“Stories from No-Man’s Land?” Situated language learning through the use of role models in the context of international Higher Education.

Kevin Haines

communities of practice, role models, narrative, situated learning, person-in-context


This article discusses the importance of role models in the situated language acquisition of international students taking English as Medium of Instruction (EMI) degrees in the Netherlands. Narrative representations of the experiences of three students reveal language learner perspectives beyond the classroom. These learning experiences are recorded through Language Learning Histories (Murphey, Chen & Chen: 2004), semi-structured interviews and journal entries. Narrative interpretations of the data provide a record of the identity work involved in the use of role models and the impact that this work has on participation in the learners’ core learning community and other communities.
The narratives of these learners are grounded in the theory of situated learning, using Communities of Practice (Wenger 1998) as the main conceptual framework. I also draw on related perspectives from within the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), notably a heuristic understanding of Activity Theory (Lantolf & Pavlenko 2001; Ivanič 2006) and ‘person-in-context’ (Dörnyei & Ushioda 2009).
Narrative interpretations of language learning experiences are shown to provide an understanding of the impact of local educational practices on learner participation in and across learning communities. Interpretations highlight the need for greater transparency and awareness of the contextual tensions intrinsic to participation in language learning communities. Such tensions are demonstrated in these three cases by the learners’ use or non-use of role models, which is of particular relevance outside the classroom. Research through narrative inquiry is shown to provide an opportunity to incorporate the perspective of the learner in curriculum design and evaluation.

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Apples - Journal of Applied Language Studies