Learning foreign languages at school: Experiences and representations of teenage plurilingual learners of ethnic Korean heritage in Northeast China

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
‘Plurilingualism’ is a common phenomenon and an essential part in the lives of many people, while increased globalization makes the learning of languages more important than ever. However, the integration of learners’ multi-/plurilingual resources into the formal education system is still frequently questioned. Addressing this gap, this study aimed to explore strategies for better supporting increased learner diversity in today’s dynamic classrooms characterized by an influx of highly ‘mobile’ learners. From an educational sociolinguistic perspective especially based on plurilingualism and plurilingual competence as the main conceptual lens, it examined the complex relations between learners’ languages, identities and sense of agency, looking into how a new generation of secondary school students in a minority interlink language learning, academic success and career advancement while navigating various geographical and symbolic transitions. Employing a qualitative ethnographic visual research methodology, this four-year longitudinal study documented experiences and perspectives of twenty-two plurilingual youths learning Japanese or English as their foreign language (and L3) in a public ethnic Korean minority nationality school in Northeast China. Data collection methods included participant observation, field notes, screenshots of virtual communication records, photographs of written artifacts, and interview excerpts. With an emphasis on the essential role of the ‘multi’ (-lingual, cultural, and literacy resources) on the participants’ learning experiences, this study argues that learning foreign language(s) at school is a process of experiencing multiple identities. The study showed the very sophisticated competence and complex plurilingual practices that participants engage in their daily practices in and out the classroom. Key findings of this research suggest that student participants were actively learning, navigating, and transforming. Learning foreign/multiple languages strongly affected their life trajectories in three main areas: (i) contributed to enhance their understanding of languages as assets in learning and navigating life transitions; (ii) helped their development of a more nuanced (plurilingual) competence, along with an increased level of ‘mobility’ between multiple (linguistic, cultural, physical and virtual) spaces; and (iii) motivated their active engagement in multiple identity practices. This study highlights the need for action to actively develop educational strategies that capitalize on the ‘multi’ so as to empower all students.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Moore, Daniele
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etd10573_MEhlert.pdf 13.81 MB