Beyond the good language learner: Ideology, identity, and investment in classroom foreign language learning

Anne Ida Pomerantz, University of Pennsylvania


In this study, I examine the role of the learner in second language learning from a social constructionist perspective. In so doing, I view the learner as a complex social being, whose identity is produced within and through language. I argue that approaches which treat the learner as an aggregate of certain cognitive or affective traits provide only a modest understanding of how differences at the individual level might shape the ways in which people come to learn and use additional languages. Specifically, I ask how a view of identity as constructed and negotiated across three levels of language use, the institutional, interactional, and individual, might inform our understanding of some of the variation observed with respect to learning outcomes. Using data from ethnographic observation, tape-recorded interaction, and interviews, I begin by examining how language as discourse delimits the range of identities available to 16 learners of Spanish-as-a-foreign-language in an advanced conversation course at an elite US university. This analysis reveals how the privileging of particular discourses leads to the formation of ideologies which regulate how identities are valued in the classroom. Second, I illustrate how learners manage to appropriate particular classroom identities through their actual patterns of language use. Specifically, I show how learners transcend the boundaries of their linguistic repertoires by drawing on their knowledge of local associations between particular linguistic forms and their social meanings. I argue that such knowledge constrains the identities that learners are able to enact and resist through the target language. Finally, I investigate how learners' investments in particular identities influence and are influenced by their patterns of L2 use in the classroom. I document how learners reconcile the strength of their investments in particular identities, the availability of these identities in the classroom under consideration, and the costs and benefits of assuming these identities in this context. In short, I advocate a reconceptualization of the role of the learner in SLL in terms of ideology, identity, and investment.

Subject Area

Language arts|Linguistics

Recommended Citation

Pomerantz, Anne Ida, "Beyond the good language learner: Ideology, identity, and investment in classroom foreign language learning" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3003681.