LINGUIST List 25.2351

Thu May 29 2014

Review: Lang. Acquisition; Sociolinguistics: Deters (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 23-Dec-2013
From: Prospero Garcia <>
Subject: Identity, Agency and the Acquisition of Professional Language and Culture
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Ping Deters
TITLE: Identity, Agency and the Acquisition of Professional Language and Culture
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Próspero N García, Rutgers University

In the era of globalization, migration affects professionals in many fields,
raising issues related to learning additional languages and cultures, or
integrating in new personal and professional contexts. Through an extensive
data collection involving internationally educated teachers (IET’s) working in
the Ontario educational system, Deters examines the affordances and
constraints of professional acculturation, and the relation between identity,
agency and the acquisition of professional language and culture. This book
contributes to current research on global international migration as well as
second language learning by examining two prominent aspects of contemporary
international migration: The professional acculturation of high-skilled
immigrants, and their social and economic integration in the workplace. The
book’s theoretical and practical applications make it particularly relevant
for researchers and graduate students in the field of international migration
studies, while its analytical nature will also benefit researchers in second
language learning, acquisition, pedagogy, pragmatics, and discourse analysis.

In the first chapter (“Globalization and the Migration of Professionals”),
Deters provides an overview of how social and economic transformations are
affecting migration trends worldwide. Even though her study revolves mainly
around the professional integration of immigrant teachers in the province of
Ontario, Canada, the author successfully provides a general analysis of issues
surrounding the global increase in high-skilled immigrants. Deters discusses
previous literature on professional integration, focusing on the declassing of
immigrant professionals, and their lack of proficiency of the country’s
language as well as its culture. The author sees these and other topics, such
as the existence of entry barriers, discrimination in the workplace and the
process of professional acculturation as key elements in understanding the
changes in migration trends of high-skilled professionals. The author
concludes by linking all these issues through personal experiences and her
connections to immigration issues in Canada.

In the second chapter (“Social Perspectives on Identity and Agency in SLA
Research”), Deters analyzes three social approaches to the study of discourse,
identity formation, and agency in Second Language Acquisition (SLA):
Post-structural and dialogic theory, situated learning and social practice,
and Sociocultural Theory of Mind (SCT). The author discusses the foundational
principles of each paradigm, emphasizing their socially and culturally
oriented perspectives, which in turn provide a theoretical framework to
analyze the professional acculturation of IETs. Additionally, Deters reviews
in detail previous research focused on adult immigrants learning English in
naturalistic settings, since it resembles the situation of the immigrant
teachers analyzed in her study. This chapter concludes with the
conceptualization and tailoring of the theoretical concepts that will guide
the subsequent analysis of the relationship between agency and identity in the
context of professional migration.

The third chapter (“Qualitative Research in SLA”) is devoted to a discussion
of the main tenets of qualitative research (QR) in connection to the
investigation reported in this monograph. Deters illustrates every theoretical
notion with examples from her own study, which helps the reader understand the
principles of QR, and how they were operationalized here. After presenting the
ontology and epistemology behind this type of research, the author discusses
the strengths and limitations of using qualitative research methods, such as
in-depth interviews, narratives, and case studies to examine the concepts of
agency and identity. She then explores QR in connection to the notions of
validity, reliability and generalizability. This chapter concludes with a
discussion of the practical issues that arise when conducting QR in SLA, such
as concerns related to design and sampling, data processing and analysis, as
well as ethics in research.

While the first three chapters are more theoretical in nature, chapters four
through seven are devoted to data analysis, going from an overarching, general
review (chapter four) to a more detailed, in-depth analysis of some of the
participants’ narratives (chapters five and six) and a longitudinal case study
(chapter seven). Deters uses these different types of data collection and
analysis to explore the role of agency and identity in the acquisition of
professional acculturation.

In the fourth chapter (“Affordances and Constraints in the Acquisition of
Professional Language and Culture”), the author discusses her findings based
on a series of interviews to a group of immigrant teachers, administrators and
development facilitators working in Ontario. This chapter serves as a point of
departure for the discussion on the constraints (differences in language and
culture; in interactions with students and parents; in beliefs and behaviors)
and affordances (social support, professional development, resources,
observations and practice) in IETs’ professional acculturation. Findings in
this chapter underscore the importance of cultural nuances and norms in
interpersonal communication, focusing on the need to reconcile conflicting
beliefs and values in the process of professional acculturation.

While the data presented in chapter four was broader in nature and scope,
chapter five (“The Professional Acculturation Journeys of Two Schoolteachers
from Different Times and Places”) focuses on two case studies, allowing the
author to examine four issues in more detail: The relationship between
identity, agency, and second language learning; the affordances and
constraints in the acquisition of professional acculturation and achieving
professional success; the transformation in a community of practice; and the
nature of identity. To do so, Deters analyzes the retrospective narratives
from two IET’s, a primary school teacher originally from Venezuela (Merida)
and a secondary school teacher originally from Austria (Evelyn). Both had
learned and mastered English as a second language, and held permanent
positions in the Ontario school system. Although the participants’ experiences
learning English and adapting to a new environment could not be more
different, a thorough examination of their narratives revealed the underlying
importance of beliefs and attitudes in the professional acculturation of IETs,
showing that agency, identity, and language learning are socially mediated.

Chapter six (“Professional Integration in Two Contexts: A Chemical Engineer
in Canada and an Architect in Denmark”) is also dedicated to data analysis. In
this chapter, Deters explores the retrospective narratives of two high-skilled
immigrants teaching in different fields and contexts: a native from Poland
teaching chemical engineering in Canada, and a Canadian architect and interior
designer teaching in Denmark. The analysis identifies the relevance of the
socially constructed and continuous nature of identity in communities of
practice, as well as the tools used by IETs in order to achieve a successful
professional integration. Deters also contrasts these narratives with those of
the teachers explored in previous chapters, finding commonalities in the way
that agency was socially constructed with either co-workers or mentors,
underscoring the inseparability of agency from identity.

Chapter seven (“The Lived Professional Acculturation Experiences of a Teacher
from Hong Kong: A Longitudinal Case Study”) is the last devoted to data
analysis, and it explores the longitudinal case study (three semesters) of a
teacher originally from Hong Kong working in Ontario. This chapter discusses
the participant’s process of acculturation by analyzing the impediments she
encountered along the way, including heavy workload and language-related
issues, and the initial conflicts that arose from the situation (negative
attitudes and student misbehavior). Following the structure of previous
chapters, Deters not only examines the constraints, but also the affordances
that helped participants, such as support from the family and the professional
community, and the role of relational agency.

In the eighth and final chapter (“From Local to Global: Research Findings and
Their Application to Other Contexts”), Deters discusses the empirical findings
of her research, and their possible application to contexts other than those
covered by her study. Previous discussions regarding the professional
acculturation of IET’s are interpreted through a blend of sociocultural
theory, Lave and Wenger’s (1991) communities of practice framework, and the
implications of her own findings, proposing that: Identity and agency are
influenced and co-constructed by social interactions that allow for individual
internalization; identity mediates agency and both are influenced and
co-constructed by social interactions; and professional acculturation is a
mediated process between the individual and the affordances and constraints
present in the environment.

Deters achieves her aim of exploring the process of professional acculturation
and the relation between identity, agency and the acquisition of professional
language and culture of IETs in Ontario. The book’s organization and overall
clarity allow for an immediate understanding of the theoretical framework that
supports the large samples of data provided by the author. I particularly
enjoyed how Deters skillfully presented the implementation of qualitative
research in SLA. Rather than staying within the boundaries of theory, the
author explained how her data collection and analysis had been operationalized
to provide practical examples of the different methods used in qualitative

Additionally, Deters’ conceptualization of agency as mediated by identity and
socially constructed in the professional acculturation of IET’s fits nicely
with the current sociocultural views of agency presented by Ahearn (2001),
Lantolf (2013), or van Lier (2008). It is precisely the author’s understanding
of how the acquisition of professional language and culture blends with the
community of practice framework (Lave & Wenger, 2001) and sociocultural theory
of mind (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006) that allows her to successfully implement a
solid analysis of her extensive and varied sets of data, which could have been
otherwise too diffuse.

The quality of the extensive sets of data presented is one of the book’s
biggest strengths. It is through them that Deters is able to explore the
socially constructed nature of agency and identity as well as the complexity
of the relationships established between groups and individuals. Perhaps this
monograph would have benefited from a more in-depth linguistic analysis of the
participants’ narratives to clarify some of the acquisitional assumptions made
by the author (i.e. “Kerry’s and Peter’s persistence and determination
contributed to their acquisition of a high proficiency in an additional
language” (2012: 180)).

Notwithstanding that, by focusing on adult immigrants and providing readers
with a better understanding of the affordances and constraints of professional
acculturation, Deters’ pioneering study fills a gap in the SLA literature.
Indeed, what makes the present volume truly interesting is the fact that it
provides researchers in second language acquisition with a global and unique
perspective on agency, identity and professional acculturation that blends
together theory and practice. In addition, this book benefits current and
future IETs providing them with the tools to successfully integrate in a
foreign educational system. All in all, this is a thoroughly absorbing book
that fills many gaps in the fields of international migration studies and
applied linguistics.

Ahearn, L. 2001. Language and agency. Annual Review of Anthropology 30,

Lantolf, J. P. 2013. Sociocultural theory and the dialectics of L2 learner
autonomy/agency. In P. Benson and L. Cooker (eds.) The applied linguistic
individual: Sociocultural approaches to autonomy, agency and identity (pp.
17-31). London: Equinox.

Lantolf, J. P. & Thorne, S. L. 2006. Sociocultural Theory and the Genesis of
Second Language Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral
Participation. Learning through Communities of Practice. Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press.

van Lier, L. 2008. Agency in the classroom. In J. P. Lantolf and M. E. Poehner
(eds.) Sociocultural Theory and the Teaching of Second Languages (pp.
163-188). London: Equinox.

Próspero N. García (Ph.D., University of Massachusetts, Amherst) is an
assistant professor of Spanish and applied linguistics at Rutgers University,
Camden. His research interests lie in the fields of Spanish second language
acquisition and pedagogy, sociocultural theory and second language learning,
technology enhanced language learning, and second language evaluation and
assessment. His most recent research explores the role of agency and
verbalizing in the internalization of grammatical categories, and the
operationalization of Concept-based Instruction in the Second Language

Page Updated: 29-May-2014