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Review of Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities
Date: Sun, 11 Jul 2004 15:52:48 +0200 From: Orna Ferenz Subject: Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities: Japanese Returnees
AUTHOR: Kanno, Yasuko TITLE: Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities SUBTITLE: Japanese Returnees Betwixt Two Worlds PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates YEAR: 2003
Orna Ferenz, Bar Ilan University, Israel
OVERVIEW Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities examines the development of bilingual and bicultural identities of four teenage second language learners as they mature into adulthood. It is a longitudinal study, tracing the participants' sense of identity from their initial marginalization as minority language speakers in North America to their return to Japan and their inclusion in the dominant language as bilingual speakers. Furthermore, the book documents the students' perspectives on their educational experiences, both in North America and Japan, and its impact on their developing sense of identity. Finally, the impact of the sociocultural environment on the bilingual youths' identities is considered within two cultures: as ethnic / language minority students in North America and as members of the dominant group in Japan. These changes in social status are said to affect the participants' identities and relationship with their two languages and cultures.
The book is divided into three sections. Chapter One develops the motivational, theoretical and methodological framework. The author presents her own narrative describing her transition from an English as a Second Language (ESL) student to a bilingual and bicultural adult. The identity transition she underwent is her personal motivation for the study, which is based on her PhD dissertation. Kanno continues with a review of studies on bilingual and bicultural identities in the field of second language acquisition and bilingualism. One of her points is that the cited identity studies focus on the process of learning English while her study focuses on the evolution ESL learners undergo in becoming bilingual and bicultural young adults. Framing the issue of identity in two perspectives, narrative inquiry and communities of practice, Kanno traces the role of the learners' social environment in their developing identities. I found it interesting that despite a clear focus on sociocultural and identity-related issues, the author does not cite social psychological theories of language in order to show how language is used in the learners' social environments to emphasize particular identities. The second section, Chapters Two ~V Five, presents the stories of the four students. It is through these stories that we learn of their motivation, integration into society, attitudes toward their languages and cultures, and their efforts in developing an identity and in becoming a member of society. The third section, Chapters Six-Eight, presents an analysis of the four narratives, identifying the common themes and relating them to the broader issues of bilingual and bicultural identities.
In presenting the main themes related to the development of the participants' identities, Chapter Six organizes them in relation to the learners' three phases of movement: sojourn to North America, return to Japan, and later reconciliation. It appears that the language learners' social environment had the greatest impact in each phase. As teenagers in Canada, they were enrolled in their schools' ESL programs. The ESL programs divided the student body, creating a physical and psychological distance between the ESL and native-speaking students. In essence, the academic social environment, the schools and their ESL programs, marginalized the language learners, limiting their interaction with native speakers. In addition to public school attendance, the language learners also attended 'hoshuko', Japanese supplementary school, where once a week they were immersed in Japanese language and culture thereby strengthening their Japanese identity. Their home provided an additional social environment where Japanese language and culture was valued. Thus, it appears that the four language learners were immersed in two different types of social environments in North America, their schools' ESL programs which reinforced their minority status, and the 'hoshuko' and their homes which reinforced their Japanese identity. With their return to Japan, the language learners' underwent readjustment strategies. Despite their immersion in Japanese language and culture while abroad, upon return to Japan they felt as strangers entering a homogeneous society. On the one hand, they were self-conscious of the difference between themselves and their Japanese peers. On the other, they were aware of a change in their linguistic status. In Canada, they were ESL students or non- native speakers while in Japan they became bilingual speakers. In the third phase, reconciliation, the language learners' came to terms with their hybrid identities. About one and a half years after returning to Japan, the participants began to expand their social networks thereby encountering more people with heterogeneous values. This change in social networks made the participants feel more comfortable with their own past experience and more accepting of their own bilingual / bicultural identities. Chapter Seven considers the theoretical implications of the study, namely the influence of the sociocultural context on identity development. In terms of the learners' level of participation in society, in Canada they were peripheral members while in Japan they were legitimate members enjoying high prestige for their knowledge of English. The high prestige associated with English knowledge in Japan, in contrast to the low prestige of Japanese knowledge in Canada, is attributed to the learners' positive development of bilingual / bicultural identity.
The book concludes with a number of educational suggestions. First, there is a need to address ESL students' needs for participation in the native-speaking social environment. Where a student's native language (L1) is a minority language, successful L1 maintenance is possible through separate ethnic schools. Third, not all second language learners maintain immigrant status, as a result bilingual / multicultural education should consider reintegration issues of returnee students. In terms of identity, students' identities emerge out of social interaction therefore educators should avoid labeling students. Finally, teachers should listen to students' stories in order to aid their adjustment process.
ANALYSIS Kanno presents an innovative study focusing on important issues of bilingual / bicultural identity, process of identity development, and immersion in L1 and L2 of non-immigrant populations. Reading the four learners' stories of their experiences both in North America and Japan raises our awareness of the problems non-native language learners, especially teenagers, encounter in their social environment. Since social environment impacts identity development, both for non-native and native speakers, I would have valued a more detailed analysis of the learners' social networks in Canada and Japan. For example, in Chapter Three, Kenji describes how on his first day in a Canadian school, and without knowing English, two of his classmates helped him find his way home. Kenji then goes on to say, ''Those two became my first friends'' (p. 49). It is through practices of interactions with people that our identity develops. However, no further information is provided on whether the two friends are native or non-native English speakers, what type of relationship was formed and what impact this relationship, among others, had upon Kenji in terms of his language learning, developing identity, and participation in his social environment.
While the communities of practice perspective highlights the learning process people undergo in order to become members of a community, Kanno attempts to show that the learners' communities of practice, i.e., the schools in Canada, may not have sufficiently initiated the teenagers into its own particular practices. My difficulty in relying solely on the concept of communities of practice as a framework for exploring the processes by which people become members of a community and acquiring the community's sociolinguistic features (Holmes & Meyerhoff, 1999) is that it considers the broader social environment. For example, one would use the concept of communities of practice to refer to a school, an ESL program, or even a classroom environment, yet most people interact not with social environments but with other people in social settings. The relationships formed with people are more clearly defined as social networks. Social networks have a direct impact upon its members' developing identity as outlined in social identity theory (Hogg& Terry, 2000). A clearer understanding of the social environments' role in bilingual identity development would have been possible if the social environments had been analyzed for social networks as well.
Another difficulty I encountered, basic to the book, is with Kanno's definition of identity. Although she states that her use of the term 'identity' refers to ''our sense of who we are and our relationship to the world'' (p. 3), the question arises whether identity refers to the social nature of self as constituted by society, and or is identity treated as self as independent of and prior to society. The difference in the two definitions affects analysis of the social environment's role in identity development. If identity refers to self as constituted by society, then social context makes different identities meaningful. In such a situation, one would expect that each of the learners' different social environments would make salient a different social identity. Yet, this does not become apparent in all the narratives. If identity refers to the self as independent of and prior to society, then this implies a person's level of commitment to a certain identity and thus to particular social behaviors. This coincides with Kanno's conclusion that the bilingual youths' identity development followed a trajectory of initial identification with one culture to gradual acceptance of both cultures. In other words, they were committed to a particular identity, as in the case of Rui who had ''a strong attachment to his Japanese identity'' (p. 85). It appears that this second definition of identity, self as independent of and prior to society, is the one most often used in the book. If this is the case, then what role does the social environment play in the learners' identity development?
In conclusion, Kanno's book provides an interesting perspective on the sociocultural and identity problems encountered by second language learners and on the process of bilingual / bicultural identity development. Second language educators and graduate students should find it worthwhile reading.
REFERENCES Hogg, M. A., & Terry, D. J. (2000). Social identity and self- categorization processes in organizational contexts. The Academy of Management Review 25, 121-141.
Holmes, J., and Meyerhoff, M. (1999). The community of practice: Theories and methodologies in language and gender. Language in Society 28, 173-183.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Orna Ferenz, a full time EFL lecturer at Bar Ilan University, completed her PhD studies at Bar Ilan University. Her doctoral dissertation, Planning Processes and Language Choice In Research-based EFL Academic Writing, investigates the psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic components of planning and language use among advanced English as a Foreign Language (EFL) academic student writers. The study is focused on the interface between language use, cognitive processes, and social networks during the EFL academic planning process.