members, their activities, information, resources
and opportunities (Lave and Wenger, 1991, p.100). According to Wenger some degree of
non-participation or peripheral participation is expected as newcomers are socialized into
the practices of the community they aspire to belong. Non-participation is considered
good because it will allow member to move from the periphery to the center as they learn
and identify with the practices of the community. There is variability, however, in the
access to resources and opportunities. Total or considerable lack of these, might result
not in a form of peripheral participation considered as enabling but to a marginal. This
marginal form of participation went lead to full participation and its extreme will cause
no participation at all. They argue that “to the extent that we can come into contact with
other ways of being, what we are not can become a large part of how we define
ourselves” (Wenger, 1998 p. 164). For example, in Norton‟s work (2001), Katrina, a
respected professional in Poland, became alienated and dropped her English class
because her instructor did not validate this identity regarding her rather as an immigrant
whose level of English was not enough to take a computer course. There was a mismatch
between the imagined community of professionals that Katrina already considered herself
part of and the one recognized for her by her instructor. In the case of another participant
in Norton‟s study, Felicia, a Peruvian who had a privileged life in her home country,
dropped her course as a result of an incident with the teacher who dismissed her culture
because „Peru was not a major country under consideration‟. These seemingly
insignificant incidents and their outcomes when explored by Norton in the light of the
participants‟ experiences were acts of non-participation taken in order to preserve the
„integrity of their imagined communities‟ and their related identities. My experience in
the exercise of constructing my academic lineage did not allow for legitimate peripheral
in the course but rather encouraged me to marginalize myself into non-participation.
Because I did not have the resources and information to validate my identity in the class,
it brought to the fore my identity as an „international student‟ and outsider to the
academic community. As Norton (2001) concludes, if we „invest‟ in our learning, we do
it because we know that this will bring greater symbolic and material resources which
will increase our standing in the social world (p.166). Moreover, Wenger (1998)
comments about peripherality and legitimacy specifically in doctoral programs that
“today doctoral students have professors who give them entry into academic
communities. Granting the newcomers legitimacy is important because they are likely to
come short of what the community regards as competent engagement. Only with enough
legitimacy can all their inevitable stumbling and violations become opportunities for
learning rather than cause for dismissal, neglect, or exclusion”(p.101)
Mediating a subject-position in two languages
Likewise living in a foreign country where there is a large population of fellow
nationals who have settled there as a community also poses some challenges to one‟s L2
identity. On one hand, I experienced a sense of solidarity and friendship with the many
people who, living in Tucson under hard circumstances, are often unwelcome as an
immigrant group and are embedded in all the social, political and economic struggles of
the group. I met people who were always willing to give a hand and did not hesitate to
give advice for everyday problems such as finding a cheaper battery for a car or better
items in the market. The friends I made literally opened the doors of their homes and
became part of my family. We often gathered to celebrate children‟s birthdays or any
other festivity. Close contact with these people for me, as is the case of others who have
experienced a study abroad situation, enhanced my national and racial identity that had
never been salient before in the comfort of a familiar environment, rather than promoting
a greater intercultural awareness (Wilkinson, 1998). On the other, this identification
process clashed with the one I wanted to achieve for myself as „a professional with a
good competence in English‟. There were often simple situations that called for difficult
decisions of how to align and bid for a particular identity. I remember some occasions; I
went to run errands in the community or went to places like a doctor‟s office and had to
fill in a form. Clerks and official would look at me and ask whether I wanted the forms in
English or Spanish. At first I had the awful occurrence of saying „either one‟ as a way of
displaying my bilingual competence. I soon realized this was an answer that caused
employees to easily get annoyed since I left them with the burden or responsibility of
making the choice for me. I got an angry question back forcing me to make a clear
choice. So there I was, hesitant in my answer. How would I answer the question: Spanish
or English? Almost always I wanted to answer “English” since this would give me the
opportunity to test my English ability and increase my vocabulary and experience. I
would be „doing new things in English‟ thus reinforcing my identity as an L2 user. I
knew I would not be able to experience these situations in my home country. Sometimes
that was my answer: “English”. However the response did not pass without any identity
„costs‟. If I was standing in a line where there were other Spanish speakers and my
answer was English I knew I would get some looks of distrust since they had heard me
speaking with my kids in Spanish and it was obvious that that I was a native speaker of
Spanish and not even an „emigrada‟. As I saw it, they probably thought I was a show off
that wanted to set myself apart from my „group‟. For a bilingual when language choice is
optional, using one language or another depends to great extent not just on being
proficient in a language, on having acquired the syntactic patterns of those languages or
on being motivated to use the language or not, but rather on our perception and
understanding of the complex social context and the multiple, often contradictory, desires
of belonging.
My identity as a language teacher
During my last year of studies at the University of Arizona I asked about the
possibility of getting a teaching assistantship. I knew that the Spanish department had
great demand for language instructors and that it might not be very difficult to teach some
courses there, especially the beginning courses offered to freshman undergraduates. I felt
grateful for the opportunity I was given but I also felt confused and had conflicting
feelings about teaching Spanish since I had always seen myself as an English teacher and
felt that was my identity. I learnt however that the English department would only take
instructors that could stay in the program for a longer period of time and that since I was
only going to be teaching for one semester that possibility was ruled out.
In spite of this when I thought about the job that I was about to undertake I was
confident from the many years I had been a foreign language teacher and a teacher
trainer. I felt I had the experience and abilities to succeed in instructing a beginning
language class. In contrast, it was the content of the class I felt uncertain about. I wasn‟t
so sure about my knowledge and ability to explain nuances and exceptions to the rules of
Spanish coupled with the bizarre feeling of using Spanish as a language of instruction. I
still remember the strange feeling of standing in front of a group and having to speak in
Spanish when I had for years „conquered‟ the ability to built rapport in front of class in
English. I struggled to maintain an „only Spanish‟ code in the class. I am thankful for the
wonderful opportunity I had to be in contact with American students and have a „feel‟ for
the academic community of the university. I was truly surprised by the level of
commitment and punctuality of students which I experienced from the very first day in
which I got to my class ten minutes earlier, counted the number of students present which
matched the number of students enrolled and then having to stare at the clock so I would
begin the class on time. It was also truly learning and researching experience to study the
varieties of Spanish and the different cultures and histories of other Spanish speaking
countries dictated by the class material. I had to read extra material so I could enrich my
class. Overall I think it was a successful experience corroborated by the evaluation I was
given from the students. Becoming a Spanish teacher expanded my identity as a teacher
but at the same time reinforced my identity as an English teacher. I was able to confirm
that being a native speaker of the language does not result in a natural or immediate
appropriation of the role of instructor of that language. Conversely having spent years
preparing for the role of an English teacher and the practices one develops over time
make you a „native‟ English teacher.
Our identity and imagined communities are fluid
Urciuoli (1991) argues in her work on the use of Spanish and English by New
York Puerto Ricans that “people build their sense of language around relationships as
much as they build relationships around language”(p.292) and that the boundaries or lack
of them between their language use depend on the sphere of talk: inner
(intimates/neighborhood) or outer (strangers). The interplay between constructing and
maintaining relations and language use has long been established. I want to define more
precisely the nature of the process and interaction by including in the equation the
concepts of identity and imagined communities.
I never expected that anyone would take me as a native speaker of English or even
as a Mexican American when living in Tucson. However, at the university I wanted to
foreground my academic competence in English in a way that would move my status of
„international student‟ and native speaker of Spanish to the background for I perceived
them as a way of not belonging, especially in classes where there were few or no other
international students. I sought an identity as a competent scholar. This could work or not
work because I did not just „own‟ a linguistic or professional identity to be displayed at
will. This was dependent on whether or I had or not I had sufficient cultural and symbolic
capital (Bourdieu and Thomson 1991) among other factors to participate in the academic
practices of the community. Being a Spanish speaker was an asset when I asked for a
teaching assistantship, however this brought an inner conflict with the imagined
community of English teachers I have always seen myself as belonging. When interacting
in the larger community I wanted to foreground my status as an International student to
escape being stereotyped as the „Mexican illegal immigrant‟ in the community often
treated harshly by Americans. When interacting with my neighbors I wanted to
background my status of professional and bilingual and foreground my Mexicanhood to
be attuned with them and participate in their practices. All this identity work was
mediated by Spanish or English. All this roller coaster of who I am, what languages I
speak, how I speak them and how I relate to others could simply occur in any given day
while going to college, running errands in the community and playing outside with my
children. And this often went smoothly without producing a fragmented identity.
I have learnt from these experiences and practices that our identity is in a constant
state of flux as a result of the interplay of how we understand ourselves in the past and
present, how we want to project into the future and the context of the immediate
interaction. The context, however, should not be seen as a given, waiting for a description
in order to see how it modifies and shapes identification processes. Rather, the context as
well as our identity as L1/L2 speakers is created out of the process of doing, speaking and
interacting with others. I would like to add to the initial quote of this reflection: One is
not only what one thinks one is but also what one manages to be in the midst of the
contextual options articulated in and through language.
To study the construction of imagined professional communities in an educational
context, I am proposing an integrated approach that considers different levels that
contribute to the construction of professional identities and imagined communities. This
process of construction is a complex one. If we look at only one level we can not fully
account for the all the factors that impinge on it. It is only in considering individuals and
their histories within a socio-cultural environment that we can do justice to all the set of
relations between the individual and broader processes of construction of identity and
imagined communities. In this chapter I will review past research on the study of
imagined communities and identity in SLA and in particular the study of professional
identity and discuss how this study provides an integrated approach.
Imagined communities
The two key concepts that guide this research study are imagined communities
and professional identity of L2 speakers. I will take each one in turn and then discuss
their integration. The term „imagined community‟ was introduced by Benedict Anderson
in 1983 as a way of explaining the creation of state-nations and nationalism. In his
historic account of the emergence of state-nations, he describes how the decline of
religion and monarchies as an organizational force during the 16th century and on and the
colonization of new territories contributed to the formation of present day nations. For
Anderson a nation is an imagined community “because the members of even the smallest
nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them,
yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson 1991 p.5). He
further argues that nations came into being with the spread of print and capitalism and are
the result of a socio-cultural construction. The idea of communion is spread through the
consumption of printed materials. Anderson agues that nations are constructions or
imaginations in the sense that a community larger than the local, in which face to face
encounters occur, requires from the participants the creation of a common identity and
consciousness, in this case a national one, in order to become a community. Anderson‟s
work has been criticized because his theory about the emergence of nationalism does not
apply to the Arab world (Rafeedie 2006), does not give full credit to the specific
circumstances of many „third world‟ nations and reduces them to copies of European
nations (Appelbaum, Macpherson, Rosemblatt 2003) and because there is evidence that
religion in fact helped in the construction of nations as early as medieval times (Bouchard
2004a, 2004b). Similarly, several scholars have explored the ninth century translation
program of King Alfred the Great as a significant factor in the creation of the English
nation (Trahern, 1991). Neville (2001, p. 112) compares Alfred‟s project to the modern
concept of everyone seeing the same newspaper, “an important factor in modern
nationhood”. Pratt (2007 p. 340) describes the texts written by Alfred as props of his
kingship. “At its heart was interaction in the royal household, now projected at a distance
through reading and recitation”. Such early examples of the construction of imagined
communities seem to undermine some of the premises, derived from Habermas, that
serve as foundations to Anderson‟s theory.
Imagined communities in educational settings
Nonetheless his conception of imagined communities has inspired a lot of work,
especially in debates on education and globalization (Appadurai, 1996). The work of the
„imagination‟ has been taken as a driving force that allows groups to collectively focus
and act in the construction of possibilities that lie beyond local contexts. It is the
conjunction of electronic media and mass migration that affect our view of the world:
“few persons in the world today do not have a friend, relative, or coworker who is not on
the road to somewhere else or already coming back home, bearing stories and
possibilities" (Appadurai, 1996:4).
One of the ways the concept of imagined communities has been applied in
education has been through the work of Lave and Wenger (1991). They conceived of
learning as part of social practice and as a process of individuals becoming, through the
acquisition of knowledge and skills, legitimate peripheral participants in communities of
practice. Lave and Wenger recognize that there are different forms of membership, not all
members participate in communities in the same way, and some members strive to
become central or full fledged members while others remain only occasional or marginal
participants. Learning to participate in a community of practice is learning to become a
certain kind of person and to acquire an identity. Wegner‟s (1998) later work bridged
between communities of practice and imagined communities. He argues that there are
three modes of belonging to a community: engagement, imagination and alignment.
Engagement is the local joint participation with other members while alignment is how
we orient our actions with other processes to achieve higher goals. Furthermore,
belonging through the imagination, is according to Wenger, similar to the concept that
Anderson proposed, a „serious act of imagination‟ in which we construct an image of
ourselves and our communities, and it is crucial in understanding our own participation in
relation to larger social constructs.
The above ideas on imagined communities have been applied in education in
other ways as well. Cobb-Roberts, Shircliffe, and Dorn (2006) in “Schools as imagined
communities” investigate some of the problems of thinking of schools as communities.
These authors contend that through schooling people are not only included but also often
excluded. They give examples of how schools are mechanisms of social reproduction that
work towards maintaining the class structure of societies. For example, changes in the
delimitation of school districts in the US often create conflicts. The status of a school is
associated with the status of the neighborhood therefore if a school is to be moved to a
lower status community parents are likely to react against the change. Furthermore they
provide a sociological explanation of why some would see schools as imagined
communities by proposing four different categorical theories of this namely:
functionalist, materialist, opportunistic and institutional-identity theories. Within the first,
the authors explain the role of schools in the preparation of children to be functional
members of their community and society at large in various way by exerting social
control and providing society with human capital to fulfill social roles and as a way for
the population for an arena to pursue mutual interests and resolve conflicts. The
materialistic explanation of schools as imagined communities sees schools as a site of
opportunity to manipulate resources in the interest of the students and advance their
material advantages. They point out that the resources schools provide can be
manipulated through a network of parents, teachers and the like that can prevent or allow
the passing of information about the various resources schools provide to outsiders or
insiders of their community. Thirdly schools might be seen as imagined communities
because they provide opportunities to acquire social and cultural capital in Bourdieu‟s
terms, granting individuals, through social networks, opportunities for acquiring skills
and knowledge, formal and informal, to have access to educational opportunities and to
meet professional requirements. Overall schools are seen as communities due to the
different opportunities they provide to individuals. Finally, the institutional identity
explanation claims that there is no other way we can relate to the institutional force of a
school but by seeing this as a community we can identify with. That is, we see schools as
imagined communities because this metaphor or image helps us to cope with it as a social
Of the different explanations for seeing schools as imagined communities the one
closest to the research related to second language acquisition is the opportunistic view.
This view emphasizes the way in which the acquisition of a second language within
institutional contexts, successful or not, grants or denies opportunities of accruing social
and cultural capital to individuals for developing an identity they or others envision for
Imagined communities and second language learning
Some studies investigate what imagined communities individuals relate to when
learning a second language (Norton 2000, Norton and Kamal 2003, Murphey, Jin and LiChi 2004, Torres-Olave 2006) while others explore other factors that influence the
construction of imagined communities at different levels. Some argue that individuals
with more agency imagine communities for others (Dagenais 2003), e.g. parents make
educational decisions based on the „imagined communities‟ they hope their children can
join in the future. Also teachers can create for students visions and opportunities for their
students when they guide students toward certain alignments or communities.
Yet other studies link the concept of imagined communities to other levels that
will ultimately affect individuals and their practices: how readings affect the way
individuals conceive of themselves and expand possibilities (Pavlenko 2003), how
specific schools construct visions for their students (Kanno 2003) or how larger societal
discourses construct imagined communities of students in which practices of minority
groups do not fit (Blackledge 2003).
Imagined communities in conflict was a central idea in Norton‟s 2000 work with
immigrant women in Canada. Norton develops Wenger‟s idea that there are three modes
of belonging to a group and documents the ways in which imagined communities of
students are a driving force for students‟ actions. Norton argues that a mismatch between
learners‟ imagined communities and a teacher‟s curriculum is a major cause for students‟
alienation, non-participation and eventual learning failure. She argues that the „imagined
community of the students‟ is most often not accessible to teachers and that most learners
have different imagined communities. In Norton‟s work on imagined communities the
concept is thought of as a more personal construct in which individuals create „images of
the world‟, expand their selves, and transcend time and space by „extrapolating from their
experience”. In Kanno and Norton (2003) the term „imagined communities‟ is defined as
“groups of people, not immediately tangible and accessible, with whom we connect
through the power of the imagination” (p.241)
Following this same line of thought, Norton and Kamal (2003) conducted a study
exploring the multiplicity of imagined communities of English language learners in a
Pakistani School. They conducted interviews, collected questionnaires and recorded
observations in a middle school in Pakistan to explore what the students‟ hopes for their
future were and how they related their educational experiences to that future. The results
show that students see literacy, English and technology as interrelated and important for
achieving a better future for their communities locally and globally; they expressed hopes
that having acquired and developed these skills they can participate in a more egalitarian
way within the international community. In this study Norton and Kamal argue that
students have multiple imagined communities and the co-existence of the vernacular and
English as a link to the larger communities produces hybrid identities. The imagined
communities of students are addressed by establishing the connection between literacy,
English language learning and how these experiences influence the imagination of
students. It is suggested, although not sufficiently explored, that educators can affect the
imagination of students: “the challenge for educators is to harness our own imaginations
in the pursuit of a peaceful and just global community”. The study however does not
address how such imaginations are socially constructed and promoted in educational
Advancing these ideas further, Kanno and Norton (2003), in their introduction to a
special volume in the Journal of Language, Identity, and Education on imagined
communities, propose that individuals who see themselves affiliated through the power of
their imagination with a given imagined community orient their actions in such a way
that this affiliation has the power to affect the outcome of educational trajectories.
Furthermore they argue that an imagined community has a great impact on individuals‟
present actions and investment (p.242). The authors contend that affiliations with
imagined communities exist in the individuals‟ imagination and are not part of their local
It has been proposed that one can imagine a community in different ways as in the
work of Murphy, Jin and Li-Chi (2004) who conducted a study among Japanese and
Taiwanese university students aimed at investigating their construction of identity and
imagined communities through their writing of language learning histories. The
participants were asked to write an essay with the prompt of a questionnaire reflecting on
their experiences as language learners and as university students majoring in English. The
authors reported on the lack of imagined communities of some students, especially at the
beginning of the learning process and the ups and downs in investment and identification
with communities during the school trajectories of these students. They also propose that
students might imagine communities in at least three different ways: one is the present
community they are in contact with, the second is the projected future imagined
communities that students hope to belong one day, and the last one is the updating of past
imagined communities with the present the students are living. This study is particularly
relevant because it points to the importance of teachers in the construction of imagined
communities and identification processes as they provide role models to follow.
Torres-Olave (2006) conducted a study exploring the identity of students in a
university program taught in English in Mexico. This qualitative multiple case study
investigated how the identity of students is affected by receiving instruction in their
second language while surrounded by their native speaking community. The questions
this study addressed were: 1. what the students‟ imagined communities are at the
beginning and at the end of the program, 2. what the futures that faculty envision for the
students are, 3. what impact receiving instructions in L2 has on the students‟ identity. For
this, Torres-Olave conducted in-depth interviews with 5 first year and 4 final year
students and 7 instructors in the program. Results show that all participants see that
English and the completion of the degree will give students a wide range of professional
and academic opportunities and that in general all three groups share a similar vision for
the future.
It is not only individuals who invest in language learning with the understanding
that this will help them join their imagined communities but also those agents who have
in their hands the decision of education for others; for example, parents are driven to
decide on the type of educations convenient for children based on the imagined
communities they wish their children to join in the future. These ideas were explored in
the work of Dagenais (2003) with immigrant parents in Canada. Based on interview data
of 12 families living in Canada, she concludes that parents, hoping that their children will
develop a transnational identity through which they can take advantage of their linguistic
repertoire, make efforts to provide their children with a multilingual education involving
French, English and often a different family language so they will have access to a wide
range of imagined communities, conceived, according to Dagenais as “sociolinguistic
networks within Canada and abroad where symbolic and material resources circulate”
(p.281). French immersion programs, according to Dagenais were originally designed to
strengthen national unity, however they now also serve for unforeseen purposes as her
study suggests.
Imagined communities through discourse inspired Pavlenko‟s study (2003). Her
work opens up the possibility that the imagined communities of individuals are shaped
through the readings they are exposed to. Thus in her study, students in a TESOL masters
program are seen to be „enabled‟ through critical pedagogy to have alternative options of
thinking about themselves and the community they can belong to. Instead of the
traditional dichotomy of native vs. non-native speakers, students in their autobiographies
show that they can see themselves as belonging to a „multicompetent and multilingual‟
speaker community.
Imagined communities in competition was the central idea in Kanno‟s (2003)
study in Japan. The author analyzes institutional practices and policies that seem to offer
different imagined communities for different groups of students. Instruction in this case is
influenced by the vision of imagined communities each institution has for their particular
student population according to their resources: more or less privileged children are
instructed in order to participate in more or less advantaged communities accordingly. In
this case Kanno goes a step further from Norton in extending the concept of imagined
communities from the realm of the individual imagination to that of the institutional
vision that creates „imagined communities‟ for students, by preparing them to take part in
different versions of Japanese society and the rest of the world. These imagined
communities reflect societal views on the population each school serves and help
reinforce often inadvertently social inequalities. Although there might be different
imagined communities promoted within one institution, in general there is a salient vision
created and promoted through policies and practices in the school. For example, in this
study all the schools were in one way or another bilingual schools, but some promoted
additive bilingualism while others did not take provisions to maintain students‟ L1 thus
resulting in subtractive bilingualism. In two of the schools he analyzed the students were
instructed in both Japanese and English, however there were striking differences in the
role that the language took in the educational curriculum and the skills promoted in the
students. While one school was preparing students to be able to continue their college
education preferably abroad in a Western institution and prepared students in all skills in
English, the other school promoted English only as tool for students to deal with
international business and industries in Japan. In the latter school students developed
more their receptive skills than fluency in speaking and the curriculum offered almost no
content on cultural aspects of English speaking countries. Thus, school policies, class
contents and classroom practices play a powerful role not only in determining students
present education but in constructing the imagined community students are expected to
join in their future.
From a critical discourse analysis perspective, Blackledge (2003) analyzed the
ideologies behind school inspection reports which construct the practices of Asian
minorities, in particular that of visiting their home country as negative for the educational
development of group members. Through common sense arguments in the discourse,
dominant groups construct an imagined community of successful learners that is
homogenous and only some practices are seen as normal while minority groups become
racialized and excluded. The author treats racial groups as kinds of imagined
communities in the same way that Anderson conceives of nations. Both minorities and
elite groups constitute imagined communities that are constantly defined by discursive
Each of the above studies can be situated within a continuum of the study from
individual imagined communities to the communities constructed by discourses in
society. The aim of this project is to shed light on the ways in which an imagined
community can be studied through an integrated approach. Behar (2005) argues that an
imagined community can only come into existence if there is the co-presence of
resources and mechanisms that make possible the construction of a collective
consciousness (p.599). He further contends that an imagined community is not
constructed out of pure will. Kanno and Norton propose that the imagined communities
that learners affiliate with “are no less real than the ones in which learners have daily
engagement” (2003, p.242). However neither Kanno nor Norton explore how learners‟
imagined communities are constructed, what resources or mechanisms play a role in the
construction of an imagined community, nor how it becomes real in ways that affect
students‟ investment in learning. Anderson‟s concept of imagined communities seems to
be more of a collective/sociocultural construct while in Norton‟s work it becomes more
of an individual construct or a „vision of a private nature‟ and a result of social
mechanisms of power and reproduction. Anderson claims that literacy and media help
individuals think of themselves as a part of a community. By reading the same things
people develop a sense of collective consciousness. This study aims at illuminating the
ways in which institutional experiences, educational systems and social networks aid in
developing an imagined community of language professionals and provide a context for
learners in an undergraduate program to project and orient themselves to future
affiliations and identifications.
In Andersons‟s work it seems that social structures allow individuals to imagine
„others to be like themselves‟. In the case of educational contexts the orientation is
reversed. In the study I propose, the aim is to discover what mechanisms and educational
experiences allow learners to imagine themselves to be like others. If imagined
communities have the powerful to impact students‟ learning experiences, as the literature
suggests, it is important to understand how educational systems can develop a collective
consciousness of what communities learners can belong to. My proposal is to search for a
way of looking at the concept of „imagined communities‟ in a broader perspective in
which the individual, the institutional and the historical interact in the construction of
possible imagined communities the students might adopt or adapt for themselves.
One of the main hypotheses is that an imagined community is a social construct
within which individual‟s subjectivities are produced. Learners are socialized into a
system that produces potential identities linked to a range of imagined communities. An
educational program might be able to produce images, ideas and opportunities for
learners who then transform and expand them in their search for opportunities to affiliate
with imagined communities that transcend their local environment.
Norton argues that imagined communities are no less real than the ones in which
students are immersed; however it is not clear what makes an imagined community and
its linked identity realistic enough to be meaningful for learners and to constitute
potential affiliations that provide learners with a sense of direction. If imagined
communities were solely of a private nature, the concept would be limited to the private
speculations students have. It would not be feasible for a teacher in a classroom to access
all the imagined communities of students and tune instruction to meet each imagined
community. If we speculate that imagined communities are created within social
structures and practices, it will be possible to conceive that insiders within communities
can mediate not only the development of abilities and knowledge (Vygotsky in Mahn and
John-Steiner, 2002) but also the development of visions of identity and future affiliation
to communities for newcomers. This socio-cultural mediation acquired through
interactions is not just about acquiring knowledge, but rather about acquiring a sense of
self through collaboration. These mediated projections are contextually co-constructed
so that learners „imaginations are those supported by the community through discourse,
institutional policies, curriculum, instruction and everyday interactions within and outside
the school context. The premise is that the range of possibilities for individuals is wider if
it is developed within a network of insiders to the community than if the possibilities
were developed by the individuals themselves and that interactions of L2 users with other
community members provide the affective support required for constructing a positive
identity in relation to their second language competencies.
Definition of key terms
Imagined communities broadly refers to those communities people hope to belong
to in the future but it also refers to communities people believe they belong to in the
present. In addition, this hope for affiliation directly affects people‟s current actions. An
imagined community in this project is consistent with Anderson‟s notion of imagined
communities and Wenger‟s work on imagination. This notion is not an individual
process but one that it is supported by a collective imagination. The process of
„imagining‟ a reality transcends present time and space and creates a reality shared by a
community in which experiences are connected to alternative, potential and future
possibilities (Wenger, 1998). An imagined community for this project will be considered
a community collectively created through the power of imagination that both is
immediate to the learning process the community created by the school culture and the
ones that extend the present experience and give meaning to experiences by allowing
members to envision possible futures and enhance processes of identity.
Imagined communities can be seen as similar to speech communities in
sociolinguistics. They are thought of as distinct entities in which members are at least to
some degree homogeneous and share the same set of norms and rules (but varying
degrees of competence in applying them). In this sense the concept is also utopian in
nature in that the unity and coherence that it purports are constructed in the minds of
speakers. However the value of the concept does not reside in its „truthfulness or falsity‟
(Andersdon 2003) but in the power it has to connect people who have never met and
make them conceive of themselves as part of a community. The imagined community in
this study is one that shares English as a second language, and perhaps has similar sets of
norms or rules for interaction but more importantly, one in which other attributes such as
experiences, abilities and competencies in relation to a profession are similarly thought to
be shared: “imagination may be seen as projection based on reality for those immigrant
parents whose social networks, material conditions and educational backgrounds allow
them to envisage such possibilities” (Dagenais 2003, p.274)
The discussion of imagined communities in this context forces us to consider the
concept of professional identities. Although there is little agreement across and even
within disciplines about what identity is, I will highlight some of the assumptions that this
project makes about identity. First, a subject‟s identity is plural, fluid and complex; and
is socially, culturally and interactionally constructed (Gergen, 1991; Norton 2000; Ivanic
1998). Second, although identity-making occurs through semiotic and discursive
resources created and recreated in and through interaction (Kiesling, 2006), we can talk
about different aspects of identity, one of them being the autobiographical-self (Ivanic,
1998). This autobiographical sense of identity points to the way we discursively
construct a self-image in which we intertwine both an individual and psychological basis
through personal stories, background and experiences and a social basis through
negotiation and participation in institutional settings such as schools. Finally this project
will take the aspect of the „autobiographical self‟ as it will attempt to investigate „selfidentity‟ through life stories in which individuals give meaning to their past and present
experiences as well as their sense of the future by interrelating their personal histories
with the histories of their group or groups (Belcher and Connor, 2001). Wenger (1998) on
communities of practice also informs the conception of identity in this project. Identity is
constructed through participation in a community of practice and it is “a way of talking
about how learning changes who we are and creates personal histories of becoming in the
context of our communities” (Wenger, 1998 p.5). Norton(2000) uses the term identity
“to reference how a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that
relationship is constructed across time and space, and how the person understands
possibilities for the future” (p.5).
Furthermore this project will deal with aspects of professional identities
understood as those constructed through learning trajectories by which we define who we
are in terms of our membership to occupational communities and by which we
understand our past, present and future participation and practices in professional
activities as “ways we and others reify ourselves” (Sachs 2001). Beijaard, Meijer and
Verloop (2004) offer a review of research that involved the scrutiny of 25 different
studies related to teachers‟ professional identity. The authors divided the group into three
different categories depending on their foci. The first one dealt with teachers‟
professional identity formation, the second with the characteristics identified by teachers‟
and researchers and the third group with professional identity represented in the stories
teachers wrote or told about themselves. One of the issues under discussion in this
review was whether the studies defined or not the concept of „professional identity‟ and
how they did it. Within the first group for example, professional identity was mostly seen
as “an ongoing process of integration of the „personal and the „professional” side of
becoming and being a teacher” (p. 113) and in vein similar to the general definition of
identity discussed above, they see identity as complex and dynamic; and a combination of
self-image and the variety of roles teachers have to play. In addition, they state that
professional identity is built around a tension of personal and social factors, and claim
that the most promising research is that of the first and third group of studies in which
they were able to identify four features that in their view are essential for teachers‟
professional identity. These features are relevant for the present project since they point
to some the processes described in the discussion of the data. First, they see identity
formation as an “ongoing process of interpretation and re-interpretation of experiences”
(Kerbey, 1991 in Beijaard et al 2004). This study will draw on the interpretation that
participants make of their life experiences in relation to their language learning and their
professional development of LI program. Through a reflective process participants give
meaning to their past, present and future identities seen not as stable or fixed but as in an
on-going construction. Second, as mentioned previously professional identity implies an
interaction between the personal and the context. Although I claim that the LI program is
a „community‟ not everyone experiences this community in exactly the same way, since
individuals differ in the value they place on different aspects of it and in how some
characteristics of this community become relevant for their understanding of their
identity as L2 speakers and professionals. The third feature, that professional identity
consists of sub-identities, seems to some extent irrelevant since they, as well as other
researchers, have shown that identity is not unitary but multiple. This study will show
that the construction of a professional identity combines with other identities e.g. gender,
L2 speaker, and student‟s identity. Finally, the last feature is that of agency which
acknowledges that professional identity is not something we can possess but rather
something individuals achieve through the use they make of the resources available to
Summary of theoretical framework
The following diagram illustrates some of the works that have been reviewed in
this chapter. It begins with the work of Anderson, who coined the term „imagined
communities‟, in his analysis of the construction of nation states. Jean Lave and Etienne
Wenger‟s work on situated learning reformulate our conception of learning as an
incremental participation in a community of practice. Wenger‟s work, in this diagram,
more explicitly expands the connection of learning as participation in the practices of a
community and the construction of an identity in relation to that community. Wenger
contextualizes his work in the study of a claims processors‟ community. Furthermore he
proposes three ways of connecting to communities, one of them being „imagination‟. This
work on imagined communities and identity through learning frames the study of these
topics in connection to learning and using a second language. This topic was first
explored by Norton-Pierce in her dissertation work on the study of immigrant women in
Canada and later extended into several related articles. The one included in this diagram
specifically addresses the study of imagined communities and educational experiences at
an individual level and imagined communities of students are often ignored or not
perceived by teachers. Norton and Kamal‟s joint work explores the connection of
imagined communities to the learning of English, literacy and technology in the light of
adolescents‟ present educational experiences and hopes for the future in a Pakistani
school. In this context they say „imagined communities are multiple and identities
hybrid‟. Pavlenko‟s work, on the other hand, explores how specific readings in a TESOL
program make teachers reassess their identity and imagine alternative ways of thinking
about themselves and their profession. Kanno and Blackledge‟s work analyze how
institutional policies and societal discourses affect the development of an identity and the
construction of imagined communities for learners. The study of Murphey, T., Jin, C., &
Li-Chi, C. and Torres-Olave inform this present study in two different ways. The first one
served as a model of how this topic has been explored through the use of language
learning histories and the later as a model of how the topic has previously been explored
in this context. Although the literature on this topic is far more extensive than what this
diagram suggests, I have included these works because they exemplify how this topic can
be explored in different ways: in the study of individual experiences and their
interactions, in the study of school practices and reading and in the study of institutional
policies and larger discourses. Each of these represents a different level of complexity
and abstraction. To different degrees all of theses levels have been explored in the present
The present chapter focuses on an overview of the research setting, namely a
program in Licenciatura en Lengua Inglesa (English Language undergraduate
program:LI) where data was collected for this study, an outline of the research objectives
and an explanation of the data collection procedures and analysis techniques. All the
participants in this research were students enrolled in a LI program during the 2007
academic year except for one former student who graduated in 1992.
I conducted research concerning the processes of formation of imagined
communities and of professional identity in a Mexican university in the northern part of
the country. This university, like many other public universities in Mexico, is structured
through schools called facultades that combine several related programs. The facultad of
Philosophy and Letters, founded in 1963, nine years after the first programs of the
university, currently offers 6 undergraduate programs: The programs with the oldest
tradition are Spanish (Letras Espanolas), Philosophy and Periodismo (Jouralism); the
English major called Lengua Inglesa, established in 1982 which is the community
investigated and which will be referred to as LI hereafter ; Information Sciences,
established in 1991; and the two recently opened programs of history 2007 and
journalism (discontinued in 1968 and reinitiated in 2008). There are also four graduate
programs: two master programs in education, one in humanism, and a doctoral degree in
education. Each of these originated at a particular time during the history of the
institution and is somewhat unique in its characteristics and culture.
Research Setting and Participants
The LI program began its first classes in September of 1982. According to
written records of the history of the program, the initial idea was the result of the vision
of a few professors at the faculty who dreamed of creating a language program that
would begin with the study of English but that it will later broaden to incorporate studies
in other modern languages such as French, German and Italian. This idea, however, never
materialized due to the needs of the local and wider community which were
predominantly focused on the teaching and learning of English and to the limited
resources which allowed only for the consolidation of the study of the English language.
In the beginning the scope and aim of the program was not clear and the curriculum was
first formed through the advice of people from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de
Mexico (UNAM) and the local Binational center, the Instituto Mexicanco
Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales A.C (IMNARC). The US Embassy in D.F.
was involved in different ways since the beginning of the program as well as the Britich
Council and the Fulbright Commission involved from at least 1984.
The initial curriculum, like other programs in the school, was a four year program
on a yearly plan and it can be considered a draft of what it is now as it included subjects
in linguistics, applied linguistics, literature, language teaching and translation. One of the
most important revisions of the program was in the spring of 1983 when the order of the
literature courses was inverted. The first generation began with medieval literature which
now taught in the last semesters. Originally there were three branches of TEFL,
Translation and Literature but the later was eliminated and it became an important area of
support but not considered a specialization. It has undergone two other major revisions,
one in 1985 and one during 1990-1991. The University of Texas at El Paso, a consultant
from Northern Arizona University as well as The British Council have also played a
significant role during revisions in the 80‟s and 90‟s in advising faculty and
administrators and coordinating the work to reform the structure of the curriculum. In
recent times, with a larger and more stable faculty group, it has gone several autonomous
and independent revisions attempting to incorporate new trends in the area, the changing
needs of the community and the new characteristics of the incoming students among
other considerations. The courses reflect the major axes of knowledge/skills in this
specialization: linguistics, applied linguistics, writing, literature, TEFL pedagogy and
The following table shows the curriculum of the program at the time of this study:
TABLE 1: The Lengua Inglesa Curriculum
Advanced Spanish I; Topic Discussion; Interpretation of Essays; Research and Study Skills;
Survey of English Grammar I; Phonetics; General Linguistics
Advanced Spanish II; Speech and Debate; Introduction to Computers; Interpretation of the
Short Story; Survey of English Grammar II; Research Methodology; Phonology
Spanish Composition; History of England; Computers II; Writing: Organization;
Morphology; Romantic and Victorian Literature
Applied Spanish Composition; History of the United States; Writing: Style; Syntax;
Semantics; Psycholinguistics; XIX Century American Literature
TEFL: Methods and Approaches; Introduction to Translation; Analysis of the Novel;
Second Language Acquisition; Discourse Analysis; XX Century Hispanic-American
Literature; XX Century American Literature
TEFL: Planning; Translation Techniques; Poetry Analysis; Sociolinguistics; Contemporary
Hispanic American Literature; XX Century English Literature; Elective
TEFL: Teaching Language Skills; Building Translation Skills; Thesis Research; Contrastive
Analysis; Stylistics; XVIII Century English Literature; Elective
TEFL: Material Design; Technical and Scientific Translation; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval
Literature; Historical Linguistics; Origins of English; Elective; Elective
Curriculum Design; Literary Translation; Professional Orientation; Elizabethan and
Jacobean Literature; History of the English Language; Elective; Elective
The stated mission of the program is:
The LI program has the mission to train professionals of the English language
with the capacity to pursue careers as teachers of English as a foreign language
and as translators. The program provides students with an education of the highest
quality, based on solid cultural, linguistic and pedagogical principles. Its integral,
humanistic foundations foster a critical vision and a tolerant attitude towards
linguistic differences, which responds to the needs of the region, the country, and
the higher education unit to which the major belongs.
All these courses are taught in English except for seven concerning the Spanish
language system, writing in Spanish and Spanish Literature. Courses are taught three or
four hours a week for sixteen-week semesters. This means that courses meet for either 48
or 64 one hour sessions during a semester. Students attend school all week days; classes
are scheduled within 7 am to 2 pm, with students usually in class around 25 hours each
The LI program has some characteristics that make it unique among similar
programs in Mexico. Students in other universities are admitted with lower levels of
English proficiency, the initial courses in the program are focused on learning English,
and many of the content courses are taught in Spanish. In this LI program, although the
admission standards have varied throughout the years, some students begin with a high
level of proficiency and others are expected to increase their proficiency within their first
year in order to survive in the program. However, the program strategy to cope with
students varying proficiency in the English language has been not to emphasize the
students‟ gaps in their second language. Instead the classes during the first year are meant
to immerse the students in second language content instruction by requiring them to
academically perform as if they had reached the level of proficiency expected from
incoming students. This strategy, as it has been observed by faculty and reported in the
instruments used with students in this study, has yielded better results than lowering the
standards of academic work. Although this may seem to be a policy of sink or swim, the
difficulties are minimized for the students by focusing attention on building efficient
study skills, employing strategies for developing teamwork among classmates, and
providing scaffolding to enable weaker students enhance their learning potential.
Nonetheless, the program has sometimes had high rates of dropouts. This can be
attributed mainly to problems in the admission process that allow students to enter with
less than the minimum levels of proficiency needed to cope with the academic tasks
and/or with insufficient interest or dedication. It has been observed that a student with a
low level of proficiency but with good academic competence and dedication to complete
all tasks required will be likely to succeed in the program.
The backgrounds of the students in the LI program have varied through out the
years. Initially they were mainly of middle to high socioeconomic level because it was
this group that had access to either private English classes or to opportunities for studying
abroad. With the strengthening of English programs in the public system, there are now
incoming students who come into the program directly from the public school system. It
has also been observed, as will be discussed in another chapter, that the population has
become more varied in many respects as now there are students who immigrated with
their families to the United States and who are „returnees‟ seeking a college education in
Mexico. The number of admissions has also varied, ranging from around 10 to 50,
students admitted every year during the first 23 years of the program and in recent years
20 to 30 students are admitted but on a semester basis. Incoming students form a fairly
stable group and take all their courses together. When they get to 6th semester and they
start taking elective courses they can mix with students of previous or later semesters.
Students select these courses according to their main interests. This means that once a
group of students is formed they will be interacting with each other in a classroom for
around 3,600 hours until they complete the program. As may be expected, strong ties are
formed among students who build friendships and allegiances that might last a life time.
In addition there are several extra curricular events that give the whole body of students
plenty of opportunities to meet and interact in different ways.
One element that has varied the most in the history of the program is the
composition of faculty. There are three founding professors however that have provided
stability to the its functioning. One of them was among the pioneers in the teaching of
English in the city, worked in several major college institutions and had her own English
school. She was a grammar teacher in the program who retired in 1996 and died this year.
The other two professors are still active and have been of great influence to all the
generations of students who have graduated. The rest of the faculty has greatly varied
over the years. This has resulted in ups and downs in the focus and quality of instruction
in the program given the wide range of expertise, training and competence (or lack of it)
of these professors that participated for sometime in the program. Professors have come
from different regions: from other university in Mexico, from England and the United
States and many have been recruited from other institutions in the city. A large number of
graduates have also been part of the faculty of the program and some of them form now
part of the body of full-time professors.
I was a student in this program from 1988 to 1993 and have been a full-time
professor from 1995 to the present. My engagement with the program during 20 years
gives me a privileged position as an insider in the community. Part of my interest in
conducting this research project stems from my perception of and experience with a
program that has had profound influence in my personal life. At the time I was in this
program as a student, I was also pursuing an undergraduate major in engineering at
another local institution and the differences were striking. Majoring in engineering was a
continuation of my previous schooling experiences, but my entrance into the community
of LI immersed me in a different academic culture. The experience was challenging from
the very beginning, not only because it required me to perform academically in a second
language but also because the environment, including courses, peers, and professors,
encouraged me to constantly try out new things and actively engage in new experiences
that expanded my abilities and knowledge and encouraged me to think of myself as
capable of doing things that I would not have thought of doing otherwise. I chose to
conduct research within this community for 3 main reasons: 1) The population is
primarily constituted of L2 speakers of English who mostly learnt their second language
in their L1 community and have attained or are expected to attain a high level of
proficiency in their second language at the end of the program; 2) Most graduates
develop a career in which their second language is key to their identity; 3) I had access
to data collection since I know many of the graduates personally either as peers or
students; I had access to the students currently enrolled in the program; and I had support
from the community.
Data collection and procedures
The body of data to be analyzed in the present study comes chiefly from three
different sources. One of them was a questionnaire answered by 116 students out of the
125 enrolled in the program during the spring of 2007. The second consists of 30
biographical essays and records of discussion boards written by students in the 8th
semester enrolled during the same period of time. Thirdly, a long essay written by a
graduate from the program, enrolled from 1987 to 1992, describing her academic and
professional experiences. Other sources of data used to complement the previous ones are
official documents including curriculum reforms, stated mission and objectives of the
program, records and a short survey conducted with some of the faculty working at that
Research Objective and Questions
The main objective pursued in this project was to explore not only what the
imagined communities for an educational community of an English major program in
Mexico are but also what the mechanisms are through which imagined communities are
constructed and circulated among students. Among the issues explored were: 1) the role
educational experiences have in the construction of a positive identity, e.g. curricular
activities such as reading and discussing literary texts in class, writing poetry in a second
language, writing reports in their classes, etc. as well as extra curricular activities, e.g.
publishing a journal, attending and presenting in conferences, 2) the role core members
and their achievements have in feeding and expanding the circulating notions of imagined
communities 3) the role employment opportunities have in the confidence and affect
students/graduates develop as professionals in their L2 and 4) the role circulating
discourses and perceptions of others have in
the development of L2 users and
This qualitative multiple case study attempted to shed light on the ways in which
professional identities and their respective imagined communities are socially constructed
through a complex set of interactions between individuals‟ histories, social networks,
institutional structures, and cultural and educational factors. The specific objectives were:
1. How do educational experiences contribute to the construction of a [positive
a. Describe how participants position themselves as L2 speakers and
b. Identify factors and mechanisms involved in the construction of an imagined
community and the identity of L2 speakers and professionals as represented in
the histories written by the participants.
c. Describe the link between experiences within and outside the curriculum that
provide for possibilities of identity and imagined communities.
d. Identify larger discourses reflected in the options of identity and imagined
communities expressed by students/graduates/professors.
2. How does the success of students/graduates influence the concept of imagined
3. How can institutions, program administrators and faculty members enhance the
spread of successful professional identities and inspire/stimulate L2 speakers in
their educational and professional trajectories?
Data Collection and Analysis
Data collection for this study began in early April 2007 and was completed in July
2007. Although the data collection techniques were mainly qualitative, I also included a
quantitative instrument in the form of a questionnaire.
The purpose for using qualitative methodology has been to achieve a holistic
description of the learning and professional experiences of L2 speakers of English and to
consider the social and affective dimensions in the lives of second language learners and
professionals. This research is situated within the model of biographical studies that focus
on non-linguistic outcomes and learning experiences in SLA (Benson, 2005) and forms
part of the trend of studies of language and identity, as the objective is to elucidate how
identities and imagined communities are constructed within a community of second
language professionals.
For this study I decided to use a questionnaire in an attempt to capture the ideas,
opinions and experiences of all the students enrolled in the program at the time of this
research with respect to the research questions. The questionnaire was answered by 116
students out of the 125 students enrolled during the spring semester of 2007 which
constitutes not just a sample but 95.8% of the entire population. Obtaining data from such
a large percentage of students reduces the problem of obtaining a valid „sample‟ from the
population and gives added value to the data collected through this instrument because it
represents almost the entire student population.
Since I wanted to conduct a predominantly qualitative study and a questionnaire
yields data that is more amenable to quantification, I attempted to design an instrument
capable of capturing qualitative data. For this, I wanted to make a questionnaire that
would give me a general perspective on the student population but would also contain
some of the richness of discursive data. When constructing questionnaires researchers
have the option of including closed and/or open ended items. Closed items, in which the
range of possible responses is usually determined by the researchers, yield to answers that
are easier to process and interpret if they are well constructed. However the researcher
runs the risk of loosing valuable date since the respondents are restricted to the options
provided in the instrument. Open items, on the other hand “will more accurately reflect
what the respondent wants to say” (Nunan, 1992). Consequently, the questionnaire used
in this study, although containing some closed questions, was mainly an open-ended
Furthermore, I decided to develop the questions in the students‟ L2. I assumed
that answering this instrument would not pose any problems for students in the program
who are used to reading and writing in their L2 for their academic work. The overall
results obtained from this instrument prove this to be true for the most part, except for a
possible problem of transfer of connotations at the lexical level in two terms used in two
different questions. Some students considered the meaning of two of the words used in
the more negative connotation probably transferring from their L1 when responding. The
two cases are the words “influence” and “affect”. The first one was used in the question
“Did anybody influence your decision of studying in this program?” The intention of this
question was to see if there had been someone who had inspired them to join this
program. Some of the answers reflected that they considered the question as if I they
were asked whether someone had put pressure on them to choose this program and they
would answer something like “No, it was my own free decision”. The second problem
was in a question in which they were asked “Do you think your classmates have affected
your development as a student of Lengua Inglesa and your ideas about the major? Some
students took the word „affected‟ with a negative connotation as evidenced in responses
such as “Not really, if so they have done it in a good way”. The questions was meant to
inquire whether or not they considered that their classmates had „produced some effect
upon‟ the students own learning. These are two cases of ambiguity caused by variant
possible readings of the questions. In spite of these problems, it was possible to analyze
the way they responded without greatly affecting the overall study.
Finally, the design of the questionnaire was to some extent inspired in NortonPierce‟s (1993) dissertation on immigrant women in Canada. I reviewed her work and
found she had conducted a questionnaire with the participants of an English course. I
emulated her format in organizing the subsections and used 3 of her questions in my
instrument. The rest of the questions were formulated according to the specific objectives
of this research project. The questionnaire was not formally piloted with actual students
in the program but it was piloted with professors and former students who provided
valuable feedback on the form and content of the questions.
Once I had the final draft of the instrument and I was given permission to
approach the different groups, I visited each one to request students‟ participation in
responding to the instrument. I introduced myself to each group and told them the general
purpose of the study and passed a disclaimer form for them to read. All the students
present in the classes at the moment agreed to answer the questionnaire. It took them
around half an hour to forty minutes to complete it.
Including a large number of open questions has a trade off in terms of the
difficulty in processing the data obtained as Nunan (1992) points out “free-form
responses from open questions, although they may result in more useful/insightful data,
are much more difficult to quantify”. Nonetheless there are ways of dealing with this
difficulty. I first constructed a data base in a word processor with all of the answers
obtained. This allowed me to order and manage the responses. I was able to print all the
answers to one question for their analysis. I read all the answers given to one question
and at the same time I was writing down possible category descriptions that would reflect
the range of patterns in the responses based on the key words I identified in the answers.
Once I finished the first reading I went over my notes and reviewed the categories I had
written. Then I tried to order the categories and sometimes collapsed some of them that
represented the same kind of the response. I tried to do this carefully enough not to distort
the data I had but sometimes this resulted in more general categories that could
encompass similar responses. Once I obtained the final list of categories, I read all of the
responses again and recorded the frequency of each response.
The results of this
procedure allowed quantifying the qualitative data obtained from the instrument.
However in order to preserve some of the richness of the responses, when reading the
responses I highlighted some of them that I thought would provide interesting
information for the discussion of the results.
Language Learning Histories
Thirty students enrolled in the 8th semester were recruited to participate in the
study as a focus group. I conducted a 8-hour workshop on „Language and Identity‟
organized as part of one of the classes students were taking in the area of second
language learning and teaching. I obtained authorization from the administration and the
instructors to carry out this workshop given in 4 sessions each. I sent an e-mail to all the
participants previous to the workshop giving them instructions for writing a biographical
essay which was to be handed in the first day of the sessions. Appendix C contains the
body of the email sent to students. Once all the essays were collected, students were
asked for their permission to use this assignment as part of this study for which all of
them signed a consent form. The sessions were conducted as a series of presentations
and discussion activities based on readings assigned. Additionally students related the
content of the articles to their own experience by answering a set of questions. They were
asked to post their answers and comments on a discussion board through the internet and
were asked to respond to at least two of their classmates‟ postings. As a wrap up activity
for the workshop, students revised their first essay in light of the topics discussed in class.
The two written assignments, the postings from the discussion boards and the recording
of the class sessions were used as data for this study.
This study was primarily designed within an „exploratory-interpretive‟ paradigm
defined by Nunan (1992) as one “which utilizes a non-experimental method, yields
qualitative data, and provides an interpretive analysis of that data” (p.4). One of the main
techniques for data collection in this project was asking participants to write biographical
essays, these understood as first-person accounts of their experience as L2 learners,
speakers and professionals. The purpose of these essays was to draw from participants
stories related to their second language learning and life history that could yield a
description and analysis of their experience in terms of identity and imagined
communities. As Brown pointed out almost 30 years ago about learning a second
“Becoming a bilingual is a way of life. Every bone and fiber of your being is
affected in some way as you struggle to reach beyond the confines of your first
language and into a new language, a new culture, a new way of thinking, feeling
and acting. Total commitment, total involvement and a total physical, intellectual
and emotional response are necessary to successfully send and receive messages
in a second language” (Brown 1980 p.1)
This statement, although the notion of identity and community isn‟t explicitly invoked,
provides a broader scope of what it means to learn a second language beyond the mastery
of a language system and gives us the opportunity to consider other issues involved in
this process. Furthermore it forces us to put the learner at the center of foci of second
language acquisition research and to explore the role of the learner in this process.
Benson (2004) points out that the rise of learner-focused research has grown out of the
recognition of the diversity and difference in the context of second language learning;
that is, new educational systems, migration, technology and in general what we call
„globalization‟ have placed the study of the social contexts in which people learn a
second language at the forefront of research. Moreover he claims that the study of context
has shifted from a perspective that the contextual factors are „static‟ to some extent in
each language learning experience and that they affect the outcome of the language
learning „process‟ to a perspective in which these factors are dynamic, part of the
developing process of learning as well as an outcome of the process itself. In the
introductory chapter of Benson (2004) he also makes a broad distinction of biographical
research according to the way the data is collected. On one hand concurrent data is based
on data collected through interviews or writing of learning experiences as they are being
experienced by individuals while „recollection‟ is based on life histories of individuals as
they recount their past, present and future of what they see as important in their life in
terms of their second language experiences.
This study in some respects encompasses the two types of data collection. First
there were 30 short essays collected that were produced as part the workshop as section
of one of the students‟ TEFL classes. These essays constitute recollection data used in
this project as students recounted their past experiences when they began to acquire
English, but it is also concurrent as they captured data on the experiences they were
having at the moment as students of the program. Their essays also contain their
expectations of their future as professionals.
The texts produced by students were submitted both electronically and in print. The
electronic versions were then loaded into ATLAS, software available to manage
qualitative data for coding. The use of this program proved useful initially as it allowed
me to identify patterns in the LLH of students but I later abandoned it due to technical
problems with the computer. Nonetheless I was able to identify some topics that
portrayed the experiences of students as L2 learners and users in connection with identity
and imagined communities.
Autobiographical Essay
The other kind of data which we could call recollection was from a graduate from
the program who had finished her studies in 1992 and had been working as a language
instructor for several years and was still doing so at the moment of her participation in
this study in the summer of 2007. This essay concentrates on her experiences as a student
from 1986 when she was admitted into the school until she graduated in 1992 and
obtained her degree through a thesis some years later and includes all her work related
history while in the program and later in her life. This participant was recruited through
an email sent to graduates by an administrator requesting their participation in this study.
Appendix E contains the email for recruiting participants from this population containing
my email to which participants were to respond if they had interest in collaborating with
this research. Appendix G contains the instructions this participant was given to write her
biographical essay. This long essay was read several times and analyzed in depth as I
looked for data that was relevant in informing about the development of the participant‟s
identity and her sense of belonging to a community of L2 speakers and professionals.
Analysis of data obtained from LLHs and Autobiographical essay
As it was mentioned earlier, I read the LLH and the autobiographical essays with
the idea of identifying themes and recurrent patterns for coding. I selected from the
categories created the ones that could inform the research questions formulated in this
study. However as Pavlenko (2007) notes, putting these categories in a list does not
constitute an analysis of the data but rather a preliminary analytical step (p.166). In her
essay “Autobiographic narratives as data”, Pavlenko discusses some of the problems with
the analysis of data obtained from instruments like the ones I used for this research. She
says that from narrative studies we have learned that there are three types of information
that can be obtained from autobiographic narratives: subject reality, life reality and text
reality. The first one, subject reality, refers to content analysis of the stories in order to
identify cognitive and social factors relevant to the language learning processes and
language use from the point of view of the learner. Life reality concentrates on examining
autobiographies for information about the connection of content and context under which
autobiographies were produced. In this type of studies researchers try to relate learners‟
experiences and positioning with regard to ideologies and belief systems. This data is
often connected to that obtained through other means such as interviews and
observations. The factors identified in the stories are not treated as such but rather as
systems of „beliefs espoused by the writers. Finally text reality examines the linguistic
and textual means used by writers in the production of their own stories in order to
„understand how humans author themselves‟. In summary from the data obtained from
this data collection technique can be analyzed in terms of content, context and form.
Pavlenko warns researchers that these three analyses are interdependent. Although this
study concentrates on the first kind which is content, I have tried to involve all three to
some extent. With regards to content analysis I tried to follow her advice in not only
considering what learners said but also what they omitted and why. Furthermore I
followed her advice in reflecting on my own conceptual lens when examining the data
and stating the theoretical assumptions I made so I did not have to pretend that categories
simply „emerged‟ from the data. Finally, I have also tried to go a step further in the listing
of categories that identify factors in the construction of identity and imagined
communities but also I have attempted to examine what these factors reflect and how
they are linked to each other.
This chapter reports on the findings of a questionnaire designed for this study that
was applied to all students enrolled in the Lengua Inglesa (LI) program in April of 2007.
The questionnaire was intended to capture responses of the entire student population in
the program with respect to how they learned English; how they came into contact with
the LI program; their views on their participation and experiences in the LI community
and their ideas about their future as professionals. These aspects will be discussed in
connection to the concepts of identity and the imagined communities they see themselves
as participating and projecting to. First I will introduce the questionnaire format;
organization and content; and its administration. Then I present each of the items in the
questionnaire, the results and their analysis.
Description of the questionnaire
Most research on SLA in connection with identity and imagined communities has
been conducted through qualitative data collection techniques such as interviews, diaries,
autobiographies etc. In like manner, I used language learning histories (LLH) of a focus
group of 30 students and a long biographical essay written by a student who graduated
from the LI program as the main research techniques to explore the factors influencing
the construction of their ideas of participation in imagined communities and their
identity as L2 users. However, I included in this study a quantitative instrument to collect
data that would be representative of the overall student population at the moment of
research. This allowed me to see the cases discussed in the other chapters in the light of
this more general picture of the students learning experiences constructed out of the
students responses to a questionnaire. Conversely, there are interesting aspects and details
that are lost when analyzing quantitative data but the questionnaire used was designed to
make possible the retention of some of the richness of the other data collection
The format of the questionnaire and 4 questions were inspired by Norton-Pierce
(1993) dissertation. It consisted of 44 questions (Appendix x). Of these, 9 items were
closed and 35 were open ended. The organization of the questions was as follows:
A. Biographical information (Q 1-7)
B. Language Learning (Q 1-12)
C. The Lengua Inglesa program (Q 1-18)
D. Employment (Q 1-2)
E. Future (Q 1-5)
The questionnaire was answered by 116 students of the 125 enrolled at the
moment of conducting this study. Responding to the instrument required about 30 to 45
minutes. It was applied in the classrooms where each group was taking classes, though in
some cases I approached them when they had a „free‟ hour between their classes. I had a
favorable response from the students although I did not personally know those who
answered the questionnaire. I went to each of the classrooms after I obtained permission
from the administration and other instructors. I introduced myself and explained in
general terms the purpose of the study. I explained to students that their participation was
voluntary, that their answers were anonymous and passed a disclaimer form (Appendix
xx) that they read. Then I left the room so they would not feel pressured to participate in
the study.
Designing a mostly open ended questionnaire provides valuable data but it leaves
the researcher with the challenge to process all the responses obtained. I transcribed all
of their answers in a word processors and printed separately all of the responses to each
question so I could begin with the analysis. For this I read all of the answers at once to
get an idea of the range of responses. Then I read again annotating in a notebook all the
possible categories based on key words that would represent the answers given to each of
the questions. I went over the categories I had written and if there were some that looked
very similar I read the answers again to see if I could combine the two initial categories
into one without losing much of the variation in the answers or distorting them. In some
cases the major difficulty was finding the appropriate wording for the category that
would accommodate and represent the content of the responses obtained. Then I
organized the categories according to similar themes. I finally read all of the answers
again recording the frequency of each according to the final list of categories. Another
task while reading the answers was to highlight a variety of responses that provided
interesting and valuable information to use in the discussion of the results and that would
illustrate the actual answers as they were written by the students. For some of the
questions, however, when I tried to find categories that would represent the answers, I
found that it was difficult due to the variety of responses obtained. If I had separated the
responses into categories, the result would have been a large list of categories with very
low or no repetition of occurrences for each. For these cases, I considered that I would be
forcing intrinsically qualitative data into quantitative data groups. Moreover, for the
objective of this study an overreliance on repeated instances at the expense of one time
occurrences would mean losing interesting data that would provide more insight into the
feelings and thinking of the students with respect to their second language learning, use
and experiences. I opted in these cases to present a table listing some of the answers
given. In the discussion of the responses, I mentioned which were the most recurrent
responses for the item, but the numbers or percentages are not really significant given the
nature of the study that aims at investigating aspects related to the identity of the
participants in this community from their own perspective. The numbers show trends in
the experiences of students but are not meant to be taken as quantitative generalizations
about SLA identity and imagined communities. The general aim of this research project
is to provide more in-depth data of the way students understand their experiences and the
questionnaire serves as a frame for the analysis of learners‟ stories. The information
recovered from the questionnaires remains essentially qualitative because of the openended format of the majority of the questions and the numbers presented are not intended
to suggest quantifiable data.
Student Demographic Information
There were seven items about basic biographic information on the students‟
population on section A of the questionnaire. These questions were about age, gender,
place of birth, marital status, children, previous schooling, and semester currently
enrolled in. 116 students answered the questionnaire; their average age was 22.5 years
old, with ages ranging from 18 to 65 years. The distribution of age is shown in the
following graph.
Graph 1: Distribution of Age of LI students
16 15
18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 29 30 31 33 34 41 43 65
As the graph shows most of students are at the average college age (18-24).
However the program attracts people who have made a pause in their studies for different
reasons. One of the groups that comprise the outliers in terms of age is that of women
who return to education later in their life to get a college degree. In some way the
program is convenient for women with children because the schedule of LI is between7
to 2 p.m. and it overlaps with the schedule of school children. In this way the program
provides a means for women to empower themselves by getting a college education and
to become a source of income for their households. This is even more important now
given the strained economic situation of the country and the state. This might be one of
the reasons among others that most of the students are females as the data in the
following item shows. The following extract is from the essay written by a graduate that
exemplifies the point made above:
Being a student-mother was quite a challenge, but I managed to finish the term.
Then, taking care of the baby became my priority, so I quit school once again.
When I became pregnant with my second son, I felt that I really had to finish
school. So I enrolled once more and this time to finish my studies completely.
Many times I had to juggle the tasks of preparing bottles and finishing papers at
night, and more than once I woke up in front of the computer at sunrise.
Although the schedule with all the classes during the morning hours may be an incentive
for mothers to choose LI as a university major, the career prospects for graduates are also
often more attractive for these same students. Teaching is a profession that often offers
adequate salaries without the necessity of all day employment. The same graduate essay
also refers to this flexibility in her essay.
I have always been grateful I chose a career that, although competitive and
complex, allowed me to balance both roles, and be close to my children when they
needed me
Although the population of LI continues to be predominantly female, there are
more male students now than in the past. At the moment of the study there were 25 men
and 91 women in the program.
Graph 2: Sex of LI students
Regarding their place of birth, 98 students were born in the state of Chihuahua,
and 15 in other states within Mexico, while 3 were born in the United States. Despite the
fact that there are several large population centers in Chihuahua, most of the students
were born in the capital, the city where LI and most of the other programs of the
Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua are located. Cd. Juarez on the border with El Paso,
Texas, is the largest city in the state and three other metropolitan areas, Delicias,
Cuauhtemoc, and Parral, have populations larger than 100,000. Nonetheless, despite the
proximity of Delicias and Cuauhtemoc to Chihuahua, and the location of the city near the
geographical center of the state, only 18 of the students who participated in the survey
were born in other parts of the state.
Graph 3: Place of birth
Chihuahua City
Chihuahua State
Other state in Mexico
Fifteen out of the 116 students who answered the questionnaire were married and
14 of them had children. In reference to their previous schooling experience, 88 of them
reported that they had studied in public schools and 8 in a private schools in Mexico.
Eight of them had studied in the United States. For their preparatory education 81 had
attended a public school and 18 a private school while 13 of them had studied in the US.
At the university level, 11 had previously been in different programs while 4 had
attended a university in the United States. The following graphs show the distribution of
vsrious kinds of schooling among the students.
Graph 4: Secondary Education
Public School
Private School
Graph 5: Preparatory Education
Public School
Private School
The heavy bias in the LI population toward students from public schools indicates a
transformation in the public school system in Chihuahua. In the early eighties few
students entered LI directly from public high schools unless they had some previous
study in language schools or other supplementary sources of English instruction. The
current preponderance of students from the public schools suggests that these schools are
now graduating students with more developed L2 skills than was previously the case.
Graph 6: College Education
One important omission in the questionnaire design was to ask about the
participants‟ elementary education. This is relevant because some of them studied at
bilingual elementary schools and this influences the students‟ background and experience
with English. Also because data from another recent study shows that some students in
the program immigrated with their families when they were in their early years and had
some schooling in the United States as well.
The distribution of students according to the semester they were enrolled in at the
time of the study is as follows:
Graph 7: Distribution per semester
Although LI is a nine semester program, students were traditionally admitted only in
August. The semester when this questionnaire was given was the first time that new
students were admitted in January. It is for this reason that all the students except those in
first semester were enrolled in even numbered semesters.
Language Learning Background
The following section of the questionnaire was designed to elicit information
about the ways the students have learnt English, the use they give to their L2 and their
own perception of proficiency. Students were asked in the first question of this section to
make a list of all the ways in which they have used, learned or interacted with English
before they started the LI program. They were not given options so they could write as
many different answers as they wanted. The list was highly varied but by identifying key
words in the answers, I constructed fifteen categories to represent the variation in
Questionnaire item B1. Make a list of all the ways in which you have used, learned or
interacted with English prior to entering Lengua Inglesa. (e.g. watched movies in English
as a child, studied in a language school, etc.)
Graph 8: Ways they have learned used or interacted in L2
21 21 19
10 11 12 13 14 15
Media (music, TV., internet, video games, movies)
By myself
Language school
Lived in the USA
Reading (books, magazines, comics)
6. Private lessons (not specific)
7. Public school
8. Talking/Interacting with people/friends who speak English
9. Studying in the USA
10. Traveling USA or visiting relatives
11. Working in the USA
12. Jobs that need English (front desk, answering phone, etc.)
13. Talking to relatives/family
14. Teaching English
15. Bilingual School (any level)
Students on average listed 2.8 answers to this question. The most repeated answer,
as the graphic shows, is the contact students have had with English mass media (TV,
internet) and cultural products (movies and songs). This isn‟t very surprising given the
availability of the media and cultural products in a community about 360 km south of the
USA, their appeal to young generations and the influence of American products in the
world. As one of the respondents said “I grew up watching movies in English, I only hear
music in English, I began to translate the songs, I took English courses and here I am in
LI”. However for some of the students the role music, TV programs and movies had in
their early years was a truly driving force for them to invest in their English learning, the
following extract is from one of the LLH that reinforces this point:
I‟ve been listening to music since I was like 5… Since I loved to sing those songs,
even when I went to sleep, I really wanted to learn what I was singing… I felt
really desperate when I realized that I didn‟t know much about English phrases
and complex sentences... Anyway, I decided there had to be something done, so I
took my English classes in high school very seriously and began paying more
attention to them more than anything else. (s09)
Although the answers with the highest frequencies are those related to acquiring English
though schooling (Categories 3,7 and 9), the answers that are perhaps more interesting
from this data are categories, 8, 10 and 13 with 18, 10 and 13 occurrences each. These
answers inform us about a more „natural‟ and imminent need to acquire English that is
sometimes overlooked when discussing foreign language learning. This context of L2
learning is often characterized by students having no need and use for the language
outside the classroom. One of the students in LI, when talking about his family,
described how when his parents got divorced, his mom went to live to the US and took
his sister who was then five with her. After some time her dominant language became
English. For this student, the need to learn English passed beyond the realm of school and
extended to his family. Learning English became a personal need for this student in order
to reconnect with his sister.
Question B.2 asked students to select from the list they made in the previous question, the
one form of interaction they considered most significant for their learning.
Questionnaire item B2. Which of these experiences was the most significant in learning
English and why?
Graph 9: Most significant way of learning English
6 6
0 0
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Media (music, TV., internet, video games, movies
By myself
Language school
Lived in the USA
Reading (books, magazines, comics)
Private lessons (not specific)
Public school
Talking/Interacting with peoples/friends who speak
9. Studying in the USA
10. Traveling USA or visiting relatives
11. Working in the USA
12. Jobs that need English (front desk, answering phone,
13. Talking to relatives/family
14. Teaching English
15. Bilingual School (any level)
16. Lengua Inglesa
17. All
18. No answer
The distribution of answers matches closely that of the previous diagram except
for number five related with learning by reading magazines, comics and books in general.
Although 21 students mentioned this as a way of learning only one student considered it
the most significant in her learning. This reflects, to some extent, how students see the
nature of language learning and becoming bilingual. Students‟ point of view is that a
person who can only read in her second language in not truly a bilingual. They give more
significance to oral skills than to the written language. However, as we will see later,
when the students talk about their experience in LI they recognize the importance of this
skill for their development as college students and professionals. This might also be the
result of the lower emphasis given to literacy skills in the public education system in
Mexico in comparison to other subjects like mathematics. Similarly, out of the 42
students who mentioned having learned English in public schools, only 6 considered this
experience the most significant one. This reflects among other things the lack of
effectiveness of the public school system in foreign language instruction.. The 6 students
who selected this as the most significant one were enrolled in what is called Capacitación
en Inglés (English training) which is a new option within the public preparatory
education system. This program provides students with four daily hours of instruction in
The responses also serve to put the importance of media in learning English into
perspective. Although, media was by far the most common response to question B1
(mentioned by 89 out of 116 respondents), it is only the third most frequent response
when those respondents are asked to choose the most significant form of learning
English. This is natural because everyone is unavoidably placed in contact with American
media on an almost daily basis, but that media does not have the same effect on everyone.
Items B.3 and B.4 asked students to rate how well they thought they spoke
English in comparison to people who speak English as their mother tongue and to rate
their overall English proficiency.
Questionnaire item B3. Comparing yourself to other people who speak English as their
mother tongue, how well do you think you speak English? (Please circle your answer)
Graph 10: Students comparison of their speaking to native speakers
Much better
About the same
A little worse
Much worse
Questionnaire item B4. Indicate the overall level of your English language proficiency.
Graph 11: Students’ rating of their overall English proficiency
Near Native
It is very likely that the 3 students who rated themselves as much better and better
than native speakers misunderstood the question or were not careful in selecting their
option since no one in the second question rated their English proficiency as native. In
fact, since 93 students in B3 rated themselves either native, near native or better than
native and only 18 respondents to B4 called themselves near native we can assume that
the misunderstanding of B3 was fairly general. However 18 students do perceive
themselves as accomplished bilinguals and rated themselves in B4 as having near native
proficiency. The majority selected „medium‟ as their level of proficiency. It is also
important in terms of how students position themselves as L2 users that 43 students rated
themselves as having a high proficiency in English. This indicates that students show
confidence in their linguistic abilities. Partly this confidence stems from their
educational experiences in the program especially with the linguistic courses they take
that provide them with a greater meta-linguistic awareness. In addition to their courses,
students have confidence in their use of English due to the work opportunities they have
while being students. Students recognize that they are still learning but learning is
enhanced by their own teaching.
At the present time, I‟m teaching English at the Diplomado of Philosophy and
Letters. I began since August, 2006 and it has been a great experience to me
because I have been learning a lot of things with my students. I‟m still learning
about grammar and many other things that I did not notice before. (s25)
In spite of the students‟ overall positive rating of their English proficiency, we can
see in the extracts from the LLH analyzed in chapter 6 of this work that the students‟
language is in many ways deviant from a native norm. Students do recognize their
linguistic shortcoming and limitations since many of them express that they are still
learning or that still have much to learn.
The following item requested students to state their language use apart from their
participation in LI.
Questionnaire item B5. Apart from your classes in Lengua Inglesa, Do you use English
with other people? With whom and/or for what reason?
Graph 12: Students’ English use besides LI
1. Talking to friends (in Mexico or not specific) for fun or
to practice
2. Shopping in the USA
3. Talking to family or relatives (in Mexico or not specific)
4. No
5. Teaching English
6. Talking to foreigners/friends (native speakers or from
different L1)
7. Talking to family or relatives in the USA
8. Working
9. Internet communication
10. Other courses
11. Media or translation (music, TV, internet, reading)
12. Attending church
13. Myself
Many of the students responded that they use English to communicate with family
and friends in Mexico and abroad and with other speakers of English, either L1 English
speakers or speakers with L1 other than Spanish. Another significant use of English for
students is as a language related to their profession or job. Thirty one students chose this
as an option, from these 21 reported they were teaching English (although in a later more
specific question, I found the number is greater) at the moment and 8 others were using
English in other kinds of jobs. After this data was collected I have found that more
students are working now for a company called Teleperformance that functions as a
phone customer service for many different companies in the US and abroad. Many
students in LI are currently working there so the number of students using English on a
daily basis besides LI has considerably increased. Also, although not significant in
number, two students answered that they use English when they attend church. We
should also recognize that there were 21 students who responded that they did not use
much English outside the school context but overall there were 95 students that reported
using English outside the LI community.
Question B.6 asked the students to mention the situations in which they feel most
comfortable using English.
Questionnaire item B.6. In general, are there any situations in which you feel most
comfortable using English? Please explain.
Graph 13: Situations in which students feel most comfortable using English
10 11 12 13 14
1. LI (classes, talking to classmates, teachers)
2. Talking to family, relatives and friends
3. Expressing myself, feelings, using bad words
4. Talking to other L2 speakers
5. Talking to native speakers
6. Writing, reading and translating
7. Watching TV movies , singing songs, etc.
8. Talking about subjects I know about
9. Secret talking, excluding others
10. Teaching and working
11. Informal/Common conversations
12. No
13. No answer
14. Depends/any situation
The most recurrent responses were that they felt most comfortable talking to their
classmates and teachers in the LI program; talking to family relatives and friends; talking
to native speakers and when writing, reading and translating. The students who choose
the first option commented that they felt comfortable using English with their classmates
because they are in the same position as they are, meaning that they are also still learning
English. However this contrasts with the answer of 20 people who responded they felt
most comfortable using English with native speakers. The reasons they gave for this were
as follows: “when speaking with native English speakers because I don‟t feel they are
judging me all the time” or another one who said “I feel more comfortable when I‟m
speaking with my friends from the US than at school because here everybody is
criticizing you”. This was later explained by some students in the focus group from
which I collected the LLH who commented on the difficulties they have had to integrate
and build good rapport with their classmates. Some students felt that their classmates
(perceived by them to be more proficient) were criticizing them all the time when they
participated in class and that they were harsh on their linguistic deficiencies and
communicative problems. This reflects to some extent past experiences of interacting in
a language class in which the focus is the correction of errors. Students feeling more
comfortable interacting with native speakers reflects that people often do succeed in
communicating in a FL in spite of linguistic deficiencies (Firth and Wagner, 1997). L2
users in situations other than a classroom are concentrated in communication and not in
evaluating or monitoring each other‟s speech. The following quote reflects that speaking
in the presence of other Spanish-English bilinguals makes them more uncomfortable than
speaking only with native speakers: “I feel very comfortable using English in every
situation, but when (there) are Spanish speakers that speak English also, it is not very
comfortable”. On the other hand, students recognizing that they feel more comfortable
reading and writing in English shows that the LI program has helped them to develop
their literacy skills in some ways even further than their literacy skills in Spanish. One of
the students acknowledged that he had never read a book before entering the program and
several others said that it was easier for them to express their feelings and opinions in
English. The following two quotes from the answers to the questionnaire reflect this:
“when I read, it is kind of easier for me to read in English than in Spanish, it also
depends on the level of the book”
“I feel most comfortable in writing, throughout the major, the great majority of
essays and written works have been in English, reason for which now I‟ve got
used to it and feel comfortable”.
“sometimes it is easier to express my feelings, sometimes I like to use quotations
from the poem we‟re reading in class. Also words like freak moron, nice, sweet, I
find them less corny and sounding better than their equivalents in Spanish”
The following question asked if students recalled a situation in which they had felt
uncomfortable using English. The most recurrent answer, with 25 coinciding, was simply
„no‟ or „it hasn‟t happened yet‟. There were 12 students who said they had felt
uncomfortable speaking with English NS especially of certain dialects such as AAVE or
people from some areas of Texas. The eight respondents who indicated they felt
uncomfortable with more proficient L2 English speakers also confirm the answers to the
previous question of students that indicated they felt comfortable with people at their
same level. Something worth noting from the previous questions and this question was
that some students used their language abilities to exclude people from conversation on
purpose, like parents. They said that this makes them feel good, in the sense of having a
code of communication that is not transparent to everybody. On the other hand answers
to question B.7 show that they are sensitive to speaking English in front of people who
know less or don‟t know English who can feel uncomfortable when excluded. This shows
that students assess the benefits and drawbacks of their use of their second language with
respect to other interlocutors or over hearers. The rest of the answers are situations
expected to be difficult to L2 learners and users and even to NS such as presenting a topic
in public, dealing with topics they don‟t know much about, phone conversations or when
dealing with a new situations, like the start of their college education. The following
graph summarizes these results.
Questionnaire item B.7: Do you recall a situation in which you felt uncomfortable using
English? Please explain.
Graph 14: Situations in which students have been uncomfortable using
1 1 2 2 2
7 7 6
1 2
2 1 2 2
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
1. Interacting with some native speakers (especially from some
dialects, Texas, AAVE)
2. More proficient English L2 speakers
3. Classmates-Professors
4. People who know less, don‟t know (when excluding others)
5. Other L2 speakers-Spanish L1
6. Relatives
7. People from other nationalities (difficult accents, e.g.
8. Writing
9. Job interviews
10. Difficult topics-Difficulties expressing (poor vocabulary,
making mistakes)
11. Talking in public- Giving presentations
12. Phone conversations
13. Teaching (esp. not knowing something)
14. Beginning of L2 learning
15. Beginning of LI
16. First moved/travel to USA
17. No
18. No answer
19. Don‟t use English outside LI
20. When I get nervous, feel shy
21. At all times
In item B.8 students were asked if they had any difficulties in general using
English, and if they did to explain what these difficulties were.
Questionnaire item B. 8. In general, do you have any difficulties using English? What
are these difficulties? Please Explain.
Graph 15: Difficulties students have using English
9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Vocabulary (expressions, slang, idioms)
Expressing themselves, not being able to explain or
say something
9. Making mistakes
10. Getting used to an accent
11. Understanding/talking to native speakers
12. No
13. Too many
14. Nervousness/ shyness
15. Spelling
16. Translating
Most students reported problems dealing with specific language skills or subskills, with general difficulties in expressing themselves or with feelings of anxiety,
nervousness or shyness. Another difficulty that surfaced had to do with the students‟ lack
of vocabulary, their pronunciation and their understanding of NS. One student in
particular commented that in his work he talks over the phone with Americans and that
when they notice his accent they are sometimes rude to him. On the other hand 22
students reported that they had no difficulties. A student commented “I have no
difficulties using English at all, I love it”. Students also made comments about their
perception that their way of speaking is „too formal‟ in comparison to others (probably
NS) and that they have problems understanding slang words and idiomatic expressions. It
is interesting, however, that sometimes students feel intimidated by the level of English
displayed by classmates in their classes as is the case of the following student who said (I
felt uncomfortable) “sometimes at school because some classmates have very good
English, so I feel that mine is very poor”. Some others, on the contrary, have felt
uncomfortable knowing more than their classmates as this student: (I felt uncomfortable)
“in high school during our English classes because we had to talk all the time in English
but I was embarrassed since my English skills were better than the rest of my group so I
acted as if I could not understand things”. Therefore knowing less is problematic but also
knowing more might also be problematic for many students who want to fit in with
respect to their peers. Something that emerged in the students‟ answers is the issue of
pronunciation. Some students perceive that better pronunciation equals better proficiency,
especially when talking about peers who have lived or studied in the US. The following
quote shows this: “I was uncomfortable talking in English when I entered LI because
some of my classmates studied in the US so they had a native accent and I don‟t”. As we
can see these students confer upon their classmates a „native accent‟ that they might or
might not have but nonetheless they feel at a disadvantage. However, as it was reported
by students in their LLHs, many of the students who had a study abroad experience felt
they had weak literacy skills compared to FL students. This latter group of students
seems to gain more confidence in their skills as they progress in the program. The change
of positioning might be a result of their experience with academic tasks. Students who
have never been abroad can sometimes cope better with academic work than those who
have, even though the latter group is regarded as having native accents.
In question B.9 students were asked if the difficulties they have using English can
be overcome and how. All the students were positive that there were ways in which they
could improve their proficiency and they pointed to some solutions. The graph shows in
general the students‟ comments about what they think they need to do or what has to
happen in order for them to be better L2 users.
Questionnaire item B. 9: Can these difficulties be overcome? How?
Graph 16: How students think they can overcome difficulties
9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
1. Speaking/interacting
2. Reading
3. Writing
4. Listening
5. Practicing
6. Studying/learning
7. Learning more grammar
8. Learning more vocabulary
9. Improving pronunciation
10. Paying more attention to what people saynoticing mistakes
11. Watching TV
12. Internet
13. Attending conferences
14. Gaining self-confidence
15. Living/going
16. Interacting with NS
17. Continuing and finishing LI
18. Yes (no explanation)
19. I don‟t know
20. No answer
Their answers, however, were sometimes very vague as the graph shows. They
only said that they needed to practice more: “of course, by practicing and studying” was a
common answer. Some others were a little bit more concrete as the following student
who reported having difficulties with grammar “Yes, I try everyday learning this
grammar rules, trying to find more and more mistakes that I have so I can correct them”.
There is an expected correlation between the problem most reported by students and one
of the solutions they gave. Students said their lack of vocabulary was a major problem
and in this question one of the most common solutions given was that through reading
they could increase their vocabulary.
Question B.10 asked for their strengths using English. Thirty students reported
that they feel confident writing in English. The following quotes are from students who
commented on their writing skill”
“I am good at writing; reading; understanding; analyzing and translating but not
speaking. I don‟t have problems when I have to write a paper required by a
subject (I understand the structure)”
“If I‟m asked to choose between writing in English or Spanish, I would prefer to
do it in English since I am more familiar.”
Another interesting answer was from a student who stated that it was easy to
understand interactions because she was able to “consider the pragmatic context of the
communicative event” which provides some evidence of her training in sociolinguistics.
Providing answers to a questionnaire is not necessarily part of an academic writing task,
nonetheless students intertwining in their answers comments about the poems they read
and write, terms related to their courses in linguistics, and expressing their strengths in
English in terms like the quote above, provides evidence of the students „ideational
positioning‟ (Ivanič and Camps, 2001). This positioning according to the authors refers
“to the way in which the selection of voice types positions the writer as having particular
ideas, particular views of the world” (p.12). Ivanič and Camps suggest that the use of
certain lexicon gives us an idea of the community membership sought by writers. In this
case using vocabulary in English related to linguistics suggests students see themselves as
participating in a community of language professionals.
Questionnaire item B.10. In general, what are your strengths using English? Please
Graph 17: Students’ strengths using English
10 10
2 1 2 2 1
4 5 3
2 1 2 2 3 2
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
1. Listening/understanding
2. Writing
3. Speaking, communicating,
4. Reading
5. Grammar
6. Pronunciation
7. Fluency
8. Spelling
9. Using new words
10. Using context for understanding
11. Thinking in English
12. Note taking
13. Translating/Interpreting
14. Teaching
15. Self confidence-extroversion
16. Effort/hard work
17. Leaning easily
18. Having lived in the USA
19. Don‟t know
20. None
21. No answer
22. I like/love English
The following quote exemplifies well the positioning of students as users of
English and how this makes them participant of a larger community and gives them
access to resources “you can communicate with almost anyone in the world, a lot of
books are in English and I don‟t have to worry much about them because I know I can
survive with my level of English now”.
Question B.11a asked whether they knew someone who is a role model as a
second language learner for their achievements and to say what makes this person a good
Questionnaire item B. 11. a) Do you know someone who is a good model as a second
language learner for his/her achievements? If yes, please explain what makes this person
a good model for language learning.
Graph 18: People who are good models as L2 learners
1 2
5 4
3 3 2 3 3 4
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
1. Family, relatives, friends
2. Classmates, Ss who graduated
3. Teachers
4. LI professors
5. Others (boss, children, etc)
6. Famous people (actors, etc.)
7. People who have lived abroad
8. People with good language learning abilities
9. People with confidence
10. People who know a lot
11. People who learned in Mexico
12. People who learned on their own
13. No
14. No answer
15. People good at pronunciation
16. People good with vocabulary/grammar
17. Teachers who also learn
18. People with low proficiency who can
accomplish a lot
19. People with native/native like proficiency
20. I don‟t know any
21. People who participate a lot
The answers were difficult to process because some students only answered the
first part of the question, naming a role model but not necessarily specifying so much as
to why. On the other hand some students did not specify a person and only said what
makes a person a good model. The following table shows the answers. Categories 1-5
represent different answers about who for them was a good role model and the rest (6-21)
are about the characteristics of role models without naming the person. From their
answers, we can see that for 19 students, their peers represented good role models as well
as family and teachers. The reasons they gave are that people have good language
learning abilities however they did not specify what were these and some others
mentioned the language skills people have developed such as good grammar, vocabulary
and pronunciation. The following quotes are from students talking about their instructors
and peers in LI being good role models for them:
“One of my classmates is an English teacher and she learns at the same time she is
“One of my (LI) teachers, she is really good in teaching English literature. She
encourages us to know more about the language and more about English and
American culture”
“Some of my teachers are really good models. Because I‟ve realized that they
have very good proficiency in general and they are second language learners and
they do not only speak English but German and French as well.”
The link students make of their own experience and that of their instructors and
peers is important as they engage with the practices of the community. For Wegner
(1998) the role of teachers (or old timers) is to provide learners with a „lived identity‟ and
invite students to engage in the practices of the community “what students need in
developing their own identity is contact with a variety of adults who are willing to invite
them into their adulthood” (p.277). In the case of L2 learners, the invitation is into living
an identity as L2 professionals. Instructors who are L2 users have a powerful influence
on students because they do not only have an institutional role; they also enact their
membership in a community of practice of L2 professionals. In this context students see
that it is as learners that people become educators (Wegner 1998). Furthermore the
following quote talks about another notion of competence often excluded from accounts
of successful L2 speakers.
“Yes I have classmates or friends that even if they don‟t know many things or
have a weird or terrible accent they still talk and communicate. They are good
models because they show me that if you are not perfect at something you still can
do it and mistakes don‟t matter”
This last quote is enlightening because it defines what success and failure is for an
L2 user from a learner‟s perspective. The participant is noting that a good model for her
accomplishments is someone who can talk and communicate and does things even when
they are not perfect. Engagement with other students for this learner has shown him that
mistakes do not matter that much when you are able to participate in the practices of a
Some students mentioned as good role models people who have „only‟ learned
English in Mexico. In general this reflects the expectation that one can only accomplish a
high proficiency by acquiring a language where that language is spoken in the
community. However, I learned from the analysis of the LLHs of chapter 6 that students
who went to study abroad often had difficulties participating in the schools and the
communities in which they were immersed. They understood that their difficulties
interacting with English speakers were partly due to the low proficiency they had in
English. This was contradictory for them because they expected to increase their
language competence by interacting with native speakers but often native speakers
excluded them from practices. Students rarely interpreted the lack of opportunities when
they lived in the USA to something other than their lack of proficiency and fail to
acknowledge aspects of race and class that might have also played a role in their
exclusion. These students, after they returned to Mexico, realized that living/studying
abroad does not always provide an adequate return for their language learning
investment. It is mostly students without experiences like this that take as admirable that
other learners achieve a high proficiency studying „only „ in Mexico.
As important as role models are, they only make a difference in supporting
learners‟ trajectories in so much as they can offer opportunities for identification.
Question B.11b asked students whether they saw themselves as similar or different to
their role models.
Questionnaire item B. 11 b) Are you in someway similar or different to the role model
you have in mind for the previous question?
Graph 19: Students who see themselves as Similar/Different to their role model
Somehow similar
No answer-No
Couldn‟t tell
Very different
As we see in the graphic above, only 42 learners saw themselves as similar or
somehow similar to their roles models. One student said “I always try to do my best and
when I entered LI, I was not a good English speaker but I am getting better and getting
better grades” in a way recognizing that the program has been a way to improve as L2
user. Some students see themselves far from their role model because they recognize they
are still learning. The following student made the following comment in making a
comparison between herself and a LI instructor “Not even close… I try but she is really
impressive I hope one day be like her but it is a long way to go”. This provides evidence
that role models are a source of motivation for students, especially other L2 users because
it gives them a reference point for students to invest in their language learning.
The following graph shows the results obtained from questions B.12 that asked
students to say what the role and significance of English in their lives was. The answers
to this particular question were very difficult to process given the wide range of responses
obtained. More than talking about the number of responses I was able to match with each
category, I want to discuss the nature of the answers provided. Some categories represent
a highly utilitarian perspective on becoming an English L2 speaker that draws on
circulating discourses about English being the „global language‟ that allows people to
have access to many resources. For example students talk about English as opening many
doors for them, giving them access to information and knowledge and as a vehicle to
have access to jobs and income, etc. On the other hand, other kinds of responses were
obtained from people who characterized the role of the language as more personal,
perhaps engaging more their identity:
“It has defined my personality, since I really like it and my whole life turns
around it, I study in English, I teach English, I listen to English music, I read
English books, etc. I know who I am because of English”.
“Well, it is part of my everyday life. I have a work based on it and a school too. I
have always liked it and just now is changing my life”.
We can also see that it is not only a matter of fully embracing a foreign language and
culture or that learning English is only a linked to wanting to become American in some
way. The following quote shows that it is significant as an individual achievement and
that not necessarily students aspire to be part of an American culture:
“I love English since I was a child, and it is something that I have learned here by
myself not living or practicing in the US or other place, and that is something
important to me.”
Questionnaire item B. 12. What is the role and significance that English has had in your
Graph 20: Role and significance of English in their life
17 18
10 11
3 2 3
5 6
1 2
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
English is important/essential/useful in the world
It opens many doors, gives you opportunities
It gives you access to information, knowledge, technology
I choose a major(profession) related and will use it everyday
I love/like it
I can Interact/meet other people (English L1/L2) and learn
about their culture
7. We live in the border with the USA
8. I have had or will have better job opportunities/be
9. It has influenced my personality/given me self confidence
10. I am (or want to be) a teacher-translator
11. English is involved in many aspects of my life
12. I can communicate with friends and people I love
13. Life is easier
14. It helps when you travel
15. I can learn more languages
16. Being bilingual is great, makes you double effective
17. Income source
18. Makes you different
19. Allows you to live in another place
20. Helps you accomplish your goals
21. No answer
There is no reason however to claim that the integrative (more personal) perspective
of English is in anyway better than the instrumental one. Above all the data obtained
from this questionnaire and from the other instruments reflects the interpretive nature of
experiences in learning and using a second language. Students‟ accounts of their
experiences might draw from larger discourses of language that they use when making
sense of their language learning. Students‟ answers and accounts are valuable in that they
help us explore the meaning making of learners as they engage in their practices and
interact in their communities. The role they confer to English in their lives also gives us
an idea of their understanding of their L2 identity that they must negotiate.
In summary, these sections were aimed at exploring the background and the
language learning experiences of LI students. Students‟ answers provided with an
overview of the ways in which they have learned, used and interacted with English and
the most significant for their overall language learning from their point of view. The
answers reflect that learner experiences with and through English are far more varied
than expected for a foreign language context and extend beyond the foreign language
classroom. Students have ties to the English language that implicate them in more
personal and transcendental ways, from having a job that requires them to use English in
providing service to customers to communicating with immediate family members and
relatives. In general, students have a positive perception of their own language
proficiency. This has been reinforced by their experiences in their community and
abroad since almost all of them can talk about situations in which they feel comfortable
using English and point to skills and activities they can do with some degree of
confidence. They recognized also their weaknesses in English but at the same time were
optimistic in finding ways of strengthening their capacities as language users and of
further developing their proficiency. Most of them could talk about a role model as a
second language learner and user and there is evidence that teachers have the opportunity
to inspire students to harness their imagination as participants of a community of L2
professionals. This requires however a joint enterprise and engagement in meaningful
practices in the classroom and outside of it as I will argue in the following chapters.
Finally students talked about the role and significance of English in their lives. For some
it is a vehicle to accomplish their goals “thanks to English I have spread my horizons, it‟s
given me more options of what I want to be” and for some it has both an instrumental
role and an emotional significance “thanks to the fact that I know English I have a good
job and I am able to communicate with the person I love the most, my American nephew
who is 3 years old and doesn‟t speak Spanish at all”.
This section has provided some evidence of how students see themselves as L2
users. There are common characteristics in the student population of LI. Most of them are
at an average college age, females, born in the state and have studied in public schools. If
we take these descriptors, we would characterize the students as foreign language
learners whose opportunities for identity work mediated by their L2 are very limited.
However the data suggests that students contact with the language is far more varied than
what these characteristics suggest. Many students have had intense contact with the
language: through the media (especially music); their education; environment and contact
with English speakers. Many students have studied in language schools or bilingual
schools; some others have studied or lived in the United States for different periods of
time, others have family or relatives who have lived or are currently living in that
country. All these experiences when pursuing a college degree in Mexico instructed in
English gives them different resources to negotiate an identity as L2 users. The students‟
own rating of their speaking ability and overall English proficiency is in general high to
medium. It is very likely that they might be comparing themselves to students in other
programs whose contact with English has been more constrained to a foreign language
classroom. Students whose acquisition of and contact with English has been rather
informal perceive themselves as more confident in their oral skills and are more likely to
feel comfortable having contact with English native speakers. On the other hand students
who have undergone a more formal acquisition and have had less contact with English in
its natural environment have more advanced literacy skills and are more likely to feel
more comfortable dealing with academic English. Yet, they often position themselves as
less confident when interacting with native speakers and feel at a disadvantage with
respect to their peers who have lived abroad and have a „native‟ accent according to their
own perception.
The data found in this section of the instrument also suggests that peers and
instructors are influential role models to other language learners. The reasons why people
regard others as good role models are varied but from a close reading of the answers I
could see that many students regard „accent‟ as something important in role models.
However other answers point to students recognizing that language learners who have
accomplished a lot in often perceived impoverished environments are also important
models. Thus, some students mentioned that people who learned on their own or in
Mexico and have achieved a high proficiency are good models. The following quote
pictures this: “I have classmates who have never lived in the U.S. and still know the same
or much more English than I do”. The following section presents the experiences of
students in the LI program.
The Lengua Inglesa Program
The following section of the questionnaire comprised eighteen questions and it
was designed to explore the students‟ engagement and experiences in the LI program. I
present each question with the results and discussion.
Question C.1 was intended to find what mechanisms operate in making students
acquainted with the LI community. Specifically the question asked how the students first
heard about the program. The graphic shows that there are systematic ways in which the
university promotes its programs: through university fairs, web pages and brochures.
However it is through the reference students get from other people such as friends, family
and relatives and especially through other LI students and English teachers (especially
from LI) that new-comers find out about the program as categories 2, 4 and 8 show.
Questionnaire item C.1. How did you first hear about Lengua Inglesa?
Graph 21: Ways in which students first heard about LI
College fair (ExpoUACH)
Friends, family and/or relatives
Pamphlet, TV, book, newspaper, conference
Through someone who is/was in LI (especially
teachers at the Diplomado)
5. University Web page
6. LI faculty
7. Looking for/researching about university programs
8. English teachers or other teachers
9. Someone who wanted to be in LI
10. Friends in other programs at the FFyL
11. Don‟t remember
As we can see in this graph, option 4 was the most frequent response, the following
quotes illustrate this:
“When I was in Harmon Hall there was a teacher that was student of Lengua
Inglesa, he told me that this career was very good, that I should enter”
“I studied at the diplomado and they told me it was a nice option”
“When I was in the diplomado I asked my teacher what she had studied and she
told me Lengua Inglesa and explained what was Lengua Inglesa about”
When asked about the reasons for choosing this program, fifty seven students
claimed that they chose it because it involved English. They liked the idea of a program
that used English as medium of instruction because it provided them with an
opportunity to learn and practice their English. Another important reason was they were
attracted to the most widely spread job opportunity the program offers: that of language
teacher. Students in general considered LI as a good option given their previous
involvement with the language. One aspect that stands out from the answers given to this
question is that students seem to display great agency in their choices. A few students
were neutral and said that since they already knew English they thought that LI was a
good option. They seemed to simply take advantage of what they already knew. This kind
of answer indicates more a response to the environment rather than something planned
and set as an objective. The majority of the responses were, however, that they chose this
program because they really like the language and they wanted to improve or study
something that provided further development in their English learning. These two
answers contrast in the level of involvement of the students in the decisions they have
made with respect to their L2.
Questionnaire item C.2. Why did you choose to study Lengua Inglesa?
Graph 22: Reasons students give for choosing LI
1. I took the English specialization in preparatory
2. I like English/languages, It is interesting, I like American
culture, I wanted something that involved English, or
where I could practice my English
3. I like or want to be an English teacher (or teacher)
4. I like or want to be a translator
5. I didn‟t get into another program
6. I liked the LI profile (perfil de egreso)
7. It was a good option, good future, good jobs, useful
8. I liked the curriculum, courses, schedule
9. Math is not included
10. I‟m good at English, easy for me, I already knew
English, suitable for me
11. By chance, not sure why
12. I was coerced
13. I lived in the US for long
14. I wanted to communicate with other English speakers
(esp. relatives)
The following extract shows the level of personal involvement of students with
their second language:
“Because it had the two subjects I love: literature and English. Also I have grown
with English, it is an important part of my life”
The answers to this question suggest also that contact with people from the
program influenced students‟ desire to become part of this community. Many students
say they liked the graduates‟ profiles. For example the following students talks about her
English teacher in preparatory who was a graduate from LI.
“Because my English teacher in preparatory was very unique and I like English
very much”.
Furthermore it is through contact with members of the community that students realize
that the program offers varied opportunities for them to develop as language
“Because there are a lot of things to do, I mean I can be so many things and work
in several projects at the same time”
The following question presented some problems in terms of its ambiguous
interpretation. I asked the students in this item whether someone had influenced their
decision to study LI. It was originally intended to see if students had been inspired by
someone to make this career choice. „Inspire‟ could have been a more transparent choice
of wording for the question. However the way the question was written made students
think that answering affirmatively to the question meant that they had been in a way
„coerced‟ to make the choice of joining this program. Some students responded in the
following way “No, it was my own decision” and “No, I think I am here because I chose
to be here”. On the other hand some answers were more in line with the intention of the
question “my dad and one of my high school teachers. My dad described the program as
the perfect career and my teacher made me see myself in her somehow, she changed my
view of English teachers, she was so good at teaching, she made me think more seriously
about the major”.
Students‟ responses, both affirmative and negative, reflect that students see
themselves as agents exercising their will in making their own choices.
Questionnaire item C.3. Did anybody influence your decision of studying in this
program? If so, who? Please explain
Graph 23: People who influenced students’ decision of studying LI
My mom, my father, sister, husband
Diplomado teachers
English teacher
No answer
Someone who was in LI
The need to improve my English
Nonetheless their answers suggest that their desire to enter this community was in
many ways inspired by members and their practices. Teachers who graduated from the
program as well as students working in the community exert a positive influence on
newcomers in attracting their attention to the possibilities offered by the program.
The students who reported that their decision to join the program was not influenced
by anyone in the previous question because the question itself fails to tap this influence,
were provided another opportunity to discuss influences by the following question.
Question C.4 asked students to state if they knew someone who was or had studied in LI
before they entered the program. Almost half of the students answered affirmatively, at
least indicating to some extent that they might have obtained some references from
people directly involved in the LI program. The students reported they knew some
English teachers, relatives, friends and faculty members who are or had been in the
Questionnaire item C.4. Did you know anybody who was studying or had studied in
Lengua Inglesa BEFORE you entered this program? If so Who?
Graph 24: Students who already knew someone studying LI
The data from following question also proved one of the most difficult to process and
to summarize. It asked the students to state whether classes in LI were different from
their previous educational experiences or not and how. The answers were highly variable
and I had to write 24 different categories. Only one person answered that the program
wasn‟t different. On the other hand the most recurrent response pointed to the obvious:
the language of instruction. The answer is obvious but the explanations students give are
interesting in terms of what it means to them being instructed in English in their own
country. As they said “of course it is different, I‟ve been studying all my life here in
Spanish, when I entered here everything was in English, totally different”. They further
point out that, for them, it is like getting involved in a „different social environment‟ that
poses a double challenge. Moreover students mentioned that they were not only learning
English but also through English, pointing to the fact that they are receiving content
instruction. Some other differences mentioned were that the classes are not only about
theory but about developing skills and engaging in „real life‟ practices; that they have the
freedom to express their point of view and debate with others; that it is a smaller
community and teachers are supportive and that there is an intense interaction in the
classes and that they have to participate a lot and express their views.
Questionnaire item C.5 Are your classes in Lengua Inglesa different from your previous
educational experiences? How?
Graph 25: Differences between LI and previous educational experiences
11 10
6 5
3 3
1 2 1 1 1 2 1 1
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
Yes, all/most classes are in English
I learn something through English
I learn English at a „deeper‟ level not just grammar
Classes and teachers are more strict/more demanding
Classes and teachers are more professional/better
There is more homework
There is more literature
8. We read a lot more
9. We write a lot more
10. All classes are related, specialized, focused on professional
11. There are many things I did not know
12. I learn things I can apply and put into use
13. More interaction/discussions/express points of view/more
14. There‟s a lot of theory
15. Classes/environment more relaxed
16. Classes are more personalized/smaller
17. Classes are constructivist
18. Classes were more complete don‟t cover my expectations
19. More variety
20. Teachers in the US are native here some T‟s pronunciation is
not very good
21. Some are but not all
22. Yes (didn‟t say how) or everything is different
23. No
24. No answer
Question C. 6 asked whether there is something different about LI from other majors
at the university besides the language of instruction. There are obvious differences the
students pointed out such as the content of courses, the structure of the curriculum,
schedule, and system. However one of the major differences students saw with other
programs is the amount of work the LI program requires as this student said “we have too
much homework while others are free all the time WE HAVE NO SOCIAL LIFE, but
anyway I think we will be well prepared in future” (capitals as in the original). Other
differences they noted was the close relationship they develop with their instructors and
classmates; that they had freedom to decide on their own opinions, and that they had job
opportunities while being students. A student commented that “we are encouraged to
think not only to learn what it has already been said, thought or written” (underlined as in
Questionnaire item C. 6.Is there anything about Lengua Inglesa (apart from the language
of instruction) that is different from other majors at the UACH?
Graph 26: Differences between LI and other university programs
9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
1. Courses (content, focus, no core courses), program schedule,
2. Teachers style, T are more committed, more strict, more
3. Classes/school environment, more closeness, fewer Ss
4. More homework/work, exams, projects, it is tougher
5. More reading/writing
6. Program is misunderstood or not well known
7. More opportunities of finding a job
8. We apply our knowledge, develop more skills as presenters,
researchers, writers, etc.
9. We have to think, express our opinions, discuss, open our
10. We learn not the language but about the language
11. We don‟t have enough material (bibliography)
12. In other programs Ss are less motivated
13. In other programs SS are more motivated
14. This program is not so demanding
15. We always have classes
16. Everything
17. I don‟t know
18. No answer
19. No difference
Question C.7 was formulated around three related issues. It asked students to
think about what they expected the program to be like, what they thought they were going
to do in the program and what they thought their future was going to be like before
entering the program. This was a complex group of questions that was difficult for the
students. They only retained the first part of the question and neglected or overlooked the
other two. Those who responded to the third part of the question answered in terms of
what they expect to do in the future now and did not think about their past expectations. I
decided to disregard the information on their expectations for the future because that was
included in another question. The answers to the two first questions were combined into a
list of categories. These responses were interesting because in their responses students
seemed to have brought opposite expectations. For example some students thought it was
going to be easier while others thought it was going to be more difficult to study in this
program. This correlates well with their perceived level of English from higher to lower
respectively. Also those who thought it was going to be easier, also thought that the
program was mainly about learning English. As one student said “I expected the
traditional „verb to be‟ and things like that”. It was interesting also that some students
said that they didn‟t expect it to be so much fun and interesting. There were also some
answers that pointed to unmet expectations concerning the content of courses, activities
and instructors and their own development as language learners. Some students had the
expectation that after four years and a half of receiving content instruction in English
their proficiency in the language would be close to a native like proficiency. As we will
see in a later question that asked students to state how much English they had learnt since
they started the program, many students recognize they have all improved in some way.
But attaining a native like proficiency or sounding native is not the goal of the program
nor is realistic for many students given their learning background in terms of age of on-
set, aptitude, etc. This however contrasts with the abilities and competencies they do
acknowledge they have acquired as a result of being in the program.
Questionnaire item C7. What were you expecting the Lengua Inglesa program to be like
before you began? What did you expect to do in the major? What did you expect your
future as a graduate to be?
Graph 27: What students expected from LI before entering the program
5 5
9 9
6 6
2 1
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
1. To be easier
2. To be more difficult
3. To improve/practice my English (skills, knowledge,
4. To be just like a language school
5. Not to be fun/interesting
6. To be better/more classes/more students etc.
7. Not to have so much literature
8. To learn about literature
9. To learn about teaching
10. To learn about translation
11. To read and write a lot
12. Not to read and write that much
13. Less pressure/work/stress
14. To be more active, interact more
15. To have different/better teachers
16. To become a better person/student
17. To travel a lot
18. To be just the way it is (it met my expectations)
19. I didn‟t know what to expect
20. No answer
Item C.8 asked students if their idea of the program had changed since they became
students and how.
Questionnaire item C.8. Has your idea of what the program is changed since you became
a student? How?
From the students who stated that there were changes we have the following quotes:
“Yes, because some of the subjects like sociolinguistics, phonetics,
psycholinguistics I had no idea of what they really study. At the beginning I didn‟t
understand the purpose of the subjects, but now I‟m in 6th grade I understand
everything better I like the subjects”
“In a way I thought of myself when graduating as being a teacher but now I see
myself more successful and to try out more things instead of just being a teacher”
“Because at the beginning I didn‟t understand the purpose of several subjects.
Now I see how all of them are useful and important for professional future”
There are two important ideas in the responses presented above. On one hand the
students do not always come into the program with a clear idea of what they are being
prepared for. In general terms they know they can be English teachers and translators but
they do not know what this involves. They are not aware of what their learning is leading
to and they do not understand the purpose of several of the classes they take until later in
the program. The second quote on the other hand suggests that learners extend the range
of possible trajectories as they progress in their courses.
Students were asked in question C.9 whether they thought their classmates from
their generation had affected their development as students and if they had affected their
ideas about the program. The intention of the word „affect‟ in this item was to see if they
saw students having an „effect‟ upon them in some way. However many students took the
questions to mean only as if their classmates had interfered with their development in
some way, thus bringing a negative connotation. This could have been avoided by
rephrasing the question to say something like “do you think your classmates have had an
effect on your development?” This wording could have resulted in a more neutral
interpretation. The answers obtained to this question do not have value in terms of the
numerical answers that could be matched to the categories. From the 44 negative
responses, I cannot discriminate from the ones that thought that their development has
been independent from their classmates or the ones that thought their classmates haven‟t
interfered with their development. However, those that did respond in an affirmative way,
I could then distinguish from the ones who thought of a negative or a positive effect.
The following graph shows just the numbers in terms of a yes/no response to the
Questionnaire item C.9. Do you think your classmates from your generation have
affected your development as a student of Lengua Inglesa and your ideas about the
Graph 28: Students who feel their peers have affected their development
The following chart however shows the distribution in terms of the „positive/negative
influence‟ from their classmates. With in the positive responses, the data shows that peers
serve as inspiration/motivation and as source of opportunities for learning (English,
content, culture, experiences, etc.)
Questionnaire item C.9 (continued) How?
Graph 29: Ways in which peers have been a positive influence
1. They increase my motivation
2. I learn from them
3. They give me a better vision of LI and the
opportunities I can have
4. They‟ve made me more responsible
5. They provide points of view, ideas, experiences
6. They provide support in different ways
7. They correct mistakes and provide criticism
8. They help to me to develop as a student and person
9. They build a good atmosphere/environment
10. Positively (not specific)
On the other hand students see that peers with low motivation and interest in the program
can have a negative influence in their learning and on the other that they can be harsh in
their way of looking at others‟ performance as students and English speakers.
Questionnaire item C.9 (continued) How?
Graph 30: Ways in which peers have been a negative influence
1. They are sarcastic and make
2. They are noisy and talk a lot
3. They speak Spanish
4. Their English level is lower
5. They don‟t like what I like
6. They are lazy
7. They don‟t take things seriously
The following question had the same problem as the previous one in terms of the way it
was written and interpreted. It contained the word „affect‟ but in this item it referred to
students from other generations. Seventy eight students responded that they did not think
they had been „affected‟ by students in other generations.
Questionnaire item C.10.Have your ideas about Lengua Inglesa been affected by students
from other generations?
Graph 31: Ss who think they have been affected by students from other
From the ones that responded affirmatively the answers were then divided between those
that perceived that they have had a positive and a negative influence from other students
who were further advanced or who had graduated from the program. The following chart
shows that the role of more advanced students/graduates is to encourage beginners to
continue in the program and to expand their vision of the opportunities they could have.
Graph 32: Positive influences from students of other generations
1. They make us more interested by showing their projects
2. We can see they have fulfilled their goals
3. They say good things about LI
4. Their English is better
5. The encourage us to get where they are
6. They say the program is really fun and that it gets better
7. The say they really liked the program
8. The encourage us to continue
9. They transmit energy and will to study more
10. They make me see more opportunities I can have
11. Did not specify
The negative influences are mostly about the perception that the program was
better; that students‟ performance was better, and about the more constrained job
opportunities for graduates now than in the past.
Graph 33: Negative influences from students of other generations
1. They say the program used to be better
2. The used to be more dedicated
3.The say it is very difficult, there is a lot of work
4. The say it is no longer easy to get a job
5.They mostly work at the Diplomado
Question C. 11 was about students stating what they liked the most about the program.
The answers were also varied and reflect students‟ preferences but there are noticeable
convergences their comments that also reflect what the students as a community see
themselves doing; think they are becoming; and the kinds of projections they make of
their future. One of the things they like the most about the program is to have the
opportunity to use English everyday in order to express their ideas and to learn new
“To speak English everyday and in almost every subject is what I like the most”
“That the classes are taught in English and that we get to talk a lot”
“Some classes are really good and have made a huge impact on me, since my
interest in English has increased; also some of the courses are excellent”
They mentioned that they like the idea of being instructed in English in their own country
as the following students who said he liked “to be here in my country and be able to study
a language that I will later use in other places”. One of the aspects of the program that
was mentioned by several students was the cultural component in the courses, especially
literature and the activities in which they can use their creativity and express who they
are through English:
“Very cultural major, it gives us a very nice cultural awareness of our world and
of previous times”
“Literature classes and writing classes, those classes where you use your creativity
to produce writings”
“That I‟ve been able to do things I never imagined I could do such as writing a
book of poems”
“I like that I am not just going to be another person with a major, but I am going
to be different from the rest”
The above comments illustrate the kinds of activities that students appreciate the most
such as writing a book of poems and writings in which they use their creativity as they
see themselves doing things they never imagined they could do. Furthermore, they see
the things they can accomplish in a supportive environment as the following quote
suggests “I like the fact that everyone in my classroom is supportive and get along well
and also the fact that teachers try to open more doors and opportunities for the students”.
It is interesting that the students see themselves as being different from the rest, given the
value they confer on English and the advantage this gives them as professionals. Many
students appreciate the prospective work opportunities that they see the program offers to
them and mentioned that they feel they are being prepared to become „very good English
Questionnaire item C.11 What do you like to most about studying in Lengua Inglesa?
Graph 34: What students like the most about studying in LI
10 10
10 11 12 13 14 15
1. Practicing/using/improving my English
2. Studying in English (in Mexico)
3. Classes, especially literature, TEFL and linguistics
4. Skills I have developed/activities projects
5. Professors
6. Classmates
7. Environment
8. Learning new things every day
9. Learning a new culture, humanistic content
10. The program, everything
11. That we can express our ideas
12. Opportunities we have (present and future)
13. Schedule/location
14. Extra curricular activities
15. No answer
The following question asked the students to state what they disliked the most about LI.
For this question the students expressed very strongly their ideas and feeling in relation to
some instructors in the program. This can be partially explained by the unstable situation
the program went through for some period of time when these students were enrolled in
it. At the time of applying the questionnaire, three full time professors in the program
were away on scholarships to pursue PhD degrees. Moreover another full-time professor
was on a maternity leave of absence. Considering that this was the time when the
program began to have new admissions every semester, this posed additional problems
with the availability of professors. The full time professors who were absent were
responsible for instructing an average of 8 to 10 different courses each per year. This
meant that there were certain times when around 30 courses had new instructors. In many
cases this generated lots of problems in maintaining teaching standards and quality of
instruction. The responses students gave to this question are a reflection of this situation.
Students disliked some teachers and consequently some classes as is reflected in this
graph. This contrasts with the previous question in which some students said that they
really liked some of the instructors and all or any of the classes instructed by them.
Questionnaire item C.12. What do you dislike the most about studying in Lengua
Graph 35: What students dislike the most about LI
9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
1. Some students
2. Some teachers
3. Some classes
4. Too much HW/reading/writing/time consuming
5. Not understanding some things
6. Small community
7. Spanish classes
8. I‟m not as good as I‟d like
9. Exams
10. Too hard
11. No scholarships
12. Schedule
13. School facilities
14. Other people‟s perception about LI
15. Nothing
16. No answer
Some of the most noticeable responses were that they disliked some classes, some
teachers, some classmates and the amount of work required. The fact that students
complain about the amount of work they have to do for their courses contrasts however
with students mentioning that they feel they will be prepared for demanding tasks once
they leave the program. It is common that while studying, students feel frustrated by the
demands but later recognize that the amount of work was necessary for their preparation
as professionals. Another answer that emerged out of this question and in previous ones
was that some students feel some degree of frustration regarding the perception of other
people outside the program who misunderstand its purpose and objectives and the
academic profile of graduates. As this student said that she dislikes “that other people
mocks my major saying it is useless and we have no future, but they‟ll see”, showing that
although she resents the perception of others she has confidence in what she is doing and
accomplishing through the program.
Item C.13 asked the students to say what classes have had the greatest influence in their
development as future professionals and why. The graph shows the classes the students
mentioned as having the most impact on them. Some of the reasons for their choice are
listed after the graph.
Questionnaire item C. 13. What classes have influenced you the most in your
development as a future professional? Why?
Graph 36: Classes that have greater influence in students’ development
29 26
22 21
3 3 4 2 2 1 2 4
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
1. Grammar
2. Text analysis and interpretation (essays, short stories,
novel and poetry)
3. Linguistics/Applied Linguistics
4. Research Methodology
5. Speech and debate/Topic discussion
6. Literature
7. Writing courses
9. Translation
10. History
11. Español and readcción (Spanish and writing
composition in Spanish)
12. Classes in which we have to do oral presentations
13. All of them
14. I don‟t know yet
15. No answer
16. Classes in which we write essays, projects, poems
17. (all) Classes with some specific instructor
One important thing to keep in mind when reading these answers is that students
responded according to the classes they had taken up to the semester they were enrolled
in at the time of the survey. Students in the last semesters could mention from the range
of classes they had taken which is obviously wider than that of those students in the first
semester of the program. Nonetheless the graph shows the classes that at some point in
their progression through the program have been most significant to the students. Some
of the reasons students gave for choosing these classes are: because they like the
teachers‟ styles and kinds of instruction, the classes offer a different perspective, they
acquire knowledge and skills they see as useful/important to their profession, because
they are motivating, among other reasons. Additionally the students commented on some
classes in which they do the kinds of things they would like doing in the future. Thus,
these classes match in some ways the kinds of imagined communities of students. This
can be seen in the following quotes from their answers:
“Research methodology, interpretation of essays, I dream of being a writer and
researcher so this classes have helped me a lot”
“Interpretation of essays, I‟d like to work in a publishing house or something like
“Literature and interpretation. They are helping me to see how I want to be as a
teacher and how I can manage a really good analysis class”
Question 14 asked whether the students‟ interaction with instructors had increased
their confidence as future language professionals and how.
Questionnaire item C. 14.Has your contact with instructors increased your confidence as
future language professional? If so how?
Eighty seven students answered positively to this question whereas twenty-three
did not perceive that their confidence had increased as a result with their contact with
professors. These are some of their responses:
They talk to you about their experience and how beautiful is the major
You get good ideas by observing teachers
I have their support.
I see them all happy doing what they like
Some are really special to me I see myself like them in the future and that helps
me to try to be better everyday
They encourage me to continue study and also I can see that I can study a master
They have helped me through their actions and their teaching how a teacher
should transmit their knowledge
If they can do it, why not me
I believe that I can become one of them their knowledge is inspiring
Now I have an idea of how I would like to teach others in a much more confident
You realize the many things you can achieve by being a student
Teachers seem to trust you this makes you believe in yourself and reach for higher
I can see an example to follow
It is the only moment I can have a conversation with someone.
They make me see how much I can do after I finish this program.
They show me that teaching can be very rewarding
I see how important they are that I would like to be like them
They can show that we can do great things with this major
I‟ve seen beginner teachers and they become experts so I see that with practice
you can be good
They are models and I want to be like them.
All of these answers point to the role instructors play in offering students ways of
engaging their imagination. The work of Wenger (1998) contends that education should
not only aim at providing skills and subject content to learners but also “education in its
deepest sense and at whatever age it takes place, concerns the opening of identities –
exploring new ways of being that lie beyond our current state”. As such education, he
contends, gives learners with a sense of possible trajectories thus engaging their
imagination by exploring „who they are, who they are not and who they could be”
(p.272). Similarly, in the following question students responded whether extracurricular
activities were considered important in their development as future professionals.
Questionnaire item C.15.Are there any extracurricular activities in which you can get
involved (participation in conferences, newspaper publications, etc.) that you consider
important to your development as a future professional? If yes, please explain.
The most salient answer was that „conferences‟ were important for their development.
Many students specifically referred to one that had taken place a week before the
questionnaire was applied. They said conferences were important because they provided
“updated and important information that helped them to know more about their field” and
that they “helped you to create an idea of the real world, to see where you want to be and
to be noted by other people. Similarly, the second activity mentioned was publications.
Students referred to the newspaper Sunday section the program had for some years and
said that “I liked to see my essays published in the newspaper” and that “they
(publications) reflect who I am and my style and the things I am interested in”.
Item C.16 inquired about the ways in which professionals from LI were different
from other people who do similar jobs.
Questionnaire item C. 16. In what ways are professionals who graduate from Lengua
Inglesa different from other professionals who do similar jobs?
In this case the question was intended to see the comparison they made of their profile in
comparison to teachers of English from the state school of education and other people
who do related jobs without necessarily having a specific training as happens with some
English teachers in the community. Among the answers they gave were: that LI
professionals are more prepared; they have more varied job opportunities, that they not
only develop the practices but they can articulate the theories behind them; that they are
aware of students‟ needs and can handle problems. In general students show confidence
in their responses that they are being prepared to join a community of language
professionals. They comment on their contact with English teachers in their previous
education and see that they are acquiring the skills to do a better job in teaching English
as a foreign language. They comment that they are not only gaining proficiency in the
language but that their methodology and cultural background is better than that of some
of the teachers they had contact with. They also comment that they see themselves as
having more opportunities and more options when they graduate.
Questions C.17 and C. 18 of section C, on their perceptions and experiences in the LI
program, asked them to rate how much English they had learnt as students in the program
and how well they thought they spoke English compared to their classmates. The
following graphs show the results.
Questionnaire item C. 17. In general how much English have your learnt since you have
been a student here? (Please circle)
Graph 37: How much English students think they have learnt since they
began LI
6 21
A lot
A little
Questionnaire item C. Comparing yourself to other people in your class in Lengua
Inglesa, how well do you think you speak English?
Graph 38: How well students think they speak compared to their peers
Much better
About the same
A little worse
Much worse
No answer
These graphs show that the majority of students perceived that their proficiency
had improved with their participation and engagement in the program and that they show
confidence in their speaking abilities in comparison to their own peers.
This section of the questionnaire explored some of the mechanisms present in
getting students first connected to the program. The data shows that recommendations
and suggestions given by other members and people close to the community as well as
interaction with professionals in the area, e.g. other language instructors, are fundamental
processes to attract newcomers. In addition, in the reasons students express for choosing
this program, there is evidence that English had been important to them in their lives in
different ways, as they manifested in previous questions, and that some of them saw the
program as a way of continuing and expanding their experience with and through the
language in ways consistent with their dreams and objectives. Nonetheless, not all of
them seem to have the same enthusiasm for their participation in this community. This is
normal in any community of practice since all communities grant different degrees of
involvement and participation.
When students were asked if their career choice had been influenced by someone,
many responded negatively, due in part to the phrasing of the question. The word
„influence‟ made them think that they were asked if someone had in a way coerced them
in their option. Nonetheless their responses to the following question in a way provide
evidence that the power of networks in spreading the influence of the community is
important, as many of them reported knowing someone linked to the community previous
to their entrance.
Many students also expressed that their experiences in this educational
community were unlike their previous ones, mainly because of the language of
instruction, „which makes a huge difference‟, as they reported, on how to develop as a
student and engaging in learning of diverse class contents. As we will see later in the
LLHs of students, many of them initially struggle to position themselves as competent
students in their second language, but through the help of their peers, classes, instructors
and the activities they engage in, many of them manage to overcome initial difficulties.
Moreover students remark that unlike their previous education in LI they read and write a
lot more and that in classes there is much more interaction among students and instructors
and they are expected to continuously participate and engage in class discussions.
Another finding from this section was that students perceive that many other
programs are in a way easier than theirs in terms of the amount of work required from
them outside school. Again many students commented that most of their classes require
them to read and write a great deal and that they almost had no free time left. To some
extent this is something planned within the curriculum; as it is a mechanism to provide
students with opportunities to develop in their second language; to acquire more
vocabulary and express their ideas through their writing of assignments and projects.
The program does an overall good job in meeting students‟ expectations;
however expectations are often contradictory among students. Some expected the
program to be easier given their proficiency in English and found it difficult since the
program is not intended to just train them in English. But as in any other program the
difficulty lies in coping with the content of courses and the academic demands of
university programs. On the other hand, students with a low level of English but with
good academic skills expected the program to be really difficult and have found that they
are given enough support to overcome their language problems. In addition, although the
students had an idea of the program‟s objective, many did not know what the program
was like and especially in their first semesters they did not know the purpose of many of
their courses. As they progress they start to see connections among their courses and how
they build into each other providing them with skills, knowledge and in general
competencies as language professionals.
In spite of the difficulties with the wording used in questions concerning
students‟ perception of the role of peers and old timers in the students‟ development,
several students recognized the influence these have on their own learning in both
positive and negative ways. Some found in their classmates and students from other
generations a source of motivation to improve and continue in the program, while other
felt that students with low enthusiasm and commitment were holding them back.
When asked what they liked the most about the program, learners placed great
importance on using their L2 as a medium of instruction, recognizing they have been
both improving their language skills and acquiring new knowledge/skills in different
areas. On the other hand, some students commented strongly that they disliked some of
their instructors. To some degree, this might be explained by the fact that previous to the
collection of this data, there had been several new instructors, many of whom did not stay
in the program.
The classes that seemed to be most influential on the students were those in which
they engaged in activities like the ones they hope to continue practicing in their future. In
these courses, they saw that the kinds of activities they engage in connect them to the
world „out there‟ and engage them in practices directed to build on their identity. These
identities are related to a community of English teachers, translators or writers. Finally,
most of them acknowledge that they have advanced in their language proficiency since
they have been in the LI program and they see the members of their community with
potential for a successful career. This section has explored learners‟ experiences in the LI
program and has provided evidence that students consider their second language learning
and experiences tied to their career choice and tied to their identity. Penuel and Wertsch
(1995) explore Erickson‟s ideas on identity formation. They stress how ideologies
provide a foundation for youth to project their future. Their choice of occupational goals
grounds their projection in actuality and for Erickson a choice of career provides
continuity and a way to explore potential identities that grant individuals a way to pursue
their desires. Individuals seek to recognize themselves and be recognized by others as
having a genuine potential for success (p.88). In the case of the LI community, students
have organized and interpreted their experiences of learning a second language consistent
with prevalent ideologies about the status and role of English as a world language. Within
this ideology they pursue their own purposes and interests that materialize when they
choose to study a program that gives continuity to the way they understand who they are
and who they want to be. In this section, there was evidence of this in the way many
students talk about the reasons they had for choosing this program and how they see
themselves compared with other majors and other professionals. In general students
perceive Lengua Inglesa professionals as having many opportunities in their country and
outside of it and perceive themselves as having a genuine potential for success.
Section D of the questionnaire was concerned with students‟ current employment
and its relationship with their education. Item D.1 asked whether they were currently
employed. The results were as follows:
Questionnaire item D.1. 1. a) Are you currently employed?
Graph 39: Students who were employed
No answer
From the 59 students who were at the moment employed, thirty-one were working
already as English instructors or tutors, 2 were working in translation, 4 as customer
service representatives for diverse companies and one in a hotel front desk. All of these
jobs required them to use their L2. The rest of the students were working in jobs not
necessarily connected to their identity as L2 users.
Moreover, sections c and d of this question asked students to explain the
relationship between their job and their school. In general, students whose job requires
English and especially those working as teachers of English see that their studies
contributed to their job and vice versa. Comments regarding this relationship were
similar to the following “It has contributed because I can apply the knowledge I have
learned in the major” and by the same token the situations that they encounter in their
jobs have helped them to direct their learning efforts and have make them take their
studies more seriously. Their job, according to their reports contributes to their studies in
being a source of motivation to learn more and in giving them confidence in their skills.
On the other hand, they also see there is some interference between their jobs and their
studies due to time constraints. Some mentioned that having the job opportunities they
have had as a result of being in the program has constrained the time they have available
to complete all their homework assignments and preparation for their classes.
In section E of the questionnaire students were asked to talk about the opportunities they
thought they could have in the future and to state what their goals for their future were.
Questionnaire item E.1. In general, what are the employment or further academic
opportunities for graduates of Lengua Inglesa ? (please make a detailed list of all those
opportunities that you think are available for Lengua Inglesa graduates)
Questionnaire item E.2. What are your career/professional goals after graduation? Please
explain reasons for your choice.
Questionnaire item E.3. What job would you like to have in the future?
Teachers of English at different levels and in different contexts
Access to graduate degrees in similar or related areas
Jobs in Tourism
Jobs related with an embassy and international relations
Opening our own business related with language teaching and translating
Training in general
Teacher training
Working in the media
Program coordinator
In general students mention jobs and academic opportunities that are consistent
with what they learn in the LI program. Learners also recognize that even if it is not clear
what other opportunities they could have, they recognize the role of language in society
and especially of English in their community and state that they could work “almost
everywhere” and “anywhere English is required”. When students explained their goals
after graduation they chose from the options they explained in the previous question.
Many of them talked about pursuing a higher academic degree because they think “that
nowadays just a bachelor degree is not enough” and they see LI as granting them access
to more options to continue their education since they can do it in „Mexico or abroad‟.
They also specified the kind of context they would like to work in, such as teaching
English to immigrants, working with children, designing school curriculum or involved
with language policies. Furthermore they perceive that the program would help them in
achieving their goals in life. The following item asked students about this:
Questionnaire item E.4. In general, Do you think this program will help you to achieve
your goals in life?
The overwhelming majority except for one student who answered „maybe‟
responded affirmatively to this question. This provides evidence of the confidence they
have in what they are doing in this academic community and its link to their future goals
and objectives.
Finally 1uestion E.5 asked students to rate graduates from LI in comparison to other
people who do similar jobs. Most students rated people from this program as being much
better or at least better than others.
Questionnaire item E.5. Compared to other professionals with similar training, how
would your rate graduates from Lengua Inglesa?
Graph 40: Students’ comparison of graduates from LI to similar
3 11
About the
A little
In conducting this study I intended to investigate the role of educational
experiences, of graduates, larger discourses and instructors in the formation of positive
L2 identities and imagined communities. Although the data in other chapters provides
more in depth information and details for exploring some of these issues, the results of
this questionnaire provide some indication as to what factors seem to contribute the most.
The data suggests that former students and graduates from the program play a significant
role in attracting new students. Graduates from LI who are working in the community
represent for many of the new students the first contact they have with the program.
However, it seems that the kinds of activities, the courses and the role of instructors play
in general a more significant role in their construction of an identity as L2 users and
professionals. The courses students considered most significant in their development as
future professions were those they saw as preparing them for the kinds of things they see
themselves doing in the future such as TEFL methodology and translation. Nonetheless,
writing and literature courses seem to have also great impact on the students‟
development as L2 users and professionals as they seem to provide students with
opportunities to express who they are and who they want to be. For example many
students mentioned their poetry class as important in their development in the program.
Students‟ writing their own poems is not only an academic tasks that involves students
cognitively and linguistically but also a social and cultural activity that gives confidence
to students in their abilities as L2 users (Johnson and Roen, 1989).
Students envision for themselves a good future given their experience in the program. On
one hand the program offers them a continuation of their previous educational
experiences through which they had already accrued some linguistic capital. Students
enter the program with the idea that they are going to expand and invest more on that
linguistic and cultural capital and often expect the program to be easy for them. However
most of them recognize that the level of involvement in the classes and the amount of
work the program requires is not what they first expected. Nonetheless they see that the
demands and the amount of work they do is going to make them more prepared for their
future. The following chapter expands on some of the ideas pursued in this chapter with
a more detailed account of the students‟ experiences as they were expressed in the LLHs
of a focus group.
“The environment in which we develop reflects what we know and even our
dreams are molded according to the knowledge that we gain”
( Lengua Inglesa student)
“Identity: a way of talking about how learning changes who we are and creates
personal histories of becoming in the context of our communities”
Etienne Wenger in Communities of practice, p.5.
One important development in SLA research during the last decades has been to
expand the view of language acquisition as the individual mastery of a linguistic system
to a more complex one in which learning a second language is seen as a process through
which learners seek to occupy a position in given socio cultural and historical contexts as
L2 speakers. Within this expanded perspective, the acquisition of a second language is
understood not only as a cognitive process but rather as a way of acquiring an identity
and participating in diverse linguistic communities. This is consistent with a general
proposal in language studies that invites us to see our changing identity throughout our
life span as a function of the language(s) we speak (Coupland, Nussbaum and Grossman,
1993). Previous research in the field of SLA has argued that we need to explore the
relationship between the learner and the language learning context (Norton 2000, p.13).
So far most of the research exploring this issue has concentrated on the context of
immigrants in target language communities and only a few studies address this
relationship in the context of individuals acquiring another language in their own
communities. In this chapter I take a step forward in this direction by mapping learning
outcomes as a complex relationship between contextual features and identity options and
discuss how the former facilitate or hinder for learners the construction of positive
identities as L2 speakers and how these identities are linked to potential imagined
communities of L2 professionals.
This chapter is an attempt to explore L2 learners‟ positioning in the different
contexts in which they have been immersed, addressing their acquisition of English as a
second language in aspects related to the acquisition of an L2 identity and how they see
their participation in present and future communities as L2 speakers. This exploration is
done by analyzing the language learning histories (LLH) of 30 students in the 8th
semester of the Lengua Inglesa program. These stories were collected as part of an
exercise the students did for a workshop on „language learning and identity‟. The
assignment and the workshop itself were designed to lead the students to reflect on their
learning and what it has meant to them. This reflection however was not only intended to
elicit data to be used for research purposes but also it was meant to be integrated into
their learning experiences in the LI program. This was an attempt to collect data that
would be more meaningful to the learners in that it is part of their ongoing development
as students rather than just an elicitation technique used by the researcher. The essays
learners produced constituted an important link between the texts that were utilized in the
workshop on second language acquisition and identity and their own experience.
Furthermore, students‟ reflection on their past, present and future became part of
their development as language learners because it placed the students at the center of
discussion in their learning about second language acquisition and teaching theories and
practices and the stories themselves became pedagogically useful for them. The students
disclosed information about their learning experiences and their perspective on their own
processes and participation as L2 learners and users thus constructing their understanding
of their own identity.
As was mentioned above, the data analyzed in this chapter was collected during
the spring of 2007 while I conducted a workshop as an invited instructor during a week
and a half and the LLH were written before the workshop began. The students were
instructed to write about their life with respect to their English learning experiences but
were not given specific questions or issues to address so that students would freely report
about experiences important to them. The objective was to seek for the learners‟ own
formulation and representation of their own language learning and development as L2
speakers using narrative inquiry as a technique for data elicitation (Bell, 2002). The texts
produced varied in length and scope but they all cover roughly similar aspects of their life
beginning with their first contact with their second language and ending with some of
their experiences in the program and comments about their future plans.
The significance of speakers pursuing a degree in their second language in their
home country emerges from the data. I argue that such a program is a bridge between
their past learning experiences and the possibilities students seek as future language
professionals. Moreover such programs provide contextual opportunities for students to
engage in learning experiences that aid in the construction of positive bilingual
professional identities. Through engagement in a learning community that constantly
demands that they improve their performance, through participation in work
opportunities while they are still college students and through accomplishment in
academic tasks that challenge their L2 proficiency, participants can construct hopeful
perspectives and feelings of adequacy as bilingual language professionals.
I show how learners‟ initial engagement with the English language in Mexico is
varied and complex and cannot be fully understood by a unified descriptive account of
the status and role of English. For this, I examined the LLH to explore how the different
contexts offer opportunities for varied kinds of personal development.
In this chapter, through analysis of the background of English learners in the
public and private school systems in Mexico, in their native communities and families
and in study abroad situations, I offer some insight into how language learning in its
situated context encourages or limits identification processes. In the light of the
evaluations learners make of how each context provides or fails to provide support for the
bilingual identity they wish to develop, we see different outcomes of students‟ intent to
invest in their language learning in order to participate and form part of a SpanishEnglish bilingual community.
First, students report that in many cases the school system fails to meet the expectation
they have of developing or advancing their second language proficiency. Second, based
on the students‟ accounts of their experiences as exchange students, I argue that many
students who go to the U.S. are driven by their desire to invest further in their bilingual
identity and that such investment does not always have the return students expect. The
circumstances and time frame of their study abroad experience do not always provide for
opportunities to access their imagined community. Moreover the limited opportunities for
academic development make their language development difficult. In spite of this, given
their educational background, these students manage to succeed in accommodating
themselves to the new situations they encounter. Their accounts provide an insight to the
complexity of mixed feelings and experiences of living in an L2 environment but at the
same time they give evidence that there is still a long way to go to achieve a subject
position of accomplished bilinguals. Finally I argue that programs in which students are
instructed in their second language and in which students acquire skills and competencies
in their second language provide a socially constructed confidence that gives sense to
their past experiences and encourages them to develop further as second language
Learning English in Mexico: The range of initial experiences
In terms of language policies in Mexico, we can say that Spanish is the
predominant language and, without an official status, it is the native language spoken by
approximately 93% of the population. With respect to native languages, Spanish has had
a hegemonic power over more than 77 indigenous languages. It wasn‟t until 2003, and as
a by product of the armed conflict of indigenous groups in Chiapas Mexico, among other
causes, that there was a legislation passed to protect the linguistic rights of minority
groups and to constitute all indigenous languages as national languages with the same
legal status as Spanish (Cuevas 2004). However this legislative attempt to uphold
indigenous languages has not yet been effective in protecting the linguistic rights of
minority populations in Mexico nor has it promoted the value of these languages within
the general population. In terms of foreign language educational policies, with perhaps
only a few exceptions, the only language taught in the public system from the nineteenth
century through to the present has been English. This language is a curricular subject
from junior high through college. In the last decades, there have been attempts to include
it in the elementary school curriculum, in some schools through special programs
promoted through the ministry of education and in some schools through parent
association boards. Both state and federal governments have developed programs aimed
at standardizing English in the primary schools as well as at secondary levels. English in
the public system then becomes the inevitable contact students have with a foreign
language. Because public schools often offer fewer spaces than the demand for them,
Mexico also has a large number of private educational institutions. Because standards
vary widely among these schools, it is difficult to characterize them in general but some
of them do claim to offer levels of English instruction beyond that provided in the public
school system. Many schools at all levels from kindergarten on describe themselves as
bilingual, although the term admits a wide variety of definitions. On the whole, though,
foreign language instruction in these schools, with a few exceptions, is limited, as in the
public school system, to English.
The role of English in Mexico has been characterized as often conflicting and
contradictory given the hegemonic power of English around the world and the
sociopolitical and historic relationship of Mexico to the United States (Clemente and
Crawford, Garcia, Higgins, Kissinger and Lengeling, 2006). On one hand there is the
desire of Mexicans to participate in a global community in which English represents a
way of acquiring greater linguistic capital (Bourdieu 1986) and on the other the desire to
subvert the often oppressive power of cultural/linguistic/economic imperialism that this
acquisition brings.
An analysis of the LLHs of the focus group in Lengua Inglesa reveals that the
participants have been invested in acquiring English without necessarily expressing any
critical thoughts about it. In general most of them express a desire to learn English early
in life. These cases describe a range of contextual possibilities through which the
students acquire English that surpasses the description that we could make of English as
„the predominant foreign language in Mexico‟, since the participants‟ first contact with
the language is varied and complex and ranges from stories of language learning as the
result of a conscious effort to accomplish a bilingual identity through education to stories
of language learning as the natural result of interacting with the environment. These
differences are due to variability of social situations within and across the communities in
which each student grew up. For some, the only opportunity of learning English is the
public educational system and the available media such as movies, music and TV
programs that informs their imagined community of English speakers that they would
like to belong to one day and the larger discourses about English that inform the identity
they want to construct for themselves. For others, the access to English speaking
communities is facilitated by living in places in Mexico where there are many English
speakers, e.g. the Mormon communities in the North of the country or Mennonite groups
that emigrated from Canada. In addition, participants report that their contact with
English is partly the result of the mobility of many Mexican families migrating to the
United States. In the latter case, students report on their relationships with immediate or
extended family members who speak English. These different social situations cause
English learning to be seen as either a conscious struggle of investing oneself in learning
English or as a natural outcome of the circumstances of their upbringing.
The public vs. private school system
We must keep in mind that teaching/learning English in Mexico is not an
individual choice since it is part of the compulsory school curriculum. This situation,
similar to what happens in many parts of the world, has raised voices questioning the
teaching and learning of English, encouraging practitioners to challenge it because it
contributes to what has been called „linguistic imperialism”(Phillipson,1992).
Nonetheless there are also views promoting English, claiming that it allows individuals to
assume a better position for participating in a global world (Honey, 1997). This is an
issue that has not been ignored in this work but nonetheless I have chosen not to address
it directly, partly because, under the present circumstances, within the specific context
under analysis, learning English is something that can not be easily avoided. Those who
make the minimum effort in their English learning and just manage to get the school
credit required later see that this results in individuals depriving themselves of
opportunities to gain the symbolic, cultural and linguistic capital needed to enter into a
professional and academic arena. I concur with Modiano (2001) in his analysis of the two
sides of the spread of English:
“Thus, to those on the left English is exploitative, while those in the conservative
camp insist that the „disenfranchised‟ must conform to specified „standards‟ in
order to acquire „wealth‟. Regardless of what position ELT practitioners take in
this debate, the necessity of learning English will continue to be a concern for an
increasing number of people”. (p. 342)
The author goes on to argue that neither those against the spread of English nor
the ones promoting its use, although functionally important, cover the full picture of the
direction English has taken as a world language. In an era of information technology and
cultural artifacts produced in English by non native speakers, he argues, English
continues to „colonize the hearts and minds of millions of non-native speakers‟ but as
„public property‟ with new characteristics. In the context of Spanish speakers in Mexico
learning English as a foreign language, we can not assume the same negative effects of
the spread of English for speakers in other regions where there seems to be a need for
protecting minority tongues and cultures from extinction. Although Mexico is a linguistic
area that includes many endangered minority languages, these languages are threatened
by the cultural hegemony of Spanish, rather than by the spread of foreign languages.
Some learners report that they have invested in learning English since they were little
because they felt attracted to the idea of becoming bilingual. Some describe it as an initial
goal they had set for themselves or as in the case of the following two quotes from
students who describe it as the biggest dream or adventure of their life.
To learn English was the dream of my life. Since I was very little, I was always
fascinated with the idea of learning any kind of foreign languages. Thus, to learn
English became one of my priorities and main desires for the future. I knew that,
if I placed all of my effort on it, someday I would be able of mastering first the
English language, and then many more. (s26)
My experience in learning English can be defined so far, as the most incredible
adventure in my whole life. (s18)
The first participant later talks about some difficulties and struggles she faced in making
her dream come true but in her conclusion she states that English has always been part of
her life and that thanks to „the illusion she kept of learning English‟, among other things,
she has succeeded. The second quote is from a student whose family ties are in the
United States. He faced problems in communicating with his cousins who were of his age
and with his little sister who had moved there years before him, becoming English
dominant. He recalls in his essay all of his experiences studying middle and high school
in Texas and his experience in the LI program. For him, language learning has been
linked to his journey in life of being accepted in a community and succeeding as a
student. While these two students express their learning as something exiting in spite of
the obstacles they have encountered, some others begin by stating that learning English
has been a challenge in their lives.
In what follows, I present some excerpts in which the participants‟ accounts
reflect the lack of opportunities and the failures of finding a way to become the bilingual
speakers they want to become. The instruction they had did not deliver the access they
expected to their imagined community of English speakers. In the light of later
educational experiences, they evaluate their past and see that their environment did not
support their desire of constructing for themselves a bilingual identity. The following
participant illustrates this, by talking about how she loved her classes and later she
reevaluates her experience.
My first contacts with English language was when I was in Secondary school, I
loved my English class. In this school I learned many and basic things, for
instance, the alphabet, the colors, the numbers, the wh-questions, etc. I thought
my teachers (I had three different English teachers) were good …I think I
changed my idea about my teachers because now I can see many things than
before when I was in the secondary I did not have an idea. For instance, I
think they did not know how to plan a class … My second contact with
English language was in the Bachilleres, and the first semesters was boring to
learn English because it was the same that I had learned in the secondary school.
In fact, I think the teacher was good but with the same way to give the class than
my secondary teachers. P 4: s04 (bold letter as in the original)
The claim that English instruction in the public system is usually not effective is
supported in many of the biographies. Some of the problems, as in the above comment,
are attributed to a lack of proper teacher training and lack of coordination between
educational levels. Participants commented on other problems such as the large number
of students per class, poor teaching practices, or the limited time devoted to English
My English experience began when I was in primary school here in Chihuahua,
Mexico. The primary school that I entered was public so we had just a couple of
English classes during the week. In this school was the first time that I heard a
second language different from Spanish. It really called my attention when my
English teacher started talking in another language. The problem here was that we
had just two classes during the week therefore I did not really learn anything
about English. P16: s17
When I entered “Bachilleres”, I realized that my English classes were a little
behind of where I was at, Englishwise. I remember those classes as some of the
most boring ones I have ever taken. Around that time, English started taking a
second place in my life. Not even reading in English meant something to me. I
started focusing in other things like music and other subjects in school. P 8: s09
The experiences of P4: s04 (above) P8: s09 illustrate an effect of the essential lack
of continuity between different levels of English within the public school system. The
English requirements in the bachilleras (high schools) were implemented several years
before those in the junior high programs and predicated on the assumption that first year
students would be beginning language learners. As language classes have been
implemented first at junior high and later at primary school levels, the assumption that
entering students are beginners has not been substantially modified, though currently
students entering the high school program are generally much better prepared in English
than their predecessors of a few years ago. The same break in continuity is found in the
transition from elementary to secondary school, as more students entering junior high
come with previous experience of studying English. Partly, this regression to beginner
status at each new educational level derives from the position of English as a required
subject that all students must take combined with uncertainty about the level of incoming
students due to discrepancies in language programming between schools in the state and
federal systems, and between public and private schools.
The most common characterization of the English classes taken by this group of
learners is that they were boring, inefficient and concentrated mostly in learning grammar
and memorizing words. Participants recognize that these skills help them to succeed in
the school system but are not sufficient to become L2 English speakers. They emphasize
their desire to be able to speak the language and as some of them say many classes in the
public system “do not create an environment in which the students could practice their
speaking skills”. The desire might be common to most people learning a second
language, but the importance of speaking for this community is reinforced by the
proximity to the United States. Many of them were actively seeking opportunities to
improve their language proficiency by going to this country. This point is illustrated by
the following participant.
I loved my English classes, but I knew I could not speak it at all. In spite of
everything, I liked my classes and I did my best to improve it. When I was in
Middle School, I still liked English. It was my favorite class but still, I wanted
more and more. I really wanted to speak it and not only memorize words.
I went to High School and I realized that my classes were always the same.
I learned the same; I learned what I knew before… Nothing new, that is why I
decided to go to the United States in order to learn how to speak it and listen to it.
P14: s15
In contrast to public schools, private schools sometimes offer better language
instruction in terms of more classes directed at developing all skills and often more
proficient teachers that help students achieve their goals. The range of kinds of bilingual
programs in private schools is varied and consequently the results are also varied.
However the students perceive that this kind of education does grant them the resources
to position themselves as competent L2 English speakers. Learning English then is
perceived by students as helping them to develop their identity. As this participant
expresses after describing her education at a private bilingual school from kindergarten to
junior high:
I can really say I am what I am today thanks to my education. I really didn‟t have
any problems because I dedicated the same time to English as I did to Spanish.
However there were cases also in which students still feel that this learning experience
does not provide them with the opportunity to become the bilingual speakers they want to
To learn English has been a challenge to me since I was in High School. I went to
a nuns‟ school (Instituto América) and they were very strict teaching both
languages; English and Spanish. Grammar, conversation, and spelling were
taught every day. Then, I decided to be a bilingual secretary and the difficulties
were biggest. I never felt like I was bilingual, and I faced a big wall between
English and my struggle to comprehend the language.P 1: s01
This remark reveals, through the use of a metaphor of a „wall‟ that stands between
the language and the student who struggles to become a bilingual, that even when the
students receive intense instruction in a private school their learning experience is overall
a difficult one.
In some cases, it might be the parents who do not or cannot support their children‟s desire
to learn English. Yet, the participants recognize that this is due to economical reasons.
Learning English apart from what the public system offers means investing money many
families do not have.
I also got frustrated since I did not count with the support of my parents. Even
though when I was a child I told them that I wanted to learn English, they did
never take my comments into account. They used to think that I was not serious
about that, so they did not send me to any English school. Besides, the fact was
that they did not count with enough money to send me to learn English to any
school. Nonetheless, I kept my dream and continued desiring to learn English
somehow and someday. P24: s26
In contrast to the above case, there are many individuals who report that learning
English was their parents‟ decision and that they were sent to special English classes.
This shows through the voice of the learners the same trend that Dagenais (2003) reports
in her study of interviews with parents in Canada. Many parents invest in their children‟s
education with the hope that they would acquire the linguistic capital that would give
them access to an imagined community of multilingual speakers.
I started learning English when I was in fifth grade of elementary school. I took a
course because of the same reason that many children did, because my parents
sent me… They also thought, as all parents do, that learning English is a very
important issue. P18S19
I began to study English when I was in elementary school. It was my father
decision to study English; I was too young to decide by myself.(s10)
Although this view of learning English as parental imposition is expressed by some of the
participants, it is also true that many describe their learning in terms of their parents
inspiring them or providing for them an environment that is conductive to their language
learning. The following participants described their parents as models either through their
own love of languages or through involvement in activities that foreground language as a
significant tool.
When I first began with this interest for English I was very little. My mother was
my former teacher. And I consider her the main responsible
for this attraction I feel for languages, not only for English, but also for others like
French, Italian and Greek. P 3: s03
Ever since I was little, about 10 year old, I have had a leaning for English
language. Actually, my father has been the reason of all this involvement in the
language from my part for he was the one that got me close to it. He also liked
this language and he used to tell me things about it, and words and their meaning.
P 7: s08
I began learning English when I was about 10 years old. I did this by myself, since
I‟ve been listening to music since I was like 5 because of my father listening to
The Beatles, Pink Floyd, queen and a large etcetera. Since I loved to sing those
songs, even when I went to sleep, I really wanted to learn what I was singing
when I heard all those great songs.
P 8: s09
My language learning history began when I was a little girl. My father has always
listened to music in English, so when I was little the only music I listened to was
in English. My parents say I used to “sing” the songs and that when I learned to
write I always asked them for the lyrics of the songs. I think this was very helpful
for me because I started learning how to pronounce some words and indirectly, I
learned the meanings of those words.
P12: s13
One important factor in these language learning histories (LLH) is the power of
the media, not only as linguistic input, as it has been traditionally considered in SLA, but
also as a driving force that grants access to American cultural products. The above
remarks provide evidence that the participants want to be part of a community who
enjoys music, TV, and reading materials in English. This desire some students have for
speaking, understanding and/or belonging, as we will see below, might not be completely
accounted by a process of “Americanization‟ which is depicted by the influence of
American culture, business, technology and lifestyle around the world due to a general
process of globalization often perceived as negative but rather as a result of migration.
The displacement of large numbers of Mexicans to the United States compels learners in
Mexico to become bilingual in order to interact with their family and relatives.
In the previous section, I have illustrated the problems students face when trying
to become bilingual in the limited environment the public educational system provides.
Some have additional opportunities for learning because their parents send them to
private classes or to private institutions, hoping that in this way they would become more
proficient. There is also evidence, in the extracts above, that many parents provide
support through the media and/or their own knowledge of the language. In contrast to the
often impoverished language environment above depicted, other possibilities for
participation and belonging surfaced in the LLH of participants. Some learners in this
group as many of others in the program grew up in close contact with a community of
English speakers. L2 learning was not only a compulsory subject in the school
curriculum; it was instead, through the interaction with close family members and/or
members of their community.
An explanation I propose for these possibilities in present day Mexico is what
Appaduarai (1996) calls “diasporic public spheres” that substitute the concept of nation
for what many individuals imagine. The imagination of these spaces is the result
according to the author, of the combination of electronic media and mass migration. It is
possible that many individuals do not only aspire to belong to a community of
„Americans‟ who speak English, but also try to create connections to larger communities
of English speakers including Mexican immigrants among others. The links that people
in Mexico have to culture, economy, education, etc. are not only established by the
consumption of products including the media, but also by less than „virtual‟ ways as a
result of the overwhelming phenomenon of immigration and migration. According to
the U.S. government every year 47 million people cross the Mexican-U.S. border going
south or north for various reasons and in the last decade 4% of Mexico‟s population
moved either temporarily and/or permanently to the U.S (Rippberger and Staudt 2002).
In the following extracts we see that the students expressed that their learning of English
was something less constrained by the school environment given the circumstances in
which they grew up in, whether in Mexico, the US or Canada.
I grew up in one of the Mormon colonies of the north of Chihuahua, Colonia
Juárez. In this place I attended to grade school and to an academy, where I
graduated from high school. When I used to be a child, about fifty percent of the
population was North American. This contributed to my English acquisition
because the majority of my neighbors, friends and classmates` mother tongue
language was English. Since grade school most of my subjects were in English
except for those of Mexican History and Spanish (obviously). Both of my parents
are Mexican, so Spanish was always spoken at home. English and Spanish were
tried to be kept in a balance. The majority of people in this colony speak fluently
both languages. Fortunately, learning this second language was not difficult.
P 5: s05
The situation described in P5: s05 is one that has been historically significant in Mexico.
The Mormon communities in the Casas Grandes area of Northern Chihuhua were
founded in the late nineteenth century by groups migrating out of Utah at the time it
became a state. Residents of Colonia Juarez, despite well over a century living in Mexico,
often continue to maintain connections with the United States. For example, one former
resident, George Romney, part of a prominent Colonia Juarez family, became president
of American Motors, Governor of Michigan and, in 1964 and 1968, a major candidate for
president of the United States. His son, a former governor of Massachusetts, was an
American presidential candidate in 2008. The Mormon communities have not been the
only long term American speaking groups in Chihuahua. In the late nineteenth century
there were also American communities at several mining sites in the state, including
some near the city of Chihuahua. Schools in these communities were taught in English
until recently and even now there are many English teachers in Chihuahua schools who
grew up bilingual because they lived in mining communities as children. Mennonites
from Canada began immigrating to the Cuauhtemoc are of Chihuahua in the 1920s.
Though primary education in these communities is generally conducted in German and
the home language is often Low German, most Mennonites of Canadian origin also speak
English. Because of the frequent interchange between the Mennonite communities in
Chihuahua and Canada, English has become a language of frequent use among
Mennonites and often also among Mexicans living in the Mennonite communities. LI
graduates have included Mormons from the Casas Grandes region, Mennonites from the
Cuauhtemoc region and children of miners, who grew up in communities such as Santo
Domingo and Avalos.
I started to learn English since I was little; I was about 8 or 9 years old. At first I
did not realize how much I liked it. My father lived in California for some years,
and he learned English while being there, therefore, he wanted everyone at home
to team it too. He hired an American teacher to give us private classes.
P13: s14
It begun when I was about 7 years old, when I had the chance to interact with my
cousins, whose parents lived in LA, so in summer vacations they used to visit us
in my hometown, which is a small town near the Ex-hacienda de Francisco Villa
in the state of Durango. Back then, I used to pretend that I knew English therefore
I used to talk to my cousins in my English-own language; everybody at home of
course laugh at me and so even at my age I remembered I told my mom I was
going to speak English in a near future.
P17: s18
What also really helped me was in the environment where I learned English I was
forced to do it. This is because I was in a country that almost no one speaks
Spanish (at the very north of Canada).
P19: s20
My mother was raised on a foreign community, being English the native
language. Since I was little, I remember my mother, my aunts, and my
grandmother talking to each other in the English language. I entered to
kindergarten when I was 4. I was at ESPABI (Escuela Particular Bilingue). I
remained in that school until I graduated from junior high. Since it‟s a bilingual
school, it manages English as native language. Plus, I had very good teachers. All
I remember when I was little was how I loved to speak English. My mother and I
practiced all the time and we still do. My sister used to say that we were
ridiculous and pretentious because we were in Mexico and Spanish was our native
language, but I never cared for her comments.
P27: s29
I practiced at home with my brother and my father. My brother doesn‟t speak
English perfectly but what he knows, he learned it by watching tv and listening
music in English, same as me. My father learnt English since he was young and
he practices it when he goes to the US and sometimes with us at home. I also have
two cousins that learned the language with the same method and I see it as a very
funny situation because not all the people learn it by just listening and looking for
the meaning.
P6: s06
As the above extracts demonstrate, it is common for families to live a few years in
English speaking contexts or to include family members who once lived in these
contexts. This is a phenomenon that has existed in Chihuahua since the nineteenth
century, partially because it is so close to the United States. At the time of the
Revolution, many wealthy families opted to spend a few years in El Paso, and in the
years following the revolution, there was a large cohort of English teachers who had
grown up in El Paso for this reason. Also, until recently, local educational institutions did
not offer a wide range of graduate studies, so it was common for young families to leave
Mexico for a few years while the parents completed their professional education. The
growth of the in bond industries in Chihuahua since the late 1960s has led to the creation
of a community of professions working for American companies who often find
themselves transferring for a few years to plants outside Mexico, thereby placing their
children in the position of needing additional languages, usually English. I propose here
based on all of the above extracts that the range of experiences in learning a foreign
language in Mexico is complex and varied. The fact that English is the most widely
taught language in the public school system partially accounts for the initial contact of
learners with the language. There are other factors that inspire or encourage students to
seek for an identity as L2 speakers. On one hand there are students whose parents have
temporarily lived in the United States. Parents‟ experience of being L2 speakers of
English transcends to their parenting. On the other, there are students who have lived and
have been schooled in the United States where they had to develop an identity as L2
speakers. Furthermore, having close relatives who have been raised in an English
speaking environment and learning English transcends the needs of passing a school
subject but rather it becomes a driving force in order to communicate with them, as it is
in the case of this student:
So, after I graduated from junior-high, I traveled to Texas to meet with the rest of
my family; here it was the time when I regretted for not moving before, my little
sister who was only 5 years old, already knew English and had forgotten much of
her mother tongue, of course I just envied her because of the first. How could that
be possible? My sister learnt English in only 6 months according to my aunts, and
now she was having problems in expressing herself in Spanish. (s18)
Finally, as one of the participants expresses above Spanish/ English bilingualism was
present in the school and in the community granting for her an opportunity to acquire the
language without much conscious effort but as a way of participating in everyday
activities in her community.
Learning English in the U.S.
From the 30 participants in the focus group 11 of them had some schooling in the
United States or Canada. Some went into an exchange program for a year, some others
were sent to stay with relatives and some immigrated with their families. Of these, some
students went to cities where there are large groups of Mexicans along the border in the
states of California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas while others went to central or
northern states, including Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Michigan. Driven by their
desire to achieve a bilingual identity or in some cases encouraged by their parents‟ desire
that they improve their English, these students attended high school or college programs
for one year or more. In many cases they had already completed high school in Mexico
but were enrolled in high school in the United States with the sole objective of learning
English. In their essays they describe mixed experiences in which there is a contrast
between the expectations they had and the realities they encountered. There was an
updating of their past imagined communities (Murphey et.al 2004) as a result of the
difficulties adjusting to this new environment.
In some cases they were disappointed with the classes they took:
I got a scholarship to study in The United States. What I found there? Well, I
realized that my teachers from Chihuahua were better. P 1: s01
This student considered in retrospective that the classes she could access in the United
States at an elementary school were not better than the classes she took in Mexico. One
reason for this is that the classes at the elementary school were in a computer room using
software for language learning and the instructor for the course was only there to act as a
helper with the activities. The courses in Mexico involved more direct contact and
interaction with instructors and classmates. She had imagined that by going to the United
States she would be able to interact more with English native speakers. However when
she worked in a nursing home, most of her co-workers were immigrants from around the
world. It was in this context, interacting with other L2 speakers, that she could develop an
L2 identity. As she said “I stopped worrying about rules and patterns and another way of
communication emerged”. In essence the imagined community of students before going
to the US was to make friends and improve their language within a circle of English
native speakers:
At the beginning, I was very excited because I was going to live in another place
and I was going to know new people… But when I arrived to Highland,
everything changed for me. Everything was new for me, the language, people,
culture… and I really saw that it was very difficult to make friends… If you
wanted to make friends you had to speak English very well, otherwise, you would
have Mexican or Latin friends only. P14: s15
It is interesting the way this participant expresses her experience; she wanted to
„know new people‟ but the people she meant were not other Mexican or Latin friends.
She expected to increase her proficiency in the language by having contact with native
speakers but she found that “if you wanted to make friends you had to speak English very
Moreover barriers to develop a position and participate in a community using their
L2 are not only due to L1 speakers but as other students have expressed and the following
extract clearly explains, the interaction with other Spanish speakers poses challenges to
their development. The student below attended the University of Texas at El Paso, where
many of the students are Mexican or Mexican descendants. In many cases his classmates
were highly proficient in English or had English as a native language. However since
they also spoke Spanish, they did not allow these students to „practice‟ with them.
Nonetheless, it was very difficult for me to learn the language. I had many
problems with the Mexicans form Cd. Juarez, because many of them spoke
English very well. They did not understand that I did not and that I needed to
practice anywhere I could, it did not mater how bad I was. So, many of those
students told me, “Do you speak Spanish? Whenever I said, “yes", they began to
yell at me and asked me why I did not speak in Spanish with them. P22: s24
In general, many students expected that after a year or more of study abroad they
would be able to position themselves at an advantage in Mexico. However, in the event,
they realized that although their speaking skills did improve, several of them mentioned
their lack of writing skills:
During that year I did not really practice my English at school, just when I was
asked to talk. All the classes I had somebody to talk in Spanish so I did not really
practice my English there, just in a few cases when I wanted to make friends. As
the year went on, I started to see that my speaking skills increased and I could
understand more things. The last two before getting back to Mexico I could talk to
anybody but my writing skills did not really get better. P16: s17
So I did not develop a high level of proficiency in English. The thing is that after a
year in Portageville, MO I had a great time and experience and I acquired a lot of
vocabulary but I was not able to write anything.
P23: s25
The two extracts above express with some regret their lack of writing skills. Students
now studying a college degree have experienced the importance of writing in order to
succeed in their classes. These students compared to some of their peers who have
studied English in Mexico usually have an advantage in their oral skills but their literacy
skills might be behind those who have stayed here and have been exposed more to
„standard‟ and academic English.
As a commonality in the essays of those who had a study abroad experience, there
is a section in which the students talk about the initial difficulties they had in adjusting
their life to the new context. Many students saw as an asset to get to know people from
different cultures. In the extracts below, a student who lived for a year in Lincoln Ne,
talks about her ESL class in a high school. Her classmates, many L2 learners like her,
“were in the same situation” and that made them develop a sense of solidarity. Her
evaluation of her English instructors and other teachers in regular classes is an overall
positive one and there is no trace that she resented being treated as a kindergarten student.
However in the last lines she comments that while learning English „the classmates‟
which we could assume were „regular American students‟ were sometimes not nice to
There was a mix of cultures that helped me to learn a lot from them and I did it in
English. Our teachers in those classes were very patient with us. They treated us
as kindergarten children. They-help us a lot and spoke very slowly so everybody
could understand. I practice lots of writing and conversations. The classes were
very dynamic and this facilitates the rest of mi classes. The other classes were
different, the teachers were very nice but the classmates sometimes were not. P11:
This same student however later in her essay talks about how she developed her
competence in the language and she was able to make American friends, overcoming her
initial feelings of insecurity.
But I was lucky to make just American friends and that helped me a lot. The
regular classes were very hard at the beginning because I could not understand
anything, but in a month everything became clearer and I could speak and write so
much better. P11: s12
In addition to their language learning, students also value being exposed to a new culture
and learning aspects that they know they would not be able to experience in their country.
All the improvement that I was having was also because of the English classes
that I was taking, teacher and my effort. It was really difficult at the beginning
because it was something completely different for me and that it was a completely
different culture than mine. But all those things also help me to learn things that a
person that is learning English in a country that its native language is not English
is difficult to learn. P10: s11
Although some students were pleased with their experiences in American schools, others
were disappointed. Fortunately the opportunity to learn English was not limited to the
classroom context and some students expressed satisfaction with opportunities that they
encountered for learning or practicing English outside of a formal context.
The man who was living in the house really helped in my learning development
because everything that I did not catch from his talking, he explained it in a way
that I could catch the meaning. He had a greenhouse business up there and I used
to help him during my staying, so every time that I talked to him was a full class
of English (he acted everything to make me understand) then I started also to
practice my English with the customers.P16: s17
The students narrated a variety of experiences in which they successfully related
to other English speaking people while being immersed in an English speaking
community after overcoming initial difficulties. In some other cases, however, students
did not have access to meaningful interactions with native speakers as they thought they
would have. Nonetheless they all recognized the development in their language abilities
although some noted that they did not reach the level they expected. Most of these
students succeeded academically in their studies even though this was not the main
objective of their exchange program. Moreover, the content of the regular courses
students took was in most cases something they had already learnt in their L1. One
student says “even if I had finished high school in Mexico I had to take subjects that I
already knew”. Under these circumstances it wasn‟t difficult for students to pass their
academic courses. This is confirmed by other studies that provide evidence that schooling
in Mexico helps immigrants excel academically even more than second generation
Mexican Americans (Padilla and Gonzalez, 2001) and that the academic competence
attained in Mexico by these students is a factor that influences positively the English
proficiency attained by immigrants (Espenshade and Fu, 1997). However, success is
relative because the students who were there for a year have to return to Mexico at the
end of their exchange program and they recognize that their level of proficiency isn‟t as
good as they expected it to be especially in their writing. Many students recognize that
one of their greatest difficulties when they entered LI was their writing. They returned to
Mexico not only because it was stipulated in their exchange program but also because
continuing college education in the United States is not an option for them given the
restrictions placed on immigrants who wish to enter college and the economic distance
between US colleges and public education in México. When they return, these students
are a year behind their peers, although they are better off in their English proficiency. At
their return, students have to decide what career choice they can make. As these two
students express, LI programs seem like an exciting choice for them given the cultural
capital they have accrued through their L2 learning:
One year was not enough for me to learn the language, but I really wanted to
come back and study a career. This is very strange, but when I finished my year in
the United States, I wanted to study dentistry. I was very sure about my decision
and I really wanted to be a dentist. I did not go to the United States to learn
English to enter Lengua Inglesa because I did not even know about the existence
of this major. Once, when I was still in California, my cousin sent me an email
about Lengua Inglesa and its requirements. At first sight I got really interested on
it and then I got excited about the existence of this career. I did not know that
Lengua Inglesa existed in Chihuahua. I did not think twice, I forgot about being a
dentist and I called my mother to tell her that I wanted to enter Lengua Inglesa.
The next step was to pass the admission exam and I did it. P14: s15
When it was time to come back to Mexico I had solved many questions on my
life, such as my wonder of what I was going to study on university. Knowing
English changed my perspective of what I was interested on studying, and I felt it
wasn't enough to only speak it and I decided to study a major in which I will learn
to teach and to translate more deeply than if I only do it empirically. Now that I
know another language I enjoy the interesting thing of this language and that
makes me to be interested on learning more languages.P19: s20
LI programs facilitate the students‟ ongoing process of forming their identity in an L2.
One of the benefits of having invested in their language learning is their access to a
university program that will continue their education through instruction in their L2. This
program offers them continuity between their past experiences and their future plans.
The Lengua Inglesa Program
In their narratives students express how Lengua Inglesa became an important
option as they thought it would give them the opportunity to continue in their
development as bilinguals. It was a clear choice for many because they could continue
developing academically in English. Many of them thought that it would be easy to study
this major given their background and for many having the experience of studying abroad
might have given them the confidence that they had the necessary skills to cope with the
academic demands of the program. However in their accounts most of them express that
it was more demanding than what they expected and this caused some distress.
I did not know what to expect from the major but I thought that it could not be
difficult due to I knew already English but I was totally wrong.P25: s27
The expectations of P25: s27 were typical of what many students have expected
throughout the history of Lengua Inglesa. Perhaps because of the misleading name,
aspirants for the program, especially in the early years of the major, often believed that
knowledge of English would give them an advantage. But because Lengua Inglesa is not
a language program, language knowledge can be helpful but it cannot substitute for effort
to develop the skills and knowledge required of the Lengua Inglesa graduate. In some
cases, prospective students may be so far below the threshold for successful participation
in Lengua Inglesa that they cannot take full advantage of the classes, but once the
threshold for participation is crossed, such factors of dedication, creativity, and study
skills may be more significant than language level.
Something- that I realized when I got into the major was that I had no experience
in writing papers, as the major went on I was asked to write a lot of papers so I got
frustrated very easily. Therefore I had to start learning how to do an essay in order
to pass my classes. P16:s15
For many students, writing is a major challenge, in some cases because they have less
practice in writing than in any of the other language skills, in others because the
expectations for academic writing in English differ substantially from the expectations
for similar writing in Spanish. Both in Mexican schools and in exchange programs and
other immersion type experiences, writing is usually neglected compared to other
language skills. But even for students comfortable with writing in general, the focus of
the program often causes frustration. Students at Lengua Inglesa are expected to deal with
bibliographic sources from a more critical perspective than they have been taught to
develop in their previous educational experiences. They encounter problems with
contrastive rhetoric when they find that clear organization is valued more highly than fine
writing or elaborate imagery. Because writing is often a major obstacle for incoming
students, the coursework in many if not most of the courses includes a large writing
element, sometimes overwhelming incoming students. Both the unexpected rigor of the
classes and the amount of writing can be intimidating for new students as many of the
student accounts indicated.
Gaining confidence in themselves as L2 users
In spite of these initial difficulties the students‟ evaluation of their progress as
bilinguals in the LI program are overall positive. They recognized their improvements in
all skills even when they had previously invested in different ways. This extract from a
student who had a study abroad experience expresses how the LI program has pushed her
in her development as a competent user of English:
Then I entered to the major 'of Lengua Inglesa. My English became so
much better and my writing and listening skills also improved a lot. All the
activities that we do here are very helpful for a good development of the language
itself. P11: s12
When I entered I found that, unlike any other school, all my new classmates spoke
English, and the best thing is that we all were forced to speak and use English in
the classroom. In this way I improved my listening skills, fluency, acquired more
vocabulary etc. I wouldn‟t have time to say all the improvements that I have had
while being a Lengua Inglesa student, I have made lots of progresses in my
second language.
P18: s19
The above extracts talk about activities that are conductive to the development of the
students. On one hand, the students often talk about the amount of reading they have to
do in the class. Reading is then an important component that strengthens their confidence.
The readings they are involved with are not only meant to increase their proficiency in
the language as is the case in many language courses. In foreign language courses the
students‟ involvement with the texts is rather superficial because one text could be easily
substituted with another and the ideas in the texts and the ideas they get and express from
it are not intrinsically important to their development as students. The text only serves the
purpose of providing linguistic input. The kinds of texts students read in LI engage them
as whole persons in the language for the meanings they extract and construct from the
text are crucial in their development as professionals.
I think my reading skills didn‟t develop until I entered Lengua Inglesa, because
well, we have to read a lot.
About writing, I had NEVER written anything in English until I entered
here. At the beginning it was very difficult because it took me hours to decide
what to write about, and because, as I didn‟t have experience in writing, it was
very difficult to find the words to say what I wanted to say. Anyways, each
semester it‟s easier to write essays because we practice writing a lot. Last
semester I took the elective “Writing and Editing for Publication” and I really
loved it because I didn‟t only learn to write different types of texts, but also I
learned to edit and to find common mistakes in my own writings. This elective
has also helped me when I translate something because now I‟m more aware of
mistakes and I write more carefully, paying more attention to little details.P12: s13
In this fragment we learn what writing has meant for the student in terms of
finding ways of expressing her ideas. It is also evident that the class mentioned was
crucial for the students‟ own development. It is common that language classes emphasize
the students‟ mistakes because teachers often concentrate in correcting the students‟
language. However the class this participant mentions gave her the opportunity as she
says to be more aware of her own mistakes. The class also helps the student to develop
his identity as a competent L2 user because it makes the assumption that his writing is or
can be worthy of publication in competition with the writing of native speakers of the
language and that he has ideas and knowledge that merit publication.
This same student closes her LLH by talking about the overall impact of the
program in her life and her identity.
Deciding to study Lengua Inglesa was one of the best things I could have done.
This major has helped me develop my skills in English, and it has also made me
realize that I can do things I NEVER thought I would do, such as writing a book,
writing poems, etc… I even like some poetry now. I think that my identity has
been affected by my major only in the way that I‟m more educated now, more
cultured. I have read many authors, both in English and Spanish that I didn‟t even
know that existed. Also, my parents say that I was meant to study this major
because since I was little I became interested with the language and with
translation, so probably it is true. P12: s13
The student talks about the program making her realize that she can do things she
would have never thought she would do. This is connected to the kinds of projects
students have to do for their classes in which they have opportunities of making English
not just a foreign language but part of their own development as professions. This extract
mentions the writing of books and poetry as critical experiences. The writing of poetry in
English helps the students in the construction of their identity.
The following student is also a good example of how people provide their own
formulation and representation of their experiences with and through English. The
student talks about the classes that have been significant in his development:
Some of the courses that really have contributed to give shape to my English
language are: psycholinguistics, speech and debate, and all the literature subjects.
Those "courses have provided the answers to the questions that arose while I was
learning the language; back then my teachers were only worried about my
performance in class, but here I found it to be a really and definitively
enlightening experience. P17: s18
This perspective of the classes „giving shape‟ to his English is an interesting one.
It shows the process of making a verbalized reification of his own experience of learning
English. Moreover this quote also tells us about a contrast between the students‟ previous
English classes and the classes in the LI program. The student comments that his other
teachers were „only worried about his performance‟, that is the focus was only the
student‟s language development and not his development as a student and future
professional. The program has given him the opportunity to reflect on his own learning
experience and the contents of the courses have provided answers to his questions when
learning the language.
My ideas about this major haven‟t changed, besides that I knew that I would learn
a lot of things, but I never imagined that we really will be reading a lot and I love
it. Also, I never thought that I could be able to write an essay and since the major
requires a lot of papers, I was amazed about the improvement I had thanks to all
the subjects. P15: s16
Imagined communities and identity: future plans
Language learning as has been pointed out by new trends in SLA is not just
mastering a linguistic system. This would not mean anything to a learner if she could not
do or be anything with it. Knowing how to write an essay is not just a matter of finding
words, using phrases and building sentences that can make up text whether the text is a
poem or an essay. The writer has to find her way of making the text her own, of
projecting her subject position in a valuable and recognizable way. The writer has to
expand her possibilities of selfhood and to talk about her history, interests and be a
participant in social practices. Many of the LLH and in the extracts analyzed above the
students stated the importance of writing for the development of their language and their
identity. The next extract is about a student expressing her plans for the future:
I would like to be a writer, and I‟m very interested in poetry as well as short
stories and novels. Mexicans living in USA is a culture that I would like to
portray in my writings. Each experience I heard from people living there is part
of my subjects that I would like to express it in my works. Part of my family lives
there and through them I saw a different culture. P 1: s01
As we can see in this passage, writing is connected by this person to other aspects of
social life. Notice that she begins pointing to a topic she would like to choose for her
writing in a general way „Mexicans living in the USA‟ then goes on to connect this topic
to „experiences she has heard‟ and finally to „part of her family who lives there‟. The
topic starts to narrow down from general to more personal concerns. This person lived
and worked in the Unites States for some time and also has first hand experience on the
topics she would like to address in her writings. As any writer does, she tries to bring her
sense of self into the act of writing.
In addition to this expansion of the self to an imagined community of writers,
there are other students who project themselves as competent professionals in which their
identity as L2 users is also implicated. This other student talks about his ideas for the
future and the relevance of translation to his sense of who he is.
Translating has taken a very important part of my English learning since last 2
semesters. I‟m really interested in that, because I honestly believe I‟m good at it
and, if I‟m not, I‟m certainly willing to get better every day. Right now, I‟m
translating a book about Apaches for my Social Service and the truth is that I‟m
really having so much fun writing it. One of the things that make me feel so
certain about wanting translating as a job is that no matter the theme or subject the
to-be-translated work is about; I‟m always a hundred per cent in the project.
P 8: s09
There are three things to note from this extract, one is the importance the student gives to
and interest he has in translation and how he associates this with „his English learning;
second, his sense of confidence in what he does, as he says „I am good at it and/or can get
better‟ and his joy for doing it: “I‟m a hundred percent in it”. These remarks speak about
an appropriation of translating and a self-credentialing of the activity to pursue his own
interests. His learning of English would enable him to be certain about his future as a
The construction of identities as successful L2 users and the imagined
communities happen when students are faced with situations in which they overcome
obstacles and see that their investment in the language pays off. The following extract is
from a student who initially had a bad experience with the language as he says, “I have to
mention that I wasn‟t very good, actually I was a student who had many problems in
learning English”. In his graduation day at the school where he was learning English he
was supposed to do a presentation in front of an audience, including his parents, teachers
and classmates and he forgot everything. He says that he thought he would NEVER learn
English (capitals as in the original). This student who only took classes in the public
system, later recounts other experiences learning English and how he began to gain
confidence in his abilities. When he entered LI his idea was to improve his English and
he did not think he was going to chose teaching as an area of specialization. When he was
doing his fifth semester he says „he met TEFL‟ and started to enjoy the teaching practice
he was involved in. He later applied for a position in a private school but did not get the
job. As he says he was „kind of disappointed but he knew that he would have his chance‟.
He later applied to another institution and this time he got the job. The following extract
talks about that moment:
When I received this call it was one of the happiest moments in my life, and I am
not overreacting. I went, I had the interview and I got hired. The moment when
the principal told me she was going to give me the job I felt whole. Finally I had
my chance to do what I want to do for many years. I started teaching children,
second level. And they are still my students I really enjoy having classes with
them, we learn together and they make me laugh a lot. P18: s19
To close his LLH this student says that his next goal is to get a masters degree in
TESOL or TEFL, he says he has learned that „you never know enough‟. Yet there are
some students who explore the two main venues of their major simultaneously as in the
case of the following student who works both as a teacher, translator and a tourist guide.
Nowadays I work as a teacher of children and adults. the experience that I am
getting from it is very valuable but if I wasn't in Lengua Inglesa it would be very
hard because I will know nothing about teaching. Also I have been translating for
a magazine, which is very interesting and a little harder than teaching but still is
very important because the experience brings me more opportunity to develop my
self. I had the opportunity to do these translations because of speaking English,
studying this major and because I also work as a guide during the summer time
and the magazine is a tourist guide.P19: s20
This student in this LLH points that knowing English has given her access to
many resources but “the most important is that thanks to it I am studying at Lengua
Inglesa‟. In this major she says that she has grown as a person. This particular student
comes from a rural area of her state. Her home town however is a touristic place that
receives visitors from many different places. Her experience of learning English is not
only related to an identity as a professional and L2 user but also she sees herself as part of
the world at large:
Most of the jobs I have had are because of Speaking English. Since I am from
Creel (a tourist town) when I work there I always use my English to communicate
to Germans, Chinese, Americans, etc.
I have to thank to the opportunity that life gave me of speaking English because it
is very helpful due to that it is a universal language and it is what people around
the world use to communicate. Even though two people are form different
countries and they don't speak each other's language, they use English to
communicate. P19: s20
The imagined communities of students are varied. One important aspect to remark
in their LLH is that although they have gained confidence in their linguistic abilities and
many of them have developed an identity as L2 users, they don‟t see themselves as if
they have reached an end point. Furthermore their job as teachers has placed demands on
them that make them see there are many things they still have to learn:
Now I am not only a student but also a teacher. This seems to be very ironic, or
even funny to me, because I do not consider my English skills are still the best. I
know perhaps I commit many mistakes, but I try to give my best in everything I
do. Even when I am at this stage of almost finishing my major, and also of being a
teacher, I am glad of still having the ability of learning. I would like to keep
learning English, and to learn from any person I know. P24: s26
Together with this desire to continue learning this student also talks about using
her own experiences as language learner to help other people learn. Some of them talk
about their teachers being good role models for them and inspiring their language
learning process. Likewise students position themselves as similar role models for their
own students:
What I take into account more than anything is to be patient and kind. This is
because, now when I see my students, I remember when I was a student myself,
desperate for learning. I try to give my students the hope my own teacher gave to
me, and also the inspiration. I am always able for them, and as long as I am a
teacher, I will always be like that for my students, and I will provide them with all
of the knowledge I can. Every time I see a student, I remember I was a student. I
try to understand how they feel, and the needs they could have. I always think in
my past experiences. I think that is the best way I can be a better teacher for all of
my students. P24: s26
In spite of the problems, the flaws they themselves recognize in their language do
not prevent them from constructing other visions for themselves. The following student
sees herself as partaking of other professions, other cultures and other languages. Talking
about her translation experiences she says when “we translate we have to become a little
bit like architects, accountants, administrators, geologists, etc.‟ and when „we learn
another language we are also acquiring another culture‟. Likewise she also envisions
herself as participant in a multilingual society in which English is only the beginning of
the many languages she could speak:
Now I almost finish university and I am already working as a translator. One of
my goals is to learn other languages; I am studying French right now and I would
like to learn German also. I think that when a person already knows two
languages, it is easier to learn a third or a fourth one, so I hope that this second
language that I learned is only the beginning of some more. P 6: s06
Students harness their imagination to construct themselves as competent
professionals and L2 users. Many of them make use of the metaphor of English as
„opening many doors‟ for them. Learning English may not even be primarily a tool for
communicating in English so much as a stepping stone toward greater linguistic
versatility. As this student indicates, participants in Lengua Inglesa often see themselves
as language professionals rather than simply professionals in English. The skills that they
acquire in the program are essentially skills in using, teaching and translating language
rather abilities limited to one particular language. It is interesting that the following
student develops this metaphor and sees the doors of opportunity as „already open‟ and
all she needs now is to choose one:
I have enjoyed great personal satisfaction by setting and reaching language goals,
as well as a newfound respect from my peers, students, and myself. I realize that
this valuable tool has opened many doors of opportunities for me and presently I
only have to choose which door I will enter.P19: s20
This chapter opened with two statements: one from a student of Lengua Inglesa
who suggested that “even our dreams are molded according to the knowledge that we
gain”; the other from Wenger (1998) who calls identity “a way of talking about how
learning changes who we are”. The LLHs included in this chapter have helped us to
explore how students from Lengua Inglesa have used the knowledge they have gained
from their experiences learning and using language to mold new visions of themselves
and new dreams of who they will be in the future. The histories that they prepared in the
2007 workshop have become elements in the identities that they are creating. In different
ways each student has become a person he may never have imagined he could be through
a conscious struggle to turn language into a tool for the creation of self.
Recent studies on second language acquisition and identity have emphasized the
role of social relations of power in the structuring of language learning opportunities
(Amin, 1997, Belz 2002b; Kramsch 1998, 2000; Norton 2000). These studies have been
important in calling our attention to the significance of the learning context and its impact
on granting or denying opportunities for L2 practice; for learners to function in a given
second language and consequently to develop a positive identity as L2 speakers Breen
1985). In addition, in SLA theory, the learning context has been treated usually by
drawing a distinction between „natural‟ (second language) vs. „formal‟ (foreign language)
learning. It is claimed that in natural contexts the language is simply „picked up‟ in the
community and that in formal contexts learning is planned and systematic. Moreover it is
assumed that in foreign language learning students have no immediate use for the
language or access to its speakers (Mitchell and Miles 1998). However in researching
specific contexts we often have a complex configuration of the two learning
environments that produces a mixture of the two settings (Saville-Troike, 2006).
Often immigrants into a new country, learning a second language, are also
immersed into formal classroom situations not unlike those found in foreign language
learning. They might have some contact with native speakers but also they might be
immersed in large communities of speakers of their L1. Likewise people learning a
foreign language in their own country might be in contact with native speakers of the
language and have to function or perform everyday activities in their L2 at work, at
school or otherwise, in a similar way as in the so called „natural environment‟. Research
often characterizes immigrant learners as powerless and oppressed by socio-cultural
factors and the „image‟ of the native speaker (Norton 2000). These studies show that the
opportunities second language learners have for language learning are dependent on
socioeconomic conditions and the subject positions individuals are able to develop in a
host community.
The foreign language context which is often under-researched in terms of power
relations and contextual factors is mostly characterized in the light of the relationship of
learner-teacher-peers in a foreign language classroom. It is in the context of the „natural
environment‟ and of adult immigrants learning a second language where researchers have
mostly focused for the study of second language identity and imagined communities. As
Block (2007a) states “in short, it is in the adult migrant experience that identity and one‟s
sense of self are most put on the line, not least because most or all previous support
systems in terms of history, culture and language have been removed and must rapidly be
replaced by new ones” (p.75). In contrast the foreign language environment is seen as
„relatively unfertile ground for TL-mediated identity work‟ (Block 2007a) due to the lack
of sustained contact of learners with target language speakers and the limited
participation of learners in communities of practice in which they have to draw on their
L2 resources.
The purpose of this chapter is to provide theoretical argumentation and empirical
evidence for the complexity of the learning context of students immersed in an English
undergraduate program instructed in their second language in their home country. This
context represents a mixture between second and foreign language learning insofar as
students are in contact with different users of the second language ranging from the
idealized „native speaker‟ in the figure of some teachers and occasionally peers but also
with non-native teachers and peers with different subject positions depending on their
background, e.g. those who have been abroad vs. those who have not, etc. In addition,
this educational community does not represent the same environment of the FL classroom
in that students‟ L2 learning is not necessarily planned and systematic but often students
pick up the language in what has been regarded as content instruction (Brinton, Snow, &
Wesche, 1989). I argue in this chapter that a learning context such as this does grant
opportunities to learners for identity work since contrary to the works reviewed by Block
(2007) there is fertile ground for „critical experiences‟ (Block 2002) defined as follows:
By critical experiences, I mean periods of time during which prolonged contact
with an L2 and new and different cultural setting causes irreversible
destabilization of the individual‟s sense of self. There is, in a sense, an element of
before and after in critical experiences as the individual‟s sociohistorical, cultural
and linguistic environment, once well defined and delimited, becomes relatively
ill defined and open ended. (Block 2002 in Block 2007 p. 21)
Learners in the LI program are enrolled for at least four years and a half. During
this time they have classes 5 days a week for 4 to 6 hours a day. Their instruction is
primarily in English, their L2, and consequently they listen to lectures, participate in
discussions, do homework assignments including the writing of essays, poems and
special projects, carrying out class presentations, etc. in this language. This is new for
most students since they might be used to take language classes for a couple of hours a
day but they have not been immersed in an academic environment in their second
language for around 25 hours a week. Thus, although the classroom culture does not
differ entirely from their previous schooling experiences it does differ in the sense that
their college experiences in this program are mediated by their L2. Consequently there
are two factors present in the definition Block gives of critical experiences in this context.
One is the prolonged contact with an L2 and the destabilization due to a different
linguistic environment. Students go through different processes and often struggle to
position themselves as competent students in their L2 which is not the same as
positioning oneself as a competent L2 learner.
Although in this work I aimed at focusing on the „identity as an L2 professional‟,
in practice it is not always possible to tease apart the identity work of individuals as L2
speakers, professionals, gendered subjects, etc. since the development of their sense of
self as professionals is mediated by their second language and their subject positioning in
given socio-cultural contexts. The same experience affects individuals in different
perspectives on identity and it is difficult to discriminate one perspective from the others
For example, in developing greater confidence as an L2 speaker an individual
gains better positioning and more opportunities as an English teacher professional which
also impacts on gender identity because career opportunities are tied to social issues as
we will see later in this chapter.
I explore in this chapter the experiences of an LI graduate as she recounts them in
the light of the joint construction of an imagined community of professionals. Whenever
there is reference to an „imagined community‟ in this chapter it refers to both the
educational community in which she received instruction in her second language in order
to obtain a college degree and to the professional community of language educators she
joined while she was a student and later as she graduated from college. I see the later as
an extension of the first since it is the purpose of education to provide students with
resources of all kinds linguistic, behavioral, attitudinal, etc., and including the granting of
a degree conceived as the „cultural capital‟ (Bordieu 1991) that allows individuals to
immerse in a professional community. I take the term community as the construct
„community of practice‟ proposed by Lave and Wenger and others (in Lave and Wenger
1991, Wenger 1998, Eckert 2000) as “an aggregate of people who come together around
some enterprise. United by this common enterprise, people come to develop and share
ways of doing things, ways of talking, beliefs, values – in short, practices as a function of
their joint engagement in activity” (Eckert 2000 p.35). In addition engagement in
practice in a community, according to these theorists, allows individuals to construct an
identity given that “particular kinds of knowledge, expertise, and forms of participation
become part of individuals‟ identities and places in the community” (ibid).
Pursuing this further, I chose the term „imagined communities‟ because the
identity work of individuals through participation and learning extends beyond the
immediate context of engagement. Wenger (1998) points out that there are three distinct
modes of belonging: engagement, imagination and alignment. The first mode is a source
for individuals‟ identity in that in a given time and place individuals negotiate meaning
by interacting, participating and developing „shared histories of learning‟. In this chapter
this mode of belonging is exemplified by those instances in which the participant
recounts her school and teaching related experiences. The second mode of belonging,
however, transcends the bounded character of experiences by making reference to how
individuals understand them by extrapolating from the local context and providing other
sources of identity formation. Imagination allows individuals to add meaning to their
opportunities for learning by opening to new images and other ways of understanding
their place in the world. In the learning history presented in this chapter, the participant
made reference to her experiences and her interaction with peers, instructors and others,
not just in the light of the Lengua Inglesa program but also in the light of the impact these
experiences had outside this context by indicating how at different times students and
teachers understood their joint enterprise. Wenger exemplifies this through the story of
two stone cutters who were asked what they were doing and one responds that he is
cutting a stone in a perfectly square shape while the other answers that he is building a
cathedral. At the level of engagement there is no difference in what they are doing but at
the level of imagination, the difference in their answers reflects how their sense of their
experience and of themselves is rather different as they relate differently to the world
(Wenger 1998 p. 176). Finally alignment refers to the energy directed at participating not
only in the immediate practices but understanding that these practices belong to a
„broader enterprise‟ that connects them to a large scale community.
Wenger recognizes, then, that these three modes of belonging might not be
present at all times in a community of practice nor that they should be mutually exclusive
“most of what we do involves a combination of engagement, imagination and alignment,
though more emphasis on one or the other gives a distinct quality to our actions and their
meaning” (Wenger 1998, p. 184). The present work combines in a sense the three modes
of belonging although more emphasis has been given to the work of imagination. Often
the story line of the participant tells about her positioning in a time scale ranging from her
past experiences and how she perceived them in the light of her future possibilities and
the impact these learning experiences have had in her present enterprises. Imagination
has been the focus of many researchers on language learning and identity because in
recounting their learning experiences learners “adopt imagined subject positions in
imagined communities of speakers of the language they are learning” (p.19). Furthermore
the community of L2 professionals the participant talks about it is one different from that
of other language teachers not part of this program since the participant seems to project
into the future with distinctive qualities and possibilities to the ones she conferred to
other teachers.
Students in the LI program develop an identity as future language professionals in
the light of their investment in their present and future imagined communities. I argue
that institutions and especially educators can harness the imagination of students and
enhance the construction of a positive identity as L2 speakers and help their trajectories
of participation in professional communities. I examine the different factors that emerged
as significant in the learning and professional history of a graduate of the LI program and
that illustrate their role in the development of an L2 speaker and language professional
identity. This development is a relational process dependent of a unique context,
nonetheless I suggest that these factors are not exclusive of the participant in this study
but form part of the repertoire of common practices to this educational community. The
themes in this chapter center around the factors that forge an imagined community and
related identities, chiefly it explores the ideas this student had when choosing this
program and her integration into it; the role of teachers; peers; institutional discourses;
curricular and extra curricular activities in projecting possible identities that give shape to
imagined professional communities.
Moreover, I argue in this chapter that one way of transcending what has been
termed as linguistic imperialism (Phillipson, 1992, Canagarajah, 1999) is through the
construction of imagined communities. That is, it is the way we think about our own L2
learning, the positions that we see ourselves occupying in a specific socio-cultural
context as professionals what matters in terms of how we align ourselves to groups and
how we participate in different communities of practice. However it is this combination
of context and clearly learners‟ personal histories that shape the relation of each
individual to the environment. The learning context and the L2 environment of this case
study is unlike those studied by scholars interested in the interplay between language
learning, identity and investment or motivation in the sense that students do not face
issues of discrimination, racism or social status. Nonetheless students go through similar
processes in finding their way to develop an identity, invest in their language learning
and engage in imagined communities as future L2 professionals. They could face
exclusion or exclude themselves if peers are perceived as more competent speakers and
from professors who might not recognize their role in supporting the students‟
development and participation in a professional community. They invest in their learning
with the hope of transcending their own perceived limitations in the classroom and
outside of it and begin soon in their immersion of professional communities by taking up
the challenge of venturing into language teaching or interpretation. This chapter explores
the factors involved in the collective construction of an imagined community of language
professionals and their related identities in the light of the evidence found in the account
of the educational and professional history of a LI graduate.
Edith Martínez (a pseudonym of the participant) is in her early forties; she has
spent all of her life in the northern part of Mexico, the first thirty years or so in the state
where she was born and where she completed all her education up to an undergraduate
level. She learnt English as a foreign language in the public school system aided by her
interest in music. Before entering Lengua Inglea she wanted to improve her English and
went to a private language school to ask for information about English courses. Instead of
taking classes, to her own surprise, she was offered a job as a teacher, which made her
doubt of the school‟s reputation. As she says “what kind of school offers a job to a
prospective student?” She entered the Lengua Inglesa program in 1986 but did not finish
until 1992. During this time, there were spans of time in which she took a break from
school. She married while studying and she had two kids. She was involved in different
projects and teaching positions during her studies. At the time of her participation in this
research she was living in a major city in the Northern part of Mexico where she moved
some years ago. She held a position as coordinator of an English program in a top private
educational institution in Mexico where she was also undertaking an Educational
Technology masters‟ program.
The decision of studying language as a profession: entering the circle
The first topic which will be explored in this chapter is the choosing of a program
like Lengua Inglesa and consequently a future profession and the characterization the
participant makes of this. It is an important topic because it explores through the narrative
of a life story the ideas and reasons in retrospective held by Edith for studying a program
such as LI. In our terms, it shows the imagined community of professionals she was
hoping to join once she graduated. It also reveals what the societal perception of this
decision was as reflected in the comments of her friends. To some extent the identity she
envisioned as a professional did not materialize neither in the course of study of this
program nor in her professional trajectory. However it is worthy of note that she does not
express disappointment in the way this past‟s future construction of an imagined
community was updated through her educational and work experiences and in the light of
her present involvement in an academic community. As we will see her evaluation of her
standing as a professional is overall a positive one.
For graduates of preparatory education in Mexico choosing a university program
and thus a prospective career is not an easy task. Most public schools provide scarce
guidance and support to students in such endeavor. Many of the factors that influence
students‟ choice have been previously explored in different studies (Holland 1997;
Savickas, 2007; Duffy and Sedlacek 2007). College education represents, although much
less now than in the past, an opportunity for individuals to social mobility and access to
groups of professionals. Two important factors that have a lot of weight on the decisions
students make are the perception, true or not, of the amount of jobs available and the
social/economic prestige that each profession is conferred by society. In general, one
chooses as a career based on previous experiences and the potential we see for success.
As Penuel and Wertsch (1995) point out:
Having a career provides a trajectory by which the roles and expectation from
childhood of youth‟s creativity and intelligence find fruition in the choice of a
career that is consonant with one‟s own desires and with what others recognize a
genuine potential for success. (p.88)
Edith Martínez describes the natural ability she had to learn English paired with her love
for music. This combination made the choice of Lengua Inglesa a „conosonant‟ choice.
An aspect that helped me decide on LI as a career was the relative ease with
which I had acquired the language. Having only coursed traditional grammartranslation English classes three times a week during my primary years and junior
highschool years, I could say that it was my love for songs in English that
definitely gave me an “ear” for the language. Although I did not understand most
of the words I heard, I was able to follow every single one of them, by
pronouncing very closely every word from my favorite singers and bands
Individuals who choose a program like Lengua Inglesa face some contradictory
perspectives prevalent within society on these two issues of labor market opportunities
and prestige. On one hand, people in general perceive the learning of English as an
important asset in order to gain access to jobs but the general societal impression is that
the learning of English is an additional and desirable qualification that individuals in
different professional areas accrue to better their careers. However, people in Mexico do
not confer to programs like this a high status, on one hand there is the perception that
Lengua Ingles programs are just to study “English” and consequently either people ignore
what career possibilities graduates can have or that the most they can aspire to is to
become language teachers which does not carry in some respects much social prestige.
The teaching of English in Mexico as well as in many parts of the world has been
finding its way to “professionalize the profession”. Historically, the jobs have been
fulfilled in many instances on one hand by people who have no teacher training
background including native speakers or L2 speakers who just „happen‟ to know English
as it happened in Mexico in many private institutions. And on the other by professional
teachers who often do not have a good command of the language, as it happens in many
public schools. Thus when an individual chooses to study Lengua Inglesa, this choice
raises suspicion among peers and family. As Edith Martínez expresses in the following
segment of her narrative:
Most of my high school friends chose marketing or accounting, so they thought I
was wasting my time by choosing to study something that could only provide a
career by being a teacher at an obscure private kindergarten school of dubious
With this often generalized perspective on LI one should wonder what attracts people to
this career choice. In the case of Edith, as in the case of many candidates to the program,
according to reports of professors who interview them in the admission process, she
thought she would make a career as a translator or interpreter:
At the age of 17, I was lured by what a(I) figured could be a glamorous and
promising career as an interpreter at international conferences and important
business meetings. At that time, I did not know that I would come to love
education so much that I would regard teaching as one of the most rewarding
experiences of my life.
Although working as a translator or as an interpreter is a possibility that
materializes in occasions for some students and graduates, it is actually hard to find a full
time job in this area. While it might be true that the range of types of jobs many graduates
pursue varies considerably, eventually many of them enter a community of professionals
working in the area of language teaching or education. Moreover they often find this
experience rewarding as this graduate expresses. In addition, jobs in education have been
attractive for women due to the flexibility in the schedules and vacation periods. This
allows, for many, the opportunity to remain professionally active in times where the
upbringing of children becomes a major task.
Most of the friends I had in high school, who decided to study accounting,
marketing or administration, eventually decided not to get jobs, as it was difficult
to keep up with the role of mothers and professionals. I have always been grateful
I chose a career that, although competitive and complex, allowed me to balance
both roles, and be close to my children when they needed me. In this sense, there
are few professions as noble as teaching. The flexible hours I was able to work
when my children were small, allowed me to always keep up with the trends and
changes in the field, a benefit that became very valuable by the time I moved on
to more challenging teaching-learning contexts. LI definitely made this difference,
as the level of proficiency that this career allows you to have, has always been
considered an advantage wherever I have asked for a job.
This recognition that her career choice has placed her in an advantageous position
in comparison to her friends in high school contrasts with the comments her friends made
when she was entering the program. Some of her peers who taught she was wasting her
time could not eventually keep their jobs because of the complexities of family and job
responsibilities while Edith Martínez could eventually cope with both roles. In addition,
in this extract, she acknowledges that not only being a teacher gives her certain
advantages over other professions but also that the level of proficiency she feels the
program „allowed her to have‟ has been crucial in her development as a language
professional. This is an example of „updating‟ an imagined community (Murphy, Jin and
LI-Chi, 2004). Edith thought she would form part of a community of interpreters at
international conferences and did not imagine that teaching as a profession could be as
she expressed “one of the most rewarding experiences of her life”. It was her trajectory in
and out of the program that modified her initial expectations, something we could expect
since her ideas were of something she hadn‟t experienced. In the next section I explore
some of the factors that influenced her positioning as a successful professional as well as
some of the factors involved in the construction of her identity.
Integration into a community
The narrative of this participant is not just about achievement and success but also
about struggle and effort to move from the periphery to the center of a community
(Wenger, 1998). She acknowledged that entering this academic community required from
her to learn to cope with academic tasks that due to her level of proficiency in the
language were highly demanding. Her development as an English speaker and as a
student depended upon acquiring the academic skills required for college education and
increasing her proficiency in the language. But in addition to these it also required
building an identity as a legitimate participant (Wenger, 1998). Her identity, in the light
of this work, not only resides in the individual nor is static but rather fluid and dynamic,
and it emerges out of the concurrence of personal history and a social community. In
addition, it emerges out of practice and interaction with others. To some extent the
program serves as an immersion program of the „swim or sink‟ type that occurs in many
parts of the world with the difference that students receive sufficient scaffolding to
progress in their competencies.
I studied for hours every afternoon, looking up the words I didn‟t understand in
the readings we had in our text analysis classes. At first, I could not fully enjoy
the literature I was being asked to study. All I was doing was scrutinizing words,
finding connections, trying to make sense of what was going on in the stories. It
was later on in the semester that I began to take pleasure in the stories and essays
by Joyce Carol Oats, Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O'Connor, D.H.
Indeed, these class experiences dealing with literature not especially written for language
students are challenging for the level of complexity in decoding the texts and all the
intricacies and subtle nuances of literature but at the same time they are key in building
students‟ confidence and in developing an identity as participants in a community. Once
the student manages to pass this stage of „scrutinizing‟ words and start getting confidence
in her understanding and interpretation of the texts, this builds into her self image,
notwithstanding that „their self‟ image is only part of developing an identity. In her
conclusion of the biographical essay she advices new students to read and write a lot
which she sees as enrichment, she tells us about the library that became her „bastion‟ and
place of comfort and concludes this idea by saying that “in the end, it has been my love
for the written word that has allowed me to continue working in the noble field of
Moreover, I argue that it is not only her contact with the written word that
contributes to the construction of her identity, but also her learning process and her
participation as a competent user of English by expressing through the literary texts her
points of view and her experience. It increased her motivation and she felt part of a
community in which it is not just important the accuracy of the comments and
contributions she made to the class (spoken or written) but what seemed to be valued was
the ideas she expressed. She gradually increased her participation as her understanding of
text messages grew. She began, in the light of her own life experiences, to „take pleasure
in stories and essays‟. All this became part of the experience of being a student in this
community and a display of competence that formed part of the repertoire of participation
that translates into her identity. It is through the reading of literary works that students
acquire the symbolic, cultural and linguistic capital (Bordieu 1991) required to engage in
an imagined community of practice. In this way, this imagined community is similar to
Anderson‟s (1983) because the experience of reading and discussing works like the ones
mentioned by the participant create the connection between this community and others
who the students assume share the same experience. These communities could include
the local practices of former students who have read the same literary works as well as
the extension to other English speaking academic circles.
These school events together with the negotiation of a position in relation to other
peers form a trajectory in which identity is at work. Not only students face difficulties in
academic tasks that they must overcome but also the comparison they make of their own
proficiency to that of other students forms an initial barrier that can block their
participation in class.
Looking at my more able classmates didn‟t work wonders on my self-confidence
either. Fluent and assertive, they participated actively in class discussions and
displayed the near-native speaker pronunciation they had acquired in the
semesters they had spent in summer camps in the US, living with American
families in order to improve their language. Would I ever be as fluent and
confident in the use of language as they were?
Gradually, I timidly began participating and expressing my opinions on what little
I understood every night as I wrote the daily paragraph Mr. Mariano would ask as
“your homework assignment for tonight…”
The reasons behind participating or not in classroom activities are not just related to
issues of anxiety produced by the lack of confidence in students‟ own competence in the
language. As this extract shows it is also based on issues related with identity-based
anxiety motivated by both a desire to maintain certain relationships amongst peers and to
avoid a feeling of embarrassment in the group (Stroud and Wee, 2006). Issues of
competence are not downplayed in the development of students but I want to emphasize
that they are accompanied by other feelings such as the ability to „display a near-native
pronunciation‟ as perceived in other classmates. Having opinions to share in class or not
are coupled with being able to „sound‟ like other classmates as it has been expressed by
Edith Martínez. Unlike research on immigrants in target language communities, power
differentials are not that acute in this context. Nonetheless, students who sound like
native speakers to other peers have an influence on their participation and students like
Edith Martínez have to find a way of forging their own identity as legitimate
participants. The data suggests that there are two factors that make a person move from a
condition of insecurity in their capacity as an L2 speaker to a confident one. On one hand,
as one might expect, it is the acquisition of relevant skills that resemble real life
enterprises and the increasing linguistic proficiency, and on the other, it is the
incremental participation in class in which individuals claim a right of membership.
Granger (2004) suggests that when learners do not fully participate or remain silent has
been taken in SLA as sign that they either do not understand what is going on or that do
not have the linguistic resources to participate but a third possibility has been largely
ignored. For this author it can be part of an identity struggle as a result of a familiar
sense of self in L1. In the following section I explore some of the factors that contributed
to Edith‟s continuing trajectory as a second language professional.
The role teachers play in the construction of an L2 professional identity
Murphy, Jin and Li-Chi (2004) encourage teachers to be aware of the “the power
that they have to present imagined communities” (p.91). They argue that teachers can
develop and stimulate their students‟ imagination and investment in their identity. But
how does this happen in actual practice? I propose based on the account of Edith
Martínez that one way of accomplishing this is by presenting students a set of
expectations that describe not their current abilities but the desirable characteristics that
full members of a Lengua Inglesa community are expected to have. Professors know that,
in one way or another, incoming students fall short on the competencies required for the
program since many of them come with various academic abilities and levels of language
proficiency and rarely when they enter they have experience in the tasks that the program
requires. Text analysis and academic writing are crucial for students development and
there is a widespread gap between the previous education levels and college education.
There is also discontinuity with students‟ experiences in language classes and the kinds
of courses in this program as well as their past trajectories as L2 speakers especially of
students who studied abroad. However instead of emphasizing their shortcomings or
deficiencies, teachers can concentrate on explaining and making the students aware of
their potencies and treating them as if they already had them. This strategy works as a
way of stimulation since students work hard to meet this expectation until they actually
reach it. Martínez describes her first day in the program:
My first day at LI is firmly etched in my mind. Mr. Mariano was in charge of
giving the introductory speech. Pacing left to right in the front of the room, with
that brisk style and intense discourse that can captivate you as it makes your mind
work full gear in order to follow him, he was there to make us freshmen
understand, that LI was, by no means, an ESL academy or language school: this
was an English major and that we were expected to be fully competent in our
communication skills, as we would deal with intellectual concepts that requested
more than a superficial knowledge of the language.
After that speech I was ready to run out the door and join my friends in
Accounting. I was terrified. Little did I know that Mr. Mariano was to become one
of the most important persons in my life, a man whom I would come to see as a
mentor and who still today, after 20 years, deserves all my admiration and
The teacher‟s role was to picture in the students‟ minds the kind of expectations set for
them and the kind of „intellectual‟ job required from them. As this extract shows, this
kind of speech first created a „shock‟ that made the participant think of running out to
pursue a different career. But as we learn from this participant, it was this teacher who
became a guide and support in the time to follow.
Mr. Mariano‟s classes became a motivation for me to prepare twice as much as
school required.
Contrary to the literature reported that describes interaction between native and nonnative speakers that usually depicts non-natives as feeling intimidated by the unequal
power relations, this community reflects a different trend in the line that I have been
arguing in this work. It is the interaction with a native speaker, in this case the teacher,
who recognizes the capacity in the students what makes their confidence as L2 speakers
develop. The role and work of mentors modeling and identity helps to build students‟
own as L2 users. This occurs when teachers go beyond students‟ deficiencies in the
language and enhance their development by acknowledging their contributions to class
discussions in a non-judgmental way.
Mr. Mariano‟s classes stood out for many reasons. This man‟s intellectual
capacity reminds you of Noam Chomsky‟s discourse, but the excitement and the
passion he imbues to each idea, make his as stimulating as Woody Allen‟s. In his
lectures, he is capable of combining literature, politics and common sense in a
delicate, but definable balance: listening to him speak, you can feel events and
characters come to life before your eyes.
As a reader of our work, he was very honest. Whenever he felt you were
not delivering work of good quality, he would let you know. Going beyond
grammar and usage, he would force us to try and see the true meaning of stories,
the beauty of a combination of words, the humor, irony and sarcasm hidden
between lines. He would laugh heartily with us whenever we made unexpected
interpretations of author‟s stories or poems. And our opinions were always taken
seriously. He made us feel as if we were at his level of discussion, and that made
us feel very valued and encouraged us to take risks and try our best.
It is precisely this confidence in the students‟ capacity reflected in this extract what
makes the students feel as Edith expresses „valued‟ as L2 speakers constructing a
professional identity. Learners are considered within this community using a „legitimate
language‟ (Bourdieu, 1977) which makes them feel connected to an imagined
community of speakers who are capable of discussing a piece of literature, a practice seen
not just as a learning strategy but as something that builds into their identity as language
professionals. As Bourdieu (1977) points out competence is not just a matter of being
understood by others, but also competence to command a listener. We speak not only to
be understood but also to be believed and respected (p.648). This idea of competence is
precisely reflected in Edith‟s comment that their opinions were always taken seriously.
Furthermore, this perceived honesty in assessing the quality of the students‟ work is
what supports the genuine consideration that their opinions were taken seriously and up
to the level of discussion proposed by the teacher. Pittaway (2004) rightly points out
when learners‟ investment on the language goes without support and guidance this can be
destroyed. Furthermore he claims that instructors are “in the unique position of
interacting with learners to create a room full of empowered identities, which can then be
leveraged in the service of helping learners achieve a return on their investment” (p.204).
This investment in the case of Edith was returned in the confidence she gained from these
experiences and in her development as English professional. This empowerment was
possible when her speech was treated not as interlanguage produced by a second
language learner and was not just taken as practice but rather as comments made by a
legitimate speaker expressing valuable ideas.
The role of ‘old-timers’
„Old timers‟ is the name Wenger (1998) uses in his work to describe „more
experienced peers‟. The history of Edith Martínez offers good examples of the role
embodied by more advanced students and graduates of the LI program in the construction
of trajectories and identities. It has been argued that the interaction with these peers is
crucial because they represent “living testimonies to what is possible, expected,
desirable” (Wenger 1998, p.156). This author rightly pointed out that it is not just the
contact with actual people who offer models to follow but in the light of a composite of
stories newcomers encounter in their community, they are able to discern „proposals of
identities‟ from which they build their own unique identity by engaging in their potential
future. It was during her second semester that Edith was first invited to work as a teacher
and in the difficulties she found in taking this role; she received support of a teacher
trainer who was a graduate of Lengua Inglesa.
Teaching at the (name of institution) was my very first job and it was no piece of
cake I had to learn to control a group of students and keep them interested, as I
offered something meaningful for them to learn. However, with Mr. Mariano‟s
guidance, and the inspiration of teacher trainers like Martha Contreras, an LI a
graduate at that time, I gradually learned the ropes.
Similarly, when taking a course to obtain a certificate from the British Council „one of
the most important elements of her career‟, one of the instructors was another graduate of
the program who co-taught the course with a British instructor.
One of the most important elements of my career was the course that led to the
Certificate for Overseas Teachers of English, run at Filosofía y Letras by the
British Council, with the participation of Bill Smith and Nadia Dominguez, an LI
Once more, as a graduate herself, Edith obtained a job in a program that offered TOEFL
preparation courses. She acknowledges that the project had been instituted by another
„outstanding graduate‟.
Although I loved to work with children, I still needed the challenge of working
with adults and people who needed further education in the language. In 1993, I
started working at the ESL courses offered by ESBIN-ITESM system. It was here
where I became fully engaged in the project of TOEFL preparation courses,
instituted by Silvia Garcia, an outstanding LI graduate. This project allowed me to
continue analyzing the language at a more advanced level, as I taught engineers,
and English teachers who were interested in improving their performance in the
These living testimonies characterized by former students offered a repertoire of
trajectories that can make students imagine that they are part of a community of English
users who have been able to position themselves within a specific culture of language
teachers. These old-timers notwithstanding their non-nativeness represent not only
milestones in a career but also opportunities for newcomers of engaging their own
identity in the light of the practices embodied by these peers.
Curricular and extra-curricular activities that aid in the construction of a successful
professional identity
Two important aspects in the construction of an identity of confidence in
becoming a professional in a second language are the role of teachers who teach not at
the level of students but at the level expected from students and the role of successful
peers in inspiring newcomers. Now in this section I will argue that there are curricular
and extracurricular experiences that seem to be fundamental for the construction of a
professional identity. These experiences are an important part of learning since they
provide a means to see the kinds of things students can accomplish once they graduate.
Educators have proposed the concept of the hidden curriculum (Giroux and Penna 1983)
and how each schooling experience promotes outcomes not outlined in the stated goals of
a program: “the hidden curriculum consists of those things pupils learn through the
experience of attending school rather than the stated educational objectives of such
institutions” (Haralambos, 1991).
In this way the LI community offers students curricular and extracurricular activities not
necessarily stated in their objectives that grant them opportunities for constructing their
future as professionals and developing their identity. In the case of Edith Martínez, she
mentions at least five different aspects she considered important in her development as an
L2 professional: attending workshops and conferences, being a student-teacher,
participating in special projects and the partial publishing of her thesis.
Curricular and Extra Curricular courses, workshops and conferences
Block (2007) points out that the Foreign Language context is mostly defined by
those students “who rely on their time in classrooms to learn a language which is not the
typical language of communication in their surrounding environment” (p.5) and that in
this context for most students there is little opportunity for individuals to experience
identity transformations similar to those in the context of immigrants. However he
acknowledges that there are a variety of contextual factors that shape each foreign
language context. I want to argue in this work that in this particular context there are
opportunities for individuals to engage in identity work not only in the local context of
the classroom but in the many opportunities they have of contact with an extended
community of language professionals. One of these opportunities is the contact they have
with instructors, other language teachers and other professionals in general. A factor in
the professional development of students is their participation in courses offered in
addition to the formal curriculum that gives them confidence in their capacity as
professionals. Theses courses not only offer an opportunity to students to ratify the
knowledge gained in the curricular classes but also to expand on that knowledge.
Throughout the history of the LI program, there has been a connection with several
institutions that had interest in offering courses and talks to students enrolled in the
program. For example instructors from the University of Leeds and Edinburgh through
connection with the British Council offered courses in ESL; The Univerisity of Texas at
El Paso continuously sends instructors to collaborate in presenting their work and
recruiting possible candidates for their master program; The University of New Mexico
in Las Cruces offered several workshops in Translation.
The successful participation of students and the interaction they have with instructors
outside the LI community, as well as with graduates of the same program, makes students
imagine themselves as competent professionals able to reach a good professional status.
Edith comments on her own experience:
There were also linguistics and translation workshops, methodology seminars and
courses that were key for my development in this career.
One of the most important elements of my career was the course that led to
the Certificate for Overseas Teachers of English, run at Filosofía y Letras by the
British Council, with the participation of a British instructor and a LI graduate
(names deleted from the orginal). This theoretical-practical course gave me full
awareness of what is truly communicative, student-centered, autonomous
learning, concepts that I was able to apply to my classes and that later on would
be fundamental in the literature review of my thesis. The certificate I obtained has
worldwide recognition, and it has opened doors to wherever I have asked for a
position as a language teacher.
It is important to notice that COTE courses were sponsored two times by the British
Council and were supervised by a representative of the University of Cambridge
notwithstanding the participation of co-instructors who were graduates of the LI program.
Here again we see the participation of „old-timers‟ in practices that are regarded as „key‟
by Edith Martínez in her development. Wenger (1998) talks about generational
encounters understood as learning because newcomers get integrated into a community
by leading members. These leading members are engaged in practices that get continued
in their own way by new members. Likewise the participation in this teacher training
course gave Edith a comprehension of teaching and learning concepts that both
theoretically and practically supported her practice in the courses she has taught.
Additionally these courses aided in the writing of her thesis. But more fundamental than
the knowledge gained in the course is the identity expressed in this extract. As she
clearly states it is the certificate she obtained parallel to her degree that has made her a
successful language teacher because „it has opened doors‟ whenever she has asked for a
job as a language teacher. Wenger argues that “the structure of identity emerges out of
the process of building a trajectory” (1998, p.233). The trajectory of students is
reinforced by their engagement in events such as courses, conferences and the like that
impinge on their imagination by pushing the boundaries of the local community to make
them transcend their sense of self in connection with other academic circles. The
knowledge and ability expressed in the extract becomes part of the identity as language
teacher not only as a display of passive knowledge but as a meaningful social practice of
Working as interpreter
Although students might seem to have high expectations when entering the
program many of them might feel influenced by the comments they get from friends and
relatives about their ideas of the program. As many students express, one of the
comments they get when they tell other people what undergraduate program they study is
that people think they are just studying „English‟ or that they might be wasting their time
if they already know some English since there are many people who teach English
without necessarily having any particular training. One of the features that sets Lengua
Inglesa students and graduates apart is their exposure to a wider community of language
professionals with a variety of possibilities. In the case of Edith Martínez, she explains
the impact that her participation as an interpreter in conferences of different sorts had in
her development. The job of simultaneous interpretation in conferences is a job whose
market has been dominated by a group of graduates who have businesses in the
community and recruit LI students for special projects. Some of these projects have
international impact such as the conference of governors of the Mexico-USA border.
Edith Martínez explains the confidence she gained in her language abilities by having the
opportunity to make communication possible between native speakers of English and
During this time, I was able to participate as a simultaneous interpreter in several
conferences, and this gave me security in my use of the language.
It is engaging in these kinds of practices that shape up a community. It is an evolving
circle constructed at the start of the program by professors and by students of LI and later
by graduates. All of them, with their own set of expectations and ideas about what the
community is, helped to builds possible trajectories for newcomers. The subject position
that emerged out of this experience as an interpreter is that of a second language speaker
who has gained „security‟ in her use of the language. Edith became a meaningful bridge
between people who would not be able to communicate otherwise due to a language
barrier by acting as an interpreter. Being a competent bilingual and interpreting for others
gives her a position of authority as a professional. This practice is not uncommon to
many LI students. In recent times many students have been asked to be interpreters for
people from English speaking countries and for others who use English as a lingua
franca. Students are often recruited to serve as interpreters of events of all kinds,
academic, economic, cultural and the like. Examples of these are the city‟s international
festival organized every year that brings artists of all sorts, the international biking race,
PBR rodeos, etc. Block (2007) claims that the TL context is a „limited scenario‟ for
identity work unless there is opportunity for contact with TL users or learners have
membership in international communities of TL users. In these cases he grants for some
potential of TL mediated identity work. The professional contact as interpreters grants
students in Lengua Inglesa such opportunities for identity work in which they ratify their
competency as successful TL speakers and professionals. Nonetheless, not only contact
with TL speakers allows for theses opportunities. As I have argued in this work, the
practices students develop mediated by their second language give them opportunities to
work an identity. Interacting with professors, peers and their own students as well as their
career choices gives students continuity to their life as second language learners and
makes them explore who they are and who they want to be. In the following section we
explore part of Edith history as a teacher of English.
Job as teachers
Several undergraduate programs at college level in Mexico have a component that
provides students with some kind of professional practice. However the practice students
from Lengua Inglesa gain is to some extent different. Programs such as accounting,
engineering and the like offer students limited practice as to what their professional life is
going to be like once they graduate. Students are given positions aiding in often clerical
assignments and only for a short period of time. Several institutions, industries and
agencies take advantage of the student practices and see it as a way of hiring cheap
qualified labor for low stake tasks. Other programs such as medicine or nursing with a
high component of practice usually delay that practice to the last years due to the delicate
nature of the job involved.
In Lengua Inglesa, many students during their first years in the program get a job
not as practicing or „in training‟ professionals but due to the high demand of English
teachers many of them get „real‟ jobs in institutions as early as their second year. It is
under special circumstances (high demand of English teachers and not enough qualified
professionals) that these students start in the job market early in their college life. It is
these opportunities as language professionals that make their studies meaningful and take
on special dimension in their lives. Through these experiences they move from the
„language learner‟ identity to other possibilities as language professionals.
In the history of the program, there have been institutions that have continuously
provided job opportunities for students. One of them was a US bi-national center that
offered English classes at all levels from children to adults and a teacher training program
for teachers in the community. The center, directed by a LI professor, became an aid in
the development of students. Later, the facultad of Philosophy and Letters opened an
English language program designed and run by faculty and students of Lengua Inglesa.
This took on the role of the later closed bi-national center of providing jobs for students.
Moreover, there have been other public and private schools and institutions in the
community often run by graduates that also recruit LI students for teaching positions.
In addition to the confidence students get during their school years, being able to
get a job as language teachers increases their motivation and makes them feel that their
efforts are worth since they are developing with their learning a new identity as
competent speakers of the language. In the following extract Edith Martínez explains her
experience when she was asked to take a test and to see if she was qualified to teach in
one of the institutions described above.
It was in my second semester. That day, at the beginning of the class, Mr.
Mariano asked a friend and me to come to his desk. He asked us what we had to
do that afternoon. When we mumbled something like “nothing…why?”, he then
asked us to come to his office after classes. We were intrigued. Mr. Mariano
explained he needed new teachers for the language academy he was director of,
[name of institution omitted] and he was asking both of us to come and take a
proficiency test to see whether we were qualified.
Mr. Mariano probably did not know he had changed my life that very
minute, by simply asking me to come and take the test. As I went back to my seat,
I understood everything had been worth my while. The long hours at night,
racking my brains trying to understand the stories and then venturing my opinions
in class had definitely had something to do with this man‟s decision to ask me to
come and take a test. It really didn‟t matter to me whether I would pass or fail;
that moment I learned that you can really achieve your goals with dedication and
hard work, even if the prospect seems impossible.
There are two important aspects to pay attention to in the above extract. First the last
comment in this paragraph reflects the rooted belief that all it takes to succeed in what we
do including language learning is „dedication and hard work‟. Although there is no doubt
that the attitude and motivation with which one approaches any endeavor, in this case
language learning and studying a college degree, play a significant role in its outcome,
the socio-historical context including the particular community and its practices in which
individual learning takes place have also a big weight in the creation and distribution of
individual opportunities for succeeding. Without down-playing her personal effort in
achieving her goals, there are many instances in the reflections that Edith makes of her
experience in the program that suggests that her interaction with others and her
engagement in the social practices of the community also played a significant role. Other
researchers have pointed out the “dialectic between the individual and the social; between
human agency of (these) learners and the social practices of their communities” (Norton
and Toohey 2004, p.308) that conform a favorable combination of circumstances, time,
place and people for an individual to learn and succeed. It is from recognition of the
social nature of learning that we come to a deeper understanding of how a person can
appropriate the linguistic resources and their corresponding subject positions that grant
her participation in a community as an L2 user and teacher. This perspective has been
present in the work of sociologists who try to reconcile dichotomies such as agency and
structure (Giddens 1986) and propose that human action is partly determined by the
context in which it occurs. One interesting aspect of Edith‟s first teaching experience is
that this opportunity was made possible by a professor in the program who is a native
speaker of English who unlike other teachers thought that the students could grow by
immersing themselves in the profession. The participant recounts that there were other
professors who thought that students at the beginning of the program did not have what it
takes to take the role of teachers. In the following extract we see that although there were
people granting opportunities for students, there were also professors who did not agree
that beginner students in the program started working as teachers of English. The contrast
between these two positions relates to how each group understood the identity of students
and the power they had to influence their trajectories in terms of granting or blocking
opportunities for learners‟ growth. In the following extract Edith talks about this:
Although I saw this opportunity of being a student-teacher as a great learning
experience, there were teachers at the university that did not agree with the fact
that students who were not even in their sophomore year, would be teaching at an
academy. They thought we were demasiado verdes , as we say in Spanish. But we
were able to apply everything we were learning at school, and the challenges we
faced in our classes encouraged us to research more deeply into the school library
to find theories, methodologies and activities that could be readily applied into the
This was Edith‟s first job and tough she admits that it wasn‟t easy to find her way in this
new role as a student-teacher, with the extra help of training courses in the same
academy instructed by more advanced students or graduates from LI she „learned the
ropes‟. Additionally, this experience enhanced her interest in the classes she was taking at
the university as it provided a driving force to find ways of coping with the challenges of
teaching. Furthermore the teaching job provided a window of opportunity to increase her
confidence in her own language abilities.
At the same time, I felt more confident in my use of oral skills. As I learned the
theoretical background of the linguistic elements of the language, I made a
conscious effort to apply them while I spoke to my students, and even made it a
point to introduce them to the elements I deemed practical and useful in order to
help them polish their pronunciation and rhythm of their oral production.
This way, studying for our school subjects and preparing for our classes became a
single task; working for one benefited the other directly.
Edith‟s investment in her studies succeeded as she used the language and her academic
training to gain and maintain a status as a teacher of English. This contrasts highly with
her initial doubts on her language abilities when she compared herself with other peers at
the beginning of the program. Now in a classroom, in front of less proficient learners of
English she could display not only her improved language abilities but also her academic
training in linguistics. The participant describes several other teaching experiences she
had while being a student. These teaching positions were both in private and public
institutions at many different educational levels. Each experience led to a successful
professional career. In the following extract, she describes her current participation in
language programs in a top private university:
Recently, I have been honored with the opportunity of belonging to the group of
examiners the IBO program has worldwide. As an Internal Assessment Examiner,
I am in charge of moderating the oral competence of students from different parts
of the world. This experience has not only allowed me to get to know more deeply
the IBO system, but it has also been a turning point in my career. Due to my
involvement with the IBO, since March 2006, the (Name of institution omitted)
system gave me the opportunity to participate in the development of the language
curriculum of the system, that will be in full use in August this year. I have had
the pleasure of working with language specialists and pedagogical experts in
putting together a competency-based program that we expect will have very
positive effects in our students‟ performance in the language. Besides this project,
I actively participate in lecturing at training workshops in Monterrey and Mexico
City, and research projects about the impact of technological tools in education.
Special projects
From time to time students engage on their own in projects that help modify the
conditions of their own community. This experience factors into the construction of a
positive identity as language professionals. One such project was carried out by this
participant and one of her peers. She narrates how they offered their services as teachers
in a federal kindergarten in which there was no „official‟ instruction in English, as it was,
and still it is the case of many public schools in Mexico. The classes were organized
through the parents‟ board that paid with their contributions the salary of these two
student-teachers and the materials needed for the classes. Although Edith‟s classmate left
the project she continued running it for some time and she even extended it to the
neighboring elementary school, recruiting more instructors form LI who joined this
project. The participant describes this as „one of the most precious projects she
participated in‟ and one who gave her „numerous satisfactions‟ because as she said she
was an „agent‟ in her community. The classes offered at a low cost were an opportunity
for children to acquire a language they might not have other wise acquired due to the cost
of language or private schools. She says that thanks to the level attained in these classes;
the schools festivals they participated in; and the special projects; some kids were able to
get scholarships at other institutions. She summarizes her experience in this project in
the following terms:
This project gave me numerous satisfactions. Not only was I able to be close to
my children during crucial years, but I also continued acquiring experience as I
participated as an agent of change in the community where I lived. Very often,
parents would kindly point out how grateful they were that their children were
learning English so quickly, and for a cost that did not strain their family income.
Some of those kids have been able to get scholarships at prestigious private
bilingual high schools, thanks to the level of English they attained at “Escuela
Adolfo Barranco Fuentes”.
An experience like this that brings almost no economical reward to the participants,
nonetheless contributes to subject-positioning through the acknowledgement given by
other members in the community such as parents, school boards, etc.
Edith Martínez obtained her degree with a thesis that received honors in her
defense. Nowadays students in the program have 9 different choices to complete the
requirement for obtaining their undergraduate degree and writing a thesis represents a
challenge that not many students are willing to take. In Edith‟s case she decided to write
one that, as she says, „combined her career interests and her family‟. Her project was a
picture dictionary with activities for children who were learning how to read and write. It
was a family project because her husband, being a graphic designer, supported and aided
in the project. Also since she had two little kids she had the opportunity to pilot the
material with them. The project itself turned out to be a success not only for obtaining her
academic degree but it also transcended the academic circle when it was published in the
weekly children‟s section of a major local newspaper. Graduating with honors by
completing this project left Martínez with a sense of pride of her own work and
accomplishments. These feelings have had an impact in her professional development as
a language teacher and as an L2 speaker of English.
As you can see, most of the satisfactions in the personal and professional
dimensions of my life have been a direct result of my choice of studying LI. I
have always been grateful to those teachers who had the vision of developing a
program to form competent professionals in this field…This exercise (writing the
biographical essay) has allowed me to see once again how meaningful my
experience at Lengua Inglesa was, and how transcendental in the pathway to
personal and professional development.
Martínez is currently engaged in numerous important projects in a top private institution.
While reviewing her life history, we can see that she managed to carve out a place for
herself in conjunction with group‟s efforts to support a positive identity as a langue
professional. English learning and teaching brings with it great linguistic and social
capital in Mexico. Edith was able to sidestep and even transcend feeling of insecurity and
perhaps inferiority with respect to peers who had been abroad. In her narrative, there is a
display of confidence in her ability to overcome difficulties. Moreover she seems to
position herself as successful in her professional life mediated by her second language.
In the following extract she explains her current responsibilities and job opportunities:
Recently, I have been honored with the opportunity of belonging to the group of
examiners the IBO program has worldwide. As an Internal Assessment Examiner,
I am in charge of moderating the oral competence of students from different parts
of the world. This experience has not only allowed me to get to know more deeply
the IBO system, but it has also been a turning point in my career. Due to my
involvement with the IBO, since March 2006, the (name of institution) system
gave me the opportunity to participate in the development of the language
curriculum of the system that will be in full use in August this year. I have had the
pleasure of working with language specialists and pedagogical experts in putting
together a competency-based program that we expect will have very positive
effects in our students‟ performance in the language. Besides this project, I
actively participate in lecturing at training workshops in Monterrey and Mexico
City, and research projects about the impact of technological tools in education.
One way of summarizing the data analysis I have done in this chapter is by
considering that in doing so, we have been looking at the experience of an individual in
the journey of going from an incipient bilingual to a confident one in her continuous
development as a successful L2 professional. In analyzing the details of this biographical
account we have arrived to a better understanding of some factors that have been
considered important in retrospective by the participant in the construction of her identity
and her participation in an academic community.
In the narration of the participant‟s history, it is important what stands out as a
factor and what has been omitted in the recounting of her experiences. It is interesting
that Martínez in her essay never mentioned or wrote about herself vis-à-vis native
speakers of English. Nativeness does not seem to be an issue in her development as an L2
speaker and as a teacher of English.
In evaluating and analyzing Edith‟s experience in the program I have made a
point in talking about her success. Success in this case does not mean, as in other areas of
research in SLA, an approximation to a native speaker score in grammaticality judgments
tests or ratings about her accent and proficiency in recorded extracts of her language.
Rather, success is taken as the ability to successfully position herself as a competent
professional. Edith describes how within a month of her moving to the 3rd most important
city in the county, she was offered a job in one of the top private universities in Mexico
in which she had submitted her CV.
In an initial reading of Edith‟s history we notice her self-evaluation of the relative
ease of her second language acquisition. There is evidence, in her narration, of her
perception of the confidence, assertiveness and aptitude that she developed in the process.
All of these are common traits of a good language learner as reported in the literature.
She considered herself successful in acquiring English even if her evidence for
evaluation was that she understood and followed songs in English and her lack of
experience conversing in English did not made a mark. This indicates that “success” in
language acquisition to individual learners has often little to do with measures used by
researchers such as judgments of grammaticality, standardized tests or evaluation of
speech by native speakers of the language. This relative success was later confronted with
a different context, in this case, starting the Lengua Inglesa program. The demands and
practices she had as an L2 learner and user changed when she was in the program and
they became more taxing to her self-image and identity. This made her re-assess her
„success‟ and command of the language and push her to work hard so she could
understand the readings she was given in class and participate in class discussions.
Martínez when she entered the program felt insecure of her language abilities and
her participation in class was poor according to her description. She wondered whether
she could succeed in this new environment or not. In this chapter we have seen that there
are factors that contribute to the construction of a positive identity within imagined
communities. Some of these factors emerged from the data analyzed in this chapter. The
courses she took and the tasks she performed as a student gave her a sense of self as an
English user. Moreover, professors who encourage her to perform at her best and treated
her as an equal made an important impact in her positioning as a student. She managed to
position herself as a competent student in spite of her perception that other peers were
more proficiency than her. Old-timers also played a significant role in constructing the
imagined community of professionals for her. Previous trajectories gave her a sense of
the potential she had in the future. Moreover, work opportunities, extracurricular
activities and special projects provided options and challenges she undertook as a means
for accomplishing personal desires and objectives within a community system. There is
evidence in this chapter that constructing and identity through our participation in
imagined communities is not a self-made project nor is entirely determined by the
I conducted this research project with the intention of investigating how identities
and imagined communities of learners in a Lengua Inglesa program were constructed by
students through their life histories and what factors stimulated or inspired them in their
trajectories as L2 learners and future professionals. I was especially interested in
exploring how educational experiences contribute to the construction of a positive
identity. I hoped to describe how participants position themselves as L2 speakers and
professionals, to identify factors and mechanisms involved in the construction of an
imagined community and to discover the identities of L2 speakers and professionals as
represented in the histories written by the participants. I also wanted to describe the link
between experiences within and outside the curriculum that provide for possibilities of
identity and imagined communities, as well as to identify larger discourses reflected in
the options of identity and imagined communities expressed by students, graduates, and
professors. Beyond these concerns, I hoped to observe in what ways the success of
students and graduates influences their concepts of the imagined communities they feel
themselves to be part of. Finally, I sought to learn how institutions, program
administrators and faculty members can enhance the spread of successful professional
identities and inspire or stimulate L2 speakers in their educational and professional
To answer these questions, I used data collected from students in Lengua Inglesa
who responded to a questionnaire aimed at exploring their language learning experiences,
their experiences in the LI program and their ideas about their futures as professionals. I
collected 30 LLHs from students participating in a workshop on language learning and
identity. And I also analyzed a long essay written by a graduate of the program in which
she recounted her experiences as a student and her professional trajectory up to the
moment of her participation in this research project. I summarized the findings presented
in the previous chapters and drew conclusions from them in light of the framework of
imagined community and identity discussed in the review of the literature. This chapter is
divided into two sections. In the first section I present the conclusions pertaining to the
connection between educational experiences and the construction of identities and
imagined communities. In the second section I turn my attention to the role of gradates in
influencing the images students have of themselves and the imagined communities they
see themselves as belonging to. I also discuss some factors gleaned from the stories of
how programs and instructors inspired and stimulated students in their trajectories.
Finally I present some suggestions for future research that emerged from the findings of
this research project.
Educational experiences and identity
The data, obtained from both the questionnaires and the LLHs, shows that the
language learning background of students in the Lengua Inglesa program is varied and
offers different kinds of opportunities for subject positioning in and through the students‟
second language. Students use English as the language of instruction for their college
education, they interact with other L2 users and with L2 and native instructors in an
academic context in Mexico. They all seek to develop a positive identity as students and
future professionals and they draw on their past educational experiences to do this. The
data shows that students mostly educated in Mexico have better literacy skills and
students who have been abroad have an advantage in their pronunciation and fluency.
However the data also shows that for many students in Mexico learning English is not
only an instrument to pursue a college degree and have a job in the future but also it is
part of their life. Their imagined communities extend beyond a classroom and profession
to the realm of their family and neighborhoods.
First of all, the majority of the students expressed that they have willingly
invested in their language learning for different reasons. None of these students resent or
question the reasons behind their learning of English as a foreign language. This suggests
that they have openly embraced the role of English in their lives and see themselves as
agents in their language acquisition process. Most of them said they like English and see
themselves as successful L2 learners. They are optimistic even though they recognize
difficulties using English. They see themselves as having a good future as English
professionals. However, students‟ educational experiences are varied and they influence
the way they position themselves in the LI community and project themselves into the
Most students who learned English in the public school system in Mexico did not
develop from this experience the confidence they required to see themselves as bilingual.
The exception is a small group of students who took English as one of the options for
specialization in preparatory school and received intensive English instruction. The rest
of the student looked for other ways of developing an identity as L2 speakers. These
students were often surrounded by media in English in the form of songs, TV programs,
and internet that provided them with opportunities to accrue the linguistic capital they
wanted to have. Other educational experiences for these students were classes in
language schools and bilingual programs in Chihuahua.
These students, when they start LI, often see themselves at a disadvantage with
respect to others who have had more direct contact with an English speaking
environment. However, these same students often have better literacy skills and are often
better prepared to cope with academic tasks. Nonetheless these students often
contemplate in their future plans when they finish their major that they would like to have
an opportunity to study or work abroad as they see this as something that would provide
them with more opportunities to advance as L2 users. They often see themselves as
agents in changing the situation of public education in Mexico. They talk about
themselves as being the teachers they thought they should have had when they were in
secondary and preparatory education.
On the other hand data from the LLHs and from the questionnaires suggests that
students who had the experience of living and studying abroad did not necessarily
develop the confidence and position as L2 users that they imagined they would have as a
result of their experience. On one hand they say that they were often not accepted
because they did not speak English well enough to participate in the community. On the
other hand, although some developed good oral/aural skills, their writing and reading
skills did not develop to the same extent and they have difficulties when they begin their
education in a LI program in Mexico. These students, nonetheless, say they feel confident
when interacting with native speakers and that they feel confident using English in almost
all situations. They often said that they initially believed the program was going to be
easy for them. They imagined that the program would only offer them opportunities to
practice their English. Once students are part of LI they recognize that the program offers
much more than language practice. As they mentioned in the results of the questionnaire,
it offers them opportunities to develop themselves in often unexpected ways. Classes in
linguistic and applied linguistics for example help them develop a sophisticated metalinguistic awareness they did not have access to in their previous experiences.
Furthermore classes in which they learn about SLA make them reflect and learn from
their own experiences. These students, who are often regarded by their peers as being
„more proficient‟, often consider peers who have been only foreign language students as
equals for their accomplishments and development as LI students.
Finally the data provides evidence that students imagined communities are not
necessarily consistent with national boundaries. Some students in the LI program
acquired English in Mexico while being immersed in the Mormon and Mennonite
communities in Mexico. Likewise, the large movement of people from Mexico to the
United States results in students seeing English as extending from the realm of the
foreign language classroom to the realm of their own family. They often see the
acquisition of English as something that would help them to interact not just or
necessarily with Americans but with members of their own family. Therefore the
imagined community of these students is not just „Americans‟ but also Mexicans that
move not only unilaterally from Mexico to the US but as people who constantly move
back and forth from one country to the other.
The data from the different research instruments used indicates that students
position themselves as proficient English users who have considerable advantages
compared to students in other majors, to other bilinguals and to similar professionals in
Mexico. They also feel confidence in being on an equal footing if they intend to pursue a
higher academic degree abroad. Some of the factors that contribute to students seeing
themselves as competent professionals are the content and activities in their classes, job
opportunities while being students and the contact they have with graduates and
instructors in the program. As the data from the autobiographical essay of the graduate
student suggests, the content of the courses prepares students for their participation in a
professional community of English L2 users. Literature and writing courses provide
students with opportunities to express their ideas orally and in writing and engage them in
activities that are meaningful in their construction of a positive identity. Writing poems in
English, editing their own and others‟ essays, translations and other activities make
students participate in activities that are demanding and challenging. Doing these
activities in a supportive environment in which they feel appreciated and valued by their
peers and instructors plays a significant factor in their development as professionals.
The role of graduates and instructors in harnessing their imagination
In general graduates from the program play an important role in inviting
newcomers to project and invest in their language learning and in their trajectories as L2
professionals. First, they play a significant role in attracting new students into the
program. Students‟ contact with teachers and translators in the community invites them to
see themselves as students in the LI program and as competent future professionals. On
the other hand, since some of the instructors in the program are also graduates, there is
evidence that new students frame their own identity in the light of their interaction,
knowledge and perception of these instructors. Instructors provide scaffolding for
students to engage in practices and provide students with images of the possibilities they
can have as professionals. They also reify the students‟ identity by giving value to their
opinions and their class projects that provide what Wegner calls legitimate peripheral
The role of institutions and extracurricular activities
The experiences of students in the program suggests that conferences,
publications and the opportunities that students have to work using English are important
in strengthening a positive identity as L2 users and in making students align with broader
communities. The data from the LLHs suggests that getting jobs related to students‟
professional opportunities reinforces their development in the program. Martínez, talking
about the relationship of her own teaching and her development as a student in LI said in
her biography: “This way, studying for our school subjects and preparing for our classes
became a single task; working for one benefited the other directly”.
In the histories and questionnaires students frequently referred to the courses in
which they had to write extensively, especially those which required them to reflect upon
their own experiences as being significant factors in developing their confidence as
members of the community of language professionals. Similarly, they felt that the
classroom activities that involved them in presentations before their peers or that
prepared them for speaking in public or developing materials for presenting in
conferences or submitting for publication helped to increase their confidence in
themselves as language users and teachers. Another element of the academic program
that seems to be significant for the development of professional identities revolved
around the activities, especially in TEFL and translation classes, that most closely
mimicked the activities that they expected to be doing as professionals after graduation,
or that they were already doing in their extracurricular work situations. These included
such activities as making lesson plans, doing practice teaching units, developing
translator‟s glossaries or making translations.
Several students, two very explicitly, mentioned that they initially were not sure
why they were doing many of the things that they were required to do in classes. They
suggested that it was only in the fifth or sixth semesters that they began to understand the
purpose of many of the earlier activities that they had participated in. Because the
program is, to a degree, inductive, the students don‟t always realize what they are doing
in the beginning. Also students mentioned the interrelatedness of the courses in the
program that each course seems to build upon earlier or concurrent courses or to address
questions raised by earlier courses. The interrelatedness of the elements of the program
seems to help students construct a holistic image of the community to which they belong.
Some courses provide kinds of activities that, although not directly focused upon the
activities that graduates might be expected to pursue, function to open them to the
possibility of other experiences. Students mentioned courses that led them to develop
interest in research in psycholinguistics or sociolinguistics and to see themselves as future
researchers rather than simply teachers or translators. Other students see themselves
writing fiction or poetry as a profession or becoming involved in educational research.
The extended history that I received from a graduate stressed much more than the
material from more recent students the importance of interaction with peers in creating
the feeling of community and in developing the concept of the imagined community to
which they all belonged. This may in part be because the early students in the major were
involved in creating opportunities that had not previously existed. To a degree, much of
what they were doing was new. For more recent students, the profession that was being
created before is taken for granted. Students are aware because of the stories of former
students of the opportunities that exist around them but they see the professional context
as something that already exists and that they can enter through studying at LI. It is clear
that the students at LI position themselves as part of an imagined community of language
professionals but the nature of the community is not monolithic. Different students have
constructed different images of the enterprise they are all involved in.
Theoretical implications
This project began with two main constructs: imagined communities and identity.
I explained in the introduction the way the construct of imagined community is
understood in this project. It is taken to refer to the community we see ourselves as
belonging to in the process of learning a second language but also to the one we hope to
belong to one day as we project ourselves into the future as L2 users. Although there is
evidence that members share a common sense of what this community is not all students
have necessarily the same idea when they take courses; interact among them; interact
with instructors and engage themselves with the larger community. Many of them, as it
was described in their LLHs, have had contact with English for various reasons ranging
from school instruction to interaction with communities of English speakers including
neighbors and family members. Nonetheless most of them see themselves as competent
language users who form part of a larger group of non native English speakers who make
their second language their own in order to function in society as language professionals
and engage in practices such as teaching, translating and mediators in different ways and
in different degrees between English and Spanish speakers and their cultures. These are
some examples of the kinds of jobs graduates have had: some graduates have worked for
companies that develop agricultural products and part of their jobs was to process patent
applications in Washington D.C.; other pursued a career in criminology and does
research on international crime for Interpol; another works in travel agency in Montreal;
one worked as press secretary and Educational Officer for the Mexican Embassy in El
Paso; another was coordinator of International programs in a Community college, one
was the executive secretary to the general manager of an international Tile company,
while other worked in international security in an Airport. Furthermore some have
functioned as journal editors and translators for insurance companies in the United States.
All of these professional careers form part of the imagined community of students.
As I have argued personal histories intersect and interact with the community and each
individual shapes and sees in slightly different ways the imagination of what the
community constitutes for them. Some still struggle to accrue for them the necessary
resources to pursue their objectives while some others are already in the path that leads
them to accomplish them. Nonetheless, the evidence in this study suggests that there are
support systems and practices that help students develop their imagination and gain
confidence in their capacities. There were students who said they don‟t see themselves as
fully belonging to this community since their interests do not match with the program
objectives or with the opportunities granted by the program. Individuals seem to have
multiple memberships in communities and their participation in the LI program might be
peripheral while they remain central members in other communities. Data from the
questionnaires shows that students have several expectations for their future but most of
these center on their identity as English users and language professionals. Another
conclusion from this study is that the center of this community is not fixed. Members
who engage in the community in novel ways such as Edith did when she was a student in
the community can move or reshape the center and the practices of the community. For
example, through her participation in an English program in a public school she modified
in some way the imagining of the community. The program itself restructures and
updates as feedback is received from graduates and members explore more possibilities
as agents in their social environment. I suggest there is a continuous re-structuring of
what constitutes the imagined community and this is not stagnant in nature but rather
flexible and malleable.
In terms of identity I began this project by following the use of identity as the way we
understand who we are and how we manage to negotiate that understanding when we
interact and participate in the practices of specific communities. One of the objectives of
this project was to study students‟ identity not from the point of view of mainstream SLA
research which characterizes second language learners as being deviant from a native
speaker norm and define their success in terms of native like pronunciation or accuracy in
grammar. This perspective is well depicted in a popular SLA textbook which states that
“few, if any, adult learners ever blend indistinguishably with the target community, most
remain noticeably deviant in their pronunciation, and many continue to make grammar
mistakes and to search for words”. The answers to the questionnaire, the LLHs and the
biographical essay corroborate to some extent this statement by Mitchell and Myles
(1998), as many of them contain several grammar and vocabulary mistakes which I
preserved in the quotes. However, in this study, I did not want to make the same kind of
inferences of students‟ identity and success based on learners‟ linguistic accuracy as
traditional SLA research does. For example, the same authors state that SLA is „typified
by incomplete success” and that learners‟ language evolution is doomed to never reach its
goal (pp.12-13). As we can see in these statements second language learners are depicted
as adults who although well motivated to learn will never pass as native speakers whose
future is marked by an incomplete success and doomed to never reach their goal.
Researches from this perspective study the identity of learners from the analyst point of
view leaving learners voices out of their characterization. In this project I have tried to
give voice to the learners by emphasizing their own accounts and interpretation of
success or lack of it and how they see themselves pursuing their own interests, how they
seem to align themselves to other groups and what beliefs they hold of themselves as L2
users. As I have described in the chapters of this report some students see themselves not
under the lens of the deficient communicators. When learners describe what English
means to them, how they relate to others using this language, how their sense of who they
are is shaped and constructed through their language use; and how their imagination as
future professionals is mediated by the kinds of practices and experiences they have in
English; I am assuming they are representing a particular identity, dynamic and fluid in
nature by means of which these individuals relate to their others and they use this identity
as resource to negotiate subject positions. This work provides evidence of how success is
construed from the point of view of the learner, when a learner says “I know who I am
because of English”, s/he is not only drawing on larger discourses on language ideologies
but also representing life experiences, practices of a community and expectations for a
future given her/his trajectory in this academic and professional community.
Suggestions for further research
It is important to note that the LI community changes and evolves in a number of
ways. First, educational policies in the country and within the institution affect its
operation often dictating aspects of the curriculum such as the programs length, the
number of students admitted, the permanence and preparation of professors, etc. All of
these changes have to be accommodated while trying to preserve the essence of its
mission. Second, the community and the opportunities individuals have within this
community are to some extent in dialectical relationship with the environment and more
specifically, with cultural, social and economic forces that influence things such as the
availability of further academic opportunities, the job market, the symbolic power
speakers of a language can have, etc. Third, the characteristics of the participants in this
program can vary greatly as a result of several social, economical and political factors.
For example, one of the unexpected findings of this project was the increasing
incorporation of „Mexican-American returnees‟ into the Lengua Inglesa community.
Mexicans immigrating to the United States looking for job opportunities to
improve their economic situation is not a new phenomenon. However, over the last
decade, there has been a significant increase in the number of Mexicans from a non-rural
origin, middle-class background and with higher degree of educational attainment who
immigrate to urban areas in the US seeking for a better future. These immigrants take
with them their families, often get jobs for which they are overqualified and enroll their
children in the Aamerican main stream educational system. Many of these children
manage to integrate and assimilate into different communities and succeed to various
degrees in their education often obtaining a high-school diploma. At this point they reach
a dead end in their academic trajectory in the US. Given their illegal status in the country
and the economic situation of their families, they do not have access to higher education.
Their parents, often college graduates from Mexico who wish for their children a college
education as well, send them back to Mexico. These returnees can easily access the
public university system in Mexico and often feel attracted to programs such as Lengua
Inglesa. They see these programs as a way of continuing their education in English and as
a way of perhaps returning to the United States as international students with access to
scholarships or assistantships to further their education.
It is necessary to study this population from different areas of SLA research. In
the present study there was no emphasis on differentiating these students from the rest of
the population but they can offer valuable insights into identity construction in this
community in terms of how they see themselves with respect to peers in Mexico, the
peers they had in the United States and the relationship to instructors and professors in
Mexico. They can offer also interesting information to assess their performance in
college education in Mexico in contrast with the research that has been conducted in the
US with generation 1.5 students. Furthermore, their background offers great opportunities
for research in many areas such as second language writing, intercultural competence,
interactional skills, just to name a few of the areas in which this population can offer
valuable insights to further our understanding of second languages.
They all speak Spanish and English and often more languages with different
degrees of fluency. They are mostly aural and oral learners, having learned English
through listening and speaking and not so much through reading and writing. They often
sound like native speakers and show thorough knowledge of social customs, U.S. culture,
and idioms. However they often have a limited knowledge of academic English and are
often identified as having weaker literacy proficiency than native speakers and even
foreign language learners. They have never acquired or are losing literacy in their home
language and their education has been inconsistent as a result of differing placements,
pedagogies, programs and teaching practices. Further research is needed to explore their
experience and voice their concerns and needs as bilinguals.
Please complete this questionnaire as carefully as you can. If you need more space, please
write on the back of the page. There are no right or wrong answers. You may express
yourself freely. No one will see your answers except the researcher. If you do not
understand any part of the questionnaire or have any questions or comments, you can
contact the researcher, Cecy Villarreal at 0446141562291, 4-11-47-55, or by email at
[email protected]
A. Biographical information
1. Age _____________________
2. Male ______ Female ________
3. Place of birth _______________
4. Are you married? Yes ________ No _________
5. Do you have children? ____________a) How many? _______ b) Age
6. Name and location of your previous school
a)Secondary _________________________________
b)Preparatory _________________________________
c) College (if you have attended other than Lengua Inglesa)
7. Semester you are currently enrolled in Lengua Inglesa______________
B. Language Learning.
1. Make a list of all the ways in which you have used, learned or interacted with English
prior to entering Lengua Inglesa. (e.g. watched movies in English as a child, studied in a
language school, etc.)
2. Which of these experiences was the most significant in learning English and why?
3. Comparing yourself to other people who speak English as their mother tongue, how
well do you think you speak English? (Please circle your answer)
Much better
About the same
A little worse
4. Indicate the overall level of your English language proficiency.
5. Apart from your classes in Lengua Inglesa, Do you use English with other people?
With whom and/or for what reason?
6. In general, are there any situations in which you feel most comfortable using English?
7. Do you recall a situation in which you felt uncomfortable using English? Please
8. In general, do you have any difficulties using English? What are these difficulties?
Please Explain.
9. Can these difficulties be overcome? How?
10. In general, what are your strengths using English? Please explain.
11. a) Do you know someone who is a good model as a second language learner for
his/her achievements? If yes, please explain what makes this person a good model for
language learning.
b) Are you in someway similar or different to the role model you have in mind for the
previous question?
12. What is the role and significance that English has had in your life?
C. The Lengua Inglesa program
1. How did you first hear about Lengua Inglesa?
2. Why did you choose to study Lengua Inglesa?
3. Did anybody influence your decision of studying in this program? If so, who? Please
4. Did you know anybody who was studying or had studied in Lengua Inglesa BEFORE
you entered this program? If so
5. Are your classes in Lengua Inglesa different from your previous educational
experiences? How?
6.Is there anything about Lengua Inglesa (apart from the language of instruction) that is
different from other majors at the UACH?
7.What were you expecting the Lengua Inglesa program to be like before you began?
What did you expect to do in the major? What did you expect your future as a graduate to
8.) Has your idea of what the program is changed since you became a student? How?
9. Do you think your classmates from your generation have affected your development
as a student of Lengua Inglesa and your ideas about the major? How?
10.Have your ideas about Lengua Inglesa been affected by students from other
11. What do you like to most about studying in Lengua Inglesa?
12. What do you dislike the most about studying in Lengua Inglesa?
13. What classes have influenced you the most in your development as a future
professional? Why?
14.Has your contact with instructors increased your confidence as future language
professional? If so
15. Are there any extracurricular activities in which you can get involved (participation in
conferences, newspaper publications, etc.) that you consider important to your
development as a future professional? If yes, please explain.
16. In what ways are professionals who graduate from Lengua Inglesa different from
other professionals who do similar jobs?
17. In general how much English have your learnt since you have been a student
here?(please circle)
A lot
A little
18. Comparing yourself to other people in your class in Lengua Inglesa, how well do you
think you speak English?
Much better
About the same
A little worse
D. Employment
1. a) Are you currently employed? Yes _________ No________
b) If yes, what is your
c) Has your job contributed to or interfered with your studies? If yes, How?
d) Has your major (Lengua Inglesa) contributed to or interfered with your
development in your job? If yes, How?
2. What other work experiences have you had?
E. Future
1. In general, what are the employment or further academic opportunities for graduates
of Lengua Inglesa ? (please make a detailed list of all those opportunities that you
think are available for Lengua Inglesa graduates)
2. What are your career/professional goals after graduation? Please explain reasons for
your choice.
3. What job would you like to have in the future?
4. In general, Do you think this program will help you to achieve your goals in life?
5. Compared to other professionals with similar training, how would your rate graduates
from Lengua Inglesa?
Much better
About the same
A little worse
Title of Project: Successful language learners
You are being invited to voluntarily participate in the above-titled research study. The
purpose of the study is to understand what experiences promote successful language
learning for students in Lengua Inglesa at the Univesidad Autonoma de Chihuahua. You
are eligible to participate because you are currently enrolled in this academic program.
If you agree to participate, your participation will involve answering a questionnaire
about your school experiences. The questionnaire will be given to you and will last
approximately 1 hour to answer. You may choose not to answer some or all of the
questions. Your name will not appear on the questionnaire.
Any questions you have will be answered and you may withdraw from the study at any
time. There are no known risks from your participation and no direct benefit from your
participation is expected. There is no cost to you except for your time.
Only the principal investigator will have access to answers that you provide. In order to
maintain your confidentiality, your name will not be requested in pages of the
questionnaire. Answers to the questionnaire will be locked in a cabinet in a secure place.
You can obtain further information from the principal investigator, Ana Cecilia Villarreal
Ballesteros, Ph.D. candidate), at [email protected] or 0446141562291. If you have
questions concerning your rights as a research subject, you may call the University of
Arizona Human Subjects Protection Program office at (520) 626-6721.
By participating in the questionnaire, you are giving permission for the investigator to use
your information for research purposes.
Thank you.
Investigator‟s Name
Ana Cecilia Villarreal Ballesteros
PhD Student
Second language Acquisition & Teaching
The University of Arizona
(520) 304-5564
Dear workshop participants:
As you already know I will be conducting a 8-hr workshop on Second Language
Acquisition and Identity with you at the end of March during your normal class hours. I
am sending you this mail to invite you to participate in a research project I am conducting
about successful language learners. Your participation will consist in allowing me to use
the assignments that you do as part of the workshop for my study. These assignments will
consist on two of your writings in which you recount your learning experiences, your
postings to 4 discussion threads that I will set up in internet in which you will reflect on
your own ideas in the light of the readings that we do for the workshop, and allowing me
to record our workshop sessions. Your participation in the study will not require you to
do any additional task that you would not do for the normal scheduled workshop.
With this invitation you will also receive a consent form for you to read and
consider. Once I get to Chihuahua to conduct the workshop I will invite you again orally
and give you further information about the study and answer any questions you might
have in days previous to the workshop. Your can then make a decision whether you want
to participate in the study or not. Your participation in the workshop does not commit you
to participate in this study. The study is independent of the workshop and your
participation in it is voluntary. If you decide not to participate in the study, your decision
will not have any consequences for you. It will not affect the workshop that will be
conducted nor will it affect your grade on any course you are currently enrolled in. You
can be assured that if you decide not to participate this will have no impact on your
academic standing.
I look forward to meeting you and give you further information so you can make an
informed decision and you are free to contact me before we meet with any questions or
concerns you might have.
Ana C. Villarreal Ballesteros
[email protected] or [email protected]
Strategies for successful language learning
You are being invited to take part in a research study. The information in this form is
provided to help you decide whether or not to take part. Study personnel will be available to
answer your questions and provide additional information. If you decide to take part in the
study, you will be asked to sign this consent form. A copy of this form will be given to you.
What is the purpose of this research study?
The purpose of this research project is to understand what strategies students use in their
writing and their classes to advance their language proficiency.
Why are you being asked to participate?
You are being invited because you are currently studying an English major and are a L2
learner of English.
How many people will be asked to participate in this study?
Approximately 30 students will be asked to participate in this study.
What will happen during this study?
I will collect and use your writing assignments that you do for the workshop on “second
language learning and identity” for purposes of my study on successful language learners.
I will audio record the sessions, transcribe them and analyze them. (6 hours of recording)
How long will I be in this study?
The project will be conducted during the workshop and no extra time will be required.
Are there any risks to me?
The things that you will be doing have no risks.
Are there any benefits to me?
You will not receive any direct benefit from taking part in this study.
Will there be any costs to me?
Aside from your time, there are no costs for taking part in the study.
Will video or audio recordings be made of me during the study?
I will make an audio-recording during the study so that I can be certain that your
responses are recorded accurately only if you check the box below:
I give my permission for audio recordings to be made of me
during my participation in this research study which involves recording the
sessions of the workshop on “Second language acquisition and identity” and for using the
writings that I produce for the workshop
I give my permission for using the writings that I produce during the above
workshop but I do NOT give my permission for audio recording.
Will the information that is obtained from me be kept confidential?
The only persons who will know that you participated in this study will be the researcher:
Ana Cecilia Villarreal Ballesteros
Your records will be confidential. You will not be identified in any reports or
publications resulting from the study. It is possible that representatives of Human
Subjects Protection Program at the University of Arizona will want to review your
information. If that occurs, a copy of the information may be provided to them but your
name will be removed before the information is released.
May I change my mind about participating?
Your participation in this study is voluntary. You may decide to not begin or to stop the
study at any time. Your refusing to participate will have no effect on your participation
in the workshop. You can discontinue your participation with no effect on your student
status. Also any new information discovered about the research will be provided to you.
This information could affect your willingness to continue your participation.
Whom can I contact for additional information?
You can obtain further information about the research or voice concerns or complaints
about the research by calling the Principal Investigator ____Ana Cecilia Villarreal
Ballesteros, Ph.D. Candidate at (520)304-5564. If you have questions concerning your
rights as a research participant, have general questions, concerns or complaints or would
like to give input about the research and can‟t reach the researcher or want to talk to
someone other than the researcher, you may call the University of Arizona Human
Subjects Protection Program office at (520) 626-6721. (If out of state use the toll-free
number 1-866-278-1455.) If you would like to contact the Human Subjects Protection
Program by email, please use the following email address
Your Signature
By signing this form, I affirm that I have read the information contained in the form, that
the study has been explained to me, that my questions have been answered and that I
agree to take part in this study. I do not give up any of my legal rights by signing this
Name (Printed)
Participant‟s Signature
Date signed
Statement by person obtaining consent
I certify that I have explained the research study to the person who has agreed to
participate, and that he or she has been informed of the purpose, the procedures, the
possible risks and potential benefits associated with participation in this study. Any
questions raised have been answered to the participant‟s satisfaction.
Ana Cecilia Villarreal Ballesteros
Name of study personnel
Study personnel Signature
Date signed
This email is to be sent by the Program Coordinator.
Dear Lengua Inglesa Graduates:
Ana Cecilia Villarreal, instructor of Lengua Inglesa at the UACH, is conducting a
research study dealing with strategies used by successful language learners and
professionals. You are being invited to participate because professors in Lengua Inglesa
have referred you as a successful L2 professional. Ana Cecilia is interested in learning
more about your past and present learning experiences in order to understand better what
factors contribute to success.
Your participation in this study will consist of:
-writing an essay describing your learning experiences and your career trajectory.
-participating in 2 interviews that could be either face to face or by e-mail
depending on your availability.
The estimated time for you to complete these activities is 6 hours over an approximately
3 month period of time beginning in May. If you are interested in participating in the
project please contact Ana Cecilia by email at [email protected] or by phone at
(520) 304-5564. She understands that your reply doesn‟t mean you are committing
yourself to participate. She will then send you additional information for your
consideration and answer any questions you might have so you can later make an
informed decision.
If you do decide to participate we look forward to hearing your perspectives on students‟
success. Thanks for your time!
Lic. Laura Luevano
Lengua Inglesa Coordinator
Strategies of successful language learners
You are being invited to take part in a research study. The information in this form is
provided to help you decide whether or not to take part. I will be available to answer
your questions and provide additional information. If you decide to take part in the
study, you will be asked to sign this consent form. A copy of this form will be given to
What is the purpose of this research study?
The objective of this study is to better understand what strategies successful language
learners use.
Why are you being asked to participate?
You are being invited to participate because instructors in the Lengua Inglesa program
have recognized your high achievement in language learning.
How many people will be asked to participate in this study?
Approximately 8 graduates will be asked to participate in this study.
What will happen during this study?
For this study you will be asked to write an essay and participate in two interviews that
can be either face to face or through internet depending on your availability.
How long will I be in this study?
About _6__ hours over a 3 month period will be needed to complete this study.
Are there any risks to me?
There is no risk of any kind associated with your participation in this study.
Are there any benefits to me?
You will not receive any direct benefit from taking part in this study. However it is
expected that your participation will help instructors provide better language learning
opportunities during classroom instruction.
Will there be any costs to me?
Aside from your time, there are no costs for taking part in the study.
Will I be paid to participate in the study?
Will video or audio recordings be made of me during the study?
If there are face to face interviews…
I will make an audio recording during the study so that I can be certain that your
responses are recorded accurately only if you check the box below:
I give my permission for audio recordings to be made of me
during the interview sessions that are part of my participation in this
research study.
I agree to be interviewed but prefer that the interview sessions are NOT audio
Will the information that is obtained from me be kept confidential?
I, Ana Cecilia Villarreal and there is the remote possibility that the instructors that
recommended you as a successful language learner will be the only persons who will
know that you participated in this study. However your name won‟t be disclosed in any
reports that are generated from this study and any information you provide won‟t have
any link to your identifying information.
Your records will be confidential. You will not be identified in any reports or
publications resulting from the study. It is possible that representatives of Human
Subjects Protection Program will want to review your information. If that occurs, a copy
of the information may be provided to them but your name will be removed before the
information is released.
May I change my mind about participating?
Your participation in this study is voluntary. You may decide to not begin or to stop the
study at any time.
Whom can I contact for additional information?
You can obtain further information about the research or voice concerns or complaints
about the research by contacting the Principal Investigator, Ana Cecilia Villarreal
Ballesteros, Ph.D. Candidate, at (520)302-5564 or at [email protected] . If you
have questions concerning your rights as a research participant, have general questions,
concerns or complaints or would like to give input about the research and can‟t reach the
research team, or want to talk to someone other than the researcher, you may call the
University of Arizona Human Subjects Protection Program office at (520) 626-6721. (If
out of state use the toll-free number 1-866-278-1455.) If you would like to contact the
Human Subjects Protection Program by email, please use the following email address
Your Signature
By signing this form, I affirm that I have read the information contained in the form, that
the study has been explained to me, that my questions have been answered and that I
agree to take part in this study. I do not give up any of my legal rights by signing this
Name (Printed)
Participant‟s Signature
Date signed
Statement by person obtaining consent
I certify that I have explained the research study to the person who has agreed to
participate, and that he or she has been informed of the purpose, the procedures, the
possible risks and potential benefits associated with participation in this study. Any
questions raised have been answered to the participant‟s satisfaction.
Ana Cecilia Villarreal Ballesteros
Name of study personnel
Study personnel Signature
Date signed
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