Language Narratives from Adult Upper Secondary Education: Interrelating agency, autonomy and identity in foreign language learning

Tero Korhonen

agency, foreign language learning, autonomy, Adult education, Identity


Foreign language (FL) learning is increasingly examined in terms of the language learning person’s agency, autonomy and identity. What agency refers to in FL learning and how it relates to autonomy and identity nevertheless remains unclear. As theoretical discussions about the interconnections are ambiguous, more empirical evidence is needed. The present article addresses this need, contributing to a fuller understanding of the three notions in FL education. The article explores one student’s FL learning in a general upper secondary school for adults (GUSSA), analysing her language narratives, which refer to her storied, FL related experiences. The findings suggest that agency can be conceptualised in terms of agentic behaviour, personal disposition, contextually situated relationship and process. Agency refers to a contextually negotiated, socially motivated, dynamic process embedded in interplay between the prevailing individual-cognitive, social-interactive and socio-political forces. It manifests itself differently in different temporal-relational contexts of action. Two forms of agency involved in FL learning are identified in the analysis: learner agency and agency beyond language learning purposes. Together, they contribute to understanding agency as the actualised manifestation of autonomy and the mediating force between autonomy, identity and context in the process of FL learning. The article ends by discussing the implications of the findings in respect to FL teaching and suggesting pedagogy for autonomy as a plausible approach to foster agency in institutional FL education.

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Apples - Journal of Applied Language Studies