Constructing, negotiating and reconstructing English Language Learner Identity: a case study of a public sector university in Postcolonial Pakistan
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This is an instrumental case study that focuses on the construction of English Language Learner Identity (ELLI) in postcolonial Pakistan. It is a study of students at a public sector university in the province of Sindh. The study broadly examines how English language learners reconstruct, redefine and negotiate their language learner identities during their English language learning journeys. In particular, it attempts to explore learners’ investment and agency in learning English and what ‘future possible selves’ they want to achieve after acquiring English language skills. Consideration is given to how learning English as a second language may be impacted by students’ gender, social class and ethnolinguistic selves and how learners’ English Language Learner Identity is formed and reformed in postcolonial Pakistan. This instrumental case study of the University of Sindh did not attempt to explore the case in its entirety but rather studied a particular aspect of it. In order to gather the data for my study I recruited three cohorts - primary (Year 1) and secondary (Year 2, 3 and 4) participants and other stakeholders from the Institute of English Language and Literature (IELL), the University of Sindh (UoS). Year 1 students were the key participants in the study but with the involvement of 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students, I was able to construct a possible sense of language learner identity and language learning evolution beyond the first year students’ experiences. Year 1 students were interviewed twice over a twelve-month period during which time they also wrote reflective diaries twice a month. Engagement with each of the other year groups involved one focus group discussion with each year once only in the middle of the data collection journey. In addition, participant shadowing and non-participant classroom observations were also utilised to enhance understanding and to triangulate the data. The views of other stakeholders such as the language teacher, the Director of the Institute and the Dean of the Faculty were also gathered to supplement and inform the data collected from students. The key findings of this study suggested that investment, learner agency, desire for possible future selves and historical and cultural consciousness are the main constructs of language learner identity in postcolonial Pakistan. Learners have invested in English language learning through a number of processes and have had unique language learning journeys exercising their learner agency. It reinforced an understanding of learners’ identities as dynamic and multidimensional and fluid in nature, being continually reconstructed and negotiated over time in different academic, social and cultural contexts leading to a hybridised English Language Learner Identity (ELLI) situated in the ‘third space’. It was found that Year 1 students were open to negotiating their multidimensional identities but conformed to an acceptance of the primacy of English while their senior counterparts resisted and sometimes challenged not only English language learning but also the significance of English as a mechanism for linguistic and cultural manipulation. It was noticed that the nature and extent of investment, agency and identity negotiations were related to learners’ individual experiences, social class, academic, family and ethnolinguistic background and their year of the degree programme.