INTRODUCTION Lyn Fogle’s “Second Language Socialization and Learner Agency: Adoptive Family Talk” offers a window into the daily bilingual interactions of families that have adopted children from Russia and Ukraine and opens up important theoretical space in regard to learner agency. She draws on conversation analysis of daily interactions in these transnational adoptive families and interviews in order to demonstrate the negotiated and bidirectional nature of language socialization. In each of three separate but thematically and contextually related case studies, she offers evidence that the ostensibly less-powerful participants, the children, achieve agency through a range of strategies and thus shape their interactional context. Further, she argues that as parents and children negotiate participation and power through the use of English and the children’s native Russian at home, they also engage in the construction of an identity as a cohesive family unit and lay foundations for effective interactions in other contexts including school. The volume concludes with implications for parents, teachers, and adoption professionals as well as scholars interested in social and cultural aspects of second language acquisition.
SUMMARY This monograph hews close to the content and structure of Fogle’s dissertation (2009), though significant changes have been made in the published volume. The volume opens with an introduction (Chapter 1) and a general literature review that effectively locates this research in regard to language socialization and particularly agency and identity construction in language learners (Chapter 2). These chapters are followed by a discussion of issues and empirical findings regarding language, bilingualism, and transnational adoption (Chapter 3). While this discussion of current literature is somewhat shorter and less technical than the comparable sections of the dissertation, it is nevertheless thoroughly grounded and clearly articulates complex concepts and issues relating to agency, identity, and adoption.
The following three chapters each focus on a different family case and specific L2 socialization practices that were apparent in that individual family’s data: Ch 4 on narratives, Ch 5 on languaging or metalinguistic talk, and Ch 6 on codeswitching. Likewise, each chapter focuses on a different aspect of learner agency: resistance, participation, and negotiation. Beginning in 2004, Fogle recruited families in one large metropolitan area in the eastern U.S. who had decided to adopt older children from Russia and Ukraine. Here “older” is defined as children about 4 years old and above who had learned to communicate in their first language and most of whom began to acquire English as a second language upon arrival in the U.S. Her three focal families are similar in that their adoptees had arrived in the U.S. shortly before or even after data collection began and that they had all adopted sibling pairs. She asked each of these families to record instances of family talk from mealtimes and other gatherings at their own discretion over the course of several months, and she conducted concomitant interviews with the parents and, in one family, the adoptees themselves. This process yielded 56 recordings and several hours of interviews, excerpts of which appear throughout the results chapters with bilingual transcription helpfully presented in Cyrillic script, transliterated Russian, and English.
In Chapter 4, “‘I Got Nothin’!’: Resistance, Routine and Narrative,” the analysis focuses on narratives in the recorded family talk, and specifically on the 7- and 8-year-old brothers’ resistance to a practice that Fogle labels the “Bad Thing/Good Thing Routine.” Fogle demonstrates that the children’s achievement of agency through resistance led to the gradual abandonment of a routine initiated by their father but also opened up a greater breadth of topics in parent-child interactions. Through more spontaneous narratives, Fogle proposes that the two boys “gradually begin to construct life stories” (p. 68) that link the transnational trajectories of their lives from their early experience in Ukraine to their current life in the U.S.
Chapter 5, “‘But Now We’re Your Daughter and Son!’: Participation, Questions and Languaging” attends to languaging (as defined by Swain, 2006) and the role it played in English learning for the 3- and 5-year-old adoptees. The interactional routines on which this analysis centers involved parent- and child-initiated “what-questions.” A brief table comparing their frequency at mealtime, while reading books together, and during homeschooling sessions provides one of the few quantitative elements of this study. This routine initially allowed the parents to ascertain what vocabulary and concepts the children knew and allowed the children to gain further knowledge. However, over time the children took up this practice as a means of requesting information and also appropriated it as a means of gaining the floor and vying for their mother’s attention.
Ch 6, like the previous chapters, is titled with an evocative quote: “‘We’ll Help Them in Russian, and They’ll Help Us in English.’” This chapter discusses a family who differed from those in Chapters 4 and 5 in that they had adopted a total of six children from Russia and their two most recent adoptees, sisters aged 15 and 16, were much older than the children in previous chapters. As this family used a higher proportion of Russian at home, Ch 6 focuses on patterns of codeswitching in various family groupings and highlights the role of language choice in communicating subtle shifts in alignment and power among family members. Drawing on interviews conducted with these teen girls in Russian, interviews with the parents in English, and conversation analysis of interaction in various family groupings and settings, Fogle claims that the older girls were attempting to negotiate more dominant roles in the family through persisting in their use of Russian and encouraging their siblings to use it. In response, the parents began to view Russian use as a disruption and to discourage bilingual interactions. As they drew attention to the power that children can wield in language socialization, this family’s patterns of communication led Fogle to attend further to learner agency in the other two cases.
Following these case study chapters are “Conclusions and Implications” (Ch 7) and an “Epilogue” (Ch 8), which includes reflections from the parents in these three cases taken from additional interviews conducted some years after the initial data collection. Among the conclusions are Fogle’s assertions that “the affordance of individual agency makes a difference in learning processes for children” (p. 170) and that children undergoing L2 socialization in her study “construct discursive identities” through three sets of practices: “through taking on different speaker roles, through the repetitions of these roles and stances in everyday interactions, and through reference to distant times and places” (p. 171). All of these processes, she proposes, contribute over time to a “unified adoptee self identity that can have benefits in schooling and post-school careers” (p. 172).
EVALUATION In this monograph, Fogle sets out to make two important contributions to the increasingly prominent and expansive field of social and cultural approaches to second language acquisition. First, she seeks to offer insights into a particular context of second language socialization, that constituted by families that have adopted children from Russia and Ukraine. Second, in so doing she seeks to extend and add theoretical heft to the construct of agency as it is used in research that follows the language socialization paradigm. Each of these aspects will be discussed below.
Adoptive Family Talk This study instantiates an important characteristic of language socialization research in that it “looks not at discrete linguistic items at the level of lexis and morphology, but at interactional or sociolinguistic routines that become part of language learners’ and users’ communicative repertoires” (Duff & Talmy, 2011, p. 96). In my view, the monograph’s greatest strength is the clarity with which Fogle identifies such routines in the interactions between the adoptive children and their parents in these separate but harmonized case studies. In the conversation that yielded the title of Chapter 5 (pp.125-127), for example, Fogle analyzes several fragments of a family discussion about Thanksgiving cumulatively to explain how a straightforward series of “what-questions” eventually opens the way to building a shared family history linking past to future. Explaining that Thanksgiving occurs annually, the parents recall the prior Thanksgiving, when they were thinking of the children but had not yet adopted them. Their 4-year-old daughter then makes the connection that they can expect to celebrate Thanksgiving together in the future, because “now we’re your daughter and son!” This metalinguistic discussion not only defines the lexical item “Thanksgiving” but also “constructs the significance of Thanksgiving as an event closely related to the children’s membership in the new family” (p. 126).
This excerpt, among others, illustrates Fogle’s argument that family identity is constructed discursively through everyday conversations and offers an example of the emotional power that this work sometimes wields. While the analysis is rigorous, Fogle does not let us lose sight of the fact that these individuals, adoptive parents and children who have crossed national, cultural, and linguistic borders, are not only learning to communicate effectively but also negotiating how to be a family unit.
At the same time, she stops short of painting more ethnographically rich portraits of the families and the contexts in which these interactions take place. Though this investigation does not purport to use ethnographic methods, greater reliance on thorough content analysis of interview data and a more narrative approach in the writing of the report would help the reader appreciate the trajectory of each family’s recent history. The epilogue, in extending these families’ narratives, sheds light on and expands the preceding analyses. Drawing on interviews conducted some years after the primary data collection, it delves further into the tensions that arose between each set of parents and their adopted children. Thus the epilogue may also reveal some of the tension that the researcher herself apparently faced between opening a window on these intimate and sometimes fraught family interactions and demonstrating that the challenges inherent in constructing a family through transnational adoption are not insurmountable.
Fogle explains that she did not focus on the parents’ reasons for adoption or the children’s backgrounds prior to adoption because she “did not want to perpetuate stereotypes that circulate about transnational adoptees that might influence the parents’ practices” (p. 56). Perhaps analyzing and discrediting these stereotypes would be the task of a different study. Nevertheless, a greater effort to present each family not only as participants in this study but as participants in their own emerging narrative would lend further support to Fogle’s conclusions and implications. Additionally, it might increase the accessibility of this work to the broader audience who might look to this volume for insight and guidance in regard to transnational adoption.
L2 Socialization and Learner Agency Fogle does not attempt to define the parameters of agency, as do Bucholtz and Hall (2005), for example, in regard to related constructs, identity and interaction. However, she does attempt to illustrate three modes of achieving agency in the three results chapters: resistance, participation, and negotiation. In each case study, she demonstrates that children are not merely the subjects of L2 socialization; rather, they actively seek and achieve agency in their interactions with adults. Thus, they are able to change their learning contexts through encounters with experts (their parents) and even to change those experts’ beliefs and practices. Importantly for scholars, adoption professionals, and parents alike, these analyses show how parents’ intentions and ideologies play out in ways that defy their own expectations and shift in response to children’s agency. Although the assertion that L2 socialization is bidirectional and that children’s agency plays an important role in their language learning processes is not new (Hawkins, 2005; McKay & Wong, 1996; Willett, 1995), Fogle’s work contributes significant evidence to this discussion.
The differences among the three focal families rendered comparison difficult and may raise questions about generalizability and the theoretical implications of this work. However, Fogle explains that she “resist[ed] comparisons of the three families as an analytic tool” (p. 52). As a result, she proposes that these analyses should be interpreted “as ‘possibilities’ of what can happen in transnational adoptive families, but not what does happen in all families or what all adoptive families do” (p. 53). This collective case study structure allows the reader to grasp the thematic similarities in the children’s achievement of agency across these three families despite the variation in the specific patterns that instantiate this overarching theme.
While Fogle’s treatment of “agency” and “identity” as constructs are well-grounded in the literature and well-developed in the analysis, she makes frequent use of other terms, particularly “transnational” and “heritage”, without addressing the growing body of potentially relevant research that has used these concepts in regard to language learners. In this volume, “transnational” is most frequently used to refer to “transnational adoption” or “transnational adoptees,” functioning as a modifier to express that these adoptees have been born in countries other than the U.S. and adopted by U.S.-based parents. Other scholars, in contrast, use “transnational” to refer to people and practices that remain rooted in multiple nations or that involve ongoing movement across national boundaries (Kanno & Norton, 2003; Risager, 2007; Warriner, 2007). There is room here to argue that these learners’ lives are transnational and that this will be important for their identity construction, as does Yi (2009), for example. However, the reader should not expect this volume to address transnational theory (in the sense of Basch, Glick Schiller, & Blanc, 1994).
As for “heritage language”, it can be argued based on prevailing definitions of heritage learners (Carreira, 2004; Valdes, 2005; Van Deusen-Scholl, 2003; Wiley, 2001) that these children are heritage learners in that their families of origin use Russian and their adoptive parents may view preservation of Russian language skills as a means of strengthening ties to these children’s family and national heritage. The Implications section in Ch 7 focuses almost exclusively on arguments for maintaining and promoting the “heritage language” of older adoptees as a means of helping them negotiate the transition to the U.S. and develop stable bilingual or transnational identities. While her arguments are tenable and may be beneficial to parents and educators, they do constitute an inductive leap from the empirical data in her studies. They are also presented with little reference to the growing body of literature on heritage learners (e.g., Brinton, Kagan, & Bauckus, 2008; Peyton, Ranard, & McGinnis, 2001; etc.). Given that most heritage learner research focuses on children of immigrants and few researchers in this area use similar methods, particularly conversational analysis (with the notable exception of He, 2006, 2010), Fogle’s work nevertheless can and should contribute to our understanding and characterization of heritage learners and their language use at home.
In summary, “Second Language Socialization and Learner Agency: Adoptive Family Talk” makes important contributions to the field of bilingual education and bilingualism: it deals with a little-studied context and population (transnational adoptees and their families), and it offers a rigorous analysis of family talk and interviews from three families that links everyday routines to parents’ and children’s perceptions of their language use. Furthermore, it engages with, clarifies, and argues for the construct of agency in language learning research. In so doing, Fogle generates truly poignant accounts that reflect the challenges of crossing linguistic, cultural, and national boundaries as these adoptees and adoptive parents develop family identities through everyday talk.
This lucid account of an ambitious investigation may also serve well to inform emerging researchers in PhD programs and more senior scholars who wish to engage in comparable projects. In gathering the many hours of family interaction and interview data that she discusses here, Fogle clearly negotiated a range of methodological challenges in regard to recruitment, recording, scheduling interviews, bilingual transcription, maintaining access over time, and moderating her own influence as a researcher on her informants. Her response to these challenges, as revealed explicitly and implicitly here, would make this volume a stimulating supplemental text in a graduate course on qualitative methods, bilingualism, discourse analysis, or language learner identity. This work will be most accessible to readers with a solid theoretical background in second language acquisition and particularly social and cultural approaches to SLA, but it also offers valuable insights and suggestions to parents, teachers, social workers, and other professionals who may encounter such families.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Amanda Lanier Temples recently defended her dissertation on investment, identity, and literacy in young learners of Arabic at Georgia State University, where she is a fellow in the Language & Literacy Initiative. Her research focuses on social and cultural aspects of second language learning and teaching, particularly in regard to less-commonly-taught languages, and she has a secondary interest in discourse and communities of practice in online learning environments. From 2002-2006, she taught EFL and theatre seminars in the Czech Republic and Serbia, and she continues to teach courses in English for academic purposes and applied linguistics.