An Investment in Social Identity: Making Language Learning Meaningful and Effective for Adult ESL Learners
Traditionally, adult ESL education has been dominated by rote memorization of cultural and language facts, audio-lingual drillings, and delivery of frequent daily conversations, while students’ social identities and their motivation of learning have not always been linked to their language learning (Saito, 1994). As early as the 1990’s, Bonny Norton has recognized that the individual English language learner is not ahistorical and unidimentional but has a complex and sometimes contradictory social identity, changing across time and space (Norton, 1995). As an English learner and aspiring ESL teacher, I am particularly interested in how students’ social identities, which are formed through social interactions outside and inside classroom, influence the language learning that takes place inside the classroom. The purpose of this essay is to explain how social identities are closely related to language learning of adult ESL learners, why motivation or investment of adult ESL learners is vital for their language learning, and to suggest key elements to attend to when designing community-based learning for adult ESL learners. To do this I compare adult learner’s major purposes of learning English, discuss theories from both sociocultural and language learning perspectives for building a meaningful context, outline the design framework for creating a community-based learning curriculum, and make practical suggestions for educators wishing to assess their teaching by considering social identity and motivation/investment of adult second language learners.