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Review of  Identity and the Young English Language Learner

Reviewer: Zohreh Eslami-Rasekh
Book Title: Identity and the Young English Language Learner
Book Author: Elaine Mellen Day
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 13.3358

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Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2002 07:50:55 -0800 (PST)
From: zohreh eslami
Subject: Applied Linguistics: Review of Day (2002), Identity and the Young English Language Learner

Day, Elain M. (2002), Identity and the Young English Language Learner, Multilingual Matters
Hardback: ISBN: 1853595985, Pages: 120, Price: £49.95 / US$79.95 / CAN$99.95
Paperback: ISBN: 1853595977, Pages: 120, Price: £19.95 / US$29.95 / CAN$39.95
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Reveiwed by: Zohreh Eslami Rasekh, Texas A&M University, USA.

Elaine Mellen Day in her book 'Identity and the young English learner' examines
the language socialization experiences of Hari, a Punjabi-speaking English language
learner.  Her study concerns identity practices and their effects on access to
language. Her personal background as a 'minority language child' gives a personal
and enlightening touch to her discussions. Her book makes a significant contribution
to the body of literature on language socialization in educational contexts. She
shows how a young English second language learner develops his identity through
the process of interacting with peers, teachers, and at home.

  Elaine Mellen Day uses sociocultural, critical and poststructural theoretical
perceptive to explore the intimate connection between learning, identity and
social membership in Hari's learning path. She also highlights the effects and
political dynamics of classroom relationships and their unconscious as well as
conscious dimensions to those who are learning English as a second language. 
She examines the experiences of one English language learner in his relationship
with others, using combined theoretical perspectives in conjunction with critical
psychoanalytical theories.  Through taking a broad theoretical framework she
shows how emotional commitments and affectivity interconnect with power
relations and shows the complexity of human relationships and deals with how
actual subjectivities are constructed in everyday practices.

  Day's work uses Wenger's (1998) theory of learning to trace
Hari's opportunities for learning in his classroom which involves many
sub-communities in the class, and as a result, taking diverse roles. The
complexity of power relations in the classroom and how these affected
Hari's access to practice is explained through this framework. To
illustrate the complexities and intricacies of social relations in the
child's everyday interactions, Day uses Bakhtinian and contemporary
poststructural theories. In this framework, language learning is viewed
as a socioculturally situated social practice that engage learners'
social identities; from this perspective, questions of access to, and
participation in, various forms of learning activities are critical. (Day,
2002, p.108).

  By examining Hari's experiences, Day shows the complexity
and variability of peer relations in the kindergarten classroom and the
critical role they play in the identities learners could participate and
access. It is interesting to note that Hari reveals a different identity
when participating in different social networks and when involved in
different oral discussion.  In particular situations, such as conversation
with other English language learners (who are all girls), Hari is able to
lead and contribute to the discussion. He assumes a powerful identity in
those situations and learns that he can be at the same time challenging
and communal. However, when Hari sits with other anglophone boys, he
seems to be positioned as not worthy of attention; his involvements are
not active as communicating with other English language learners
(especially girls).

Hari establishes relationships with some of his classmates, and he
especially affiliates with an anglophone boy-Kevin. Hari's relationship
with Kevin is dynamic and variable. Kevin supports Hari in interactions
with other peers, however, he also rebuffs Hari sometimes. Later on, Hari
establishes a solid relationship with a new comer-Casey, an anglophone
boy. Casey positiones Hari as worthy and encourages his identity as a
master or expert, and gives support to his utterances. Through these
observations, Day shows that learning involves the construction of
identity, and identity and social membership entail one another.

 In addition, Hari's teacher- Miss Clark- also plays an important role in
his learning process. We can find this by observing the interactions
between Hari and his teacher-Miss Clark. The interactions suggest that
Hari has a special position in Miss Clark's eyes, and this has lead Hari
to be willing to contribute and participate in classroom discussions. 
Teacher's interactions with Hari demonstrate the power relations and
unconscious emotional factors operating in the relationship between Hari
and Miss Clark. In this relationship, Miss Clark motivates Hari, and he is
confident about doing practices, and is willing to participate in classroom
discussions. According to Day, this presents the importance of viewing
learning as relational, and suggests the need to incorporate
psychoanalytic understandings into the current framework of identity and
second language learning.

Through her observations and discussions, Day shows how the critical
interactions between peers and teacher lead Hari to different positions
and how he negotiates the access, participation and opportunities for
English language learning. It also shows that powerful empowerment from
the teacher can lead students to contribute and get involved. Day clearly
demonstrates how an ESL (English as a second language) learners'
self-searching of identity by interactions with dynamic political and
socicultuarl situations is accomplished. Day suggests that it is
important to explore the role of imagination in second language
education, consider alternative structures that facilitate social
relations in the classroom, and give high value to children's home
language and cultures. It is important for every ESL educator to know
that language and culture can not be separated from each other, and it is
significant to understand that language involves diverse dimensions and
we can not only teach language for its own sake.

It should be noted however; that the account presented in this book is
based only on author's interpretations of classroom events. It does
not bring the teacher's voice, or the voice of Hari, or his parents and his
classmates.  The interpretations of other parties involved in this
language socialization process would definitely add to our understanding
of such a complex and multifaceted issue.



Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and
Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Zohreh Eslami Rasekh is an ESL/EFL teacher educator at Texas A&M University. She has a Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition and Teacher Education from the university of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include issues related to sociocultural aspects of second language acquisition, linguistic politeness, cross-cultural speech act studies, and pragmatics in language teaching. She has published several papers in the areas mentioned above.

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