Language students and emerging identities

Anne Huhtala, Hanna Lehti-Eklund

second language learning, identity formation, the third place, community of practice, written narratives


The aim of our article is to study written narratives as a way of expressing emerging identities as second language (L2) users. We compare narratives written by Finnish students of Swedish during their first semester (24 essays) with data collected after the third year of study (9 essays), thereby trying to figure out how the university context has affected the development of the students as L2 users. L2 learning is regarded as a complex project entailing constant identity formation as a plurilingual subject. We see identity as a process, as something flexible, hybrid and multifaceted. Identity evolves in participation and it always includes a temporal dimension. The language learning process can be seen as a construction of a new third place (Kramsch 1993) between the source language and the target language. For the purpose of this study we define this place as an abstract field containing all the ingredients that each student sees as part of his or her language learning narrative. The learning process can also be regarded as a process of becoming a more integral part of the community of practice (Lave & Wenger 1991) consisting of fellow students and target language users. Two main themes arise from our study. Firstly, during the studies students’ dreams start turning into more concrete plans, like getting a job. Secondly, the narratives show that as students become a more integral part of their community, they start talking within (and not only about) the practice they are involved in.

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Apples - Journal of Applied Language Studies