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Transforming L2 Identities: The Affordances of Multilingual Life Writing

Monday, April 25, 2022


Despite achieving impressive levels of proficiency, many advanced L2 French learners hold essentialist views of the French language and culture (Blyth & Dalola, 2020). As a result, many of these learners see themselves as “deficient speakers” who do not belong to the larger francophone speech community (Belz, 2003). Grounded in work on “translingual practice” (Canagarajah, 2013) and “the multilingual subject” (Kramsch, 2009), this presentation explores how a multiliteracies-inspired (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015; New London Group, 1996) French language course sought to overcome this state of affairs by emphasizing the languacultural diversity of the French-speaking world. The main goal of these courses was to help advanced French learners develop a more capacious and well-integrated L2 identity through the practice of “multilingual life writing” (Edwards, 2020). I will argue that this genre helps learners to engage more fully in their own identity construction through experimentation with the L2.

The course focused on the autobiographical memoirs of multicultural and multilingual francophones who write in multiple languages as an authentic expression of their dynamic and hybrid identities. Student performance data from the course included written and oral semi-autobiographical narratives as well as metalinguistic reflections. Content and thematic analyses of the learner data show that the learners greatly appreciated the freedom to explore their languacultural identities in ways they had never experienced before in an instructed environment. Based on the learner data, I believe that the new curriculum promoted greater student engagement by (1) presenting life narratives of multilingual speakers, thus (re)habilitating voices that often suffer from negative prejudices in traditional second language education, and (2) encouraging learners to explore and cultivate their diversity and uniqueness as legitimate members of the French-speaking world.

About the discussant:

Dr. Carl Blyth is an applied linguist with a background in interactional sociolinguistics, pragmatics and technology. His research lies at the intersection of language, culture and interaction, with a focal interest in L2 pragmatics.

Dr. Blyth directs the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL), one of 16 federally-funded foreign language resource centers around the country. COERLL’s mission is to produce and disseminate Open Educational Resources (OERs) for the Internet public (e.g., online language courses, reference grammars, assessment tools, corpora, etc.).