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Review of  Social Identities and Multiple Selves in Foreign Language Education

Reviewer: Ksenia Gnevsheva
Book Title: Social Identities and Multiple Selves in Foreign Language Education
Book Author: Damian J. Rivers Stephanie Ann Houghton
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 26.31

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Social Identities and Multiple Selves in Foreign Language Education, edited by Damian J. Rivers and Stephanie Ann Houghton, comprises an introduction by the editors and 10 chapters which explore learner (and teacher in several of the chapters) identity in foreign and second language education for a number of first language (L1) and second language (L2) pairs. It is a collection of qualitative research studies with a variety of methods employed, which give voice to the participants and allow a valuable glimpse of raw data.

Chapter 1, “The Institutional and Beyond: On the Identity Displays of Foreign Language Teachers”, by Jose Aguilar, sets out to explore the manifestations of the “situated identity” (Zimmerman 1998) of L2 teachers in Scotland, France, and Spain and the coherence between these manifestations and pedagogical rationales. Conversation analysis used in the study revealed that teachers’ self-categorization often facilitated language learning activities and was sometimes used for creating a pleasant classroom environment conducive to communication. The author rightfully calls for more attention to the teacher’s identity construction and its inclusion in teacher-training courses.

Damian J. Rivers in Chapter 2, “Implications for Identity: Inhabiting the ‘Native-Speaker’ English Teacher Location in the Japanese Sociocultural Context”, continues with the theme of teacher identity and analyzes 5 narratives of Native Speaker (NS) teachers of English who have different lengths of residence in Japan. The categorization of NS teachers as the excluded ‘Other’ in Japanese society is exemplified through the discourse of periphery and isolation that permeates the narratives describing their professional identity. In conclusion, Rivers briefly discusses the implications of such exclusion upon the individual (NS teachers) and broader society (collegiality in the workplace and education nationwide).

In Chapter 3, “Professional Identities Shaped by Resistance to Target Language Only Policies”, Brian A. McMillan discusses his experiences as a French Immersion teacher in Canada and an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Teacher in Japan. He discusses how his professional identity was shaped through his exploration and development of his teaching philosophy with regard to the Target Language Only policy informed by his own beliefs, experiences as a learner and teacher, research, and institutional policies. The description of lived experiences and brief summary of professional identity development in the conclusion is quite insightful; however, it leaves the reader wanting to hear more about the details of that development.

Claudia Kunschak and Felix Girón’s Chapter 4, “Language, Culture and Identity: Transcultural Practices and Theoretical Implications”, explores transcultural practices in 4 groups: intermediate and advanced English learners and Chinese and international English teachers in a Chinese university. The 5 transcultural practices identified are code-switching, using English for distancing, critical evaluation of language, culture, and identity, reflexivity towards the Other and Own cultures, and awareness of Own culture.

Melina Porto’s Chapter 5, “Social Identifications and Culturally Located Identities: Developing Cultural Understanding through Literature”, is a detailed analysis of one Argentinian EFL student’s engagement with a text and the complex interplay of her positionings in relation to age, social groupings, religion, gender, race and ethnicity.

Deborah Cole and Bryan Meadows in Chapter 6, “Reimagining Sociolinguistic Identification in Foreign Language Classroom Communities of Practice”, suggest that the nationalist paradigm in foreign language teaching be replaced with the communities of practice one. After discussing the advantages of using the nation as the frame of reference for identity, language, and culture, the authors argue that it is simplistic and essentialist and does not prepare foreign language learners well for encounters with the Other in today’s globalized world. The authors exemplify the propositions of the community of practice model with the organization of a foreign language program in an American high school.

John W. Schwieter’s Chapter 7, “The Foreign Language Imagined Learning Community: Developing Identity and Increasing Foreign Language Investment”, discusses student involvement in a magazine project in an advanced Spanish as a Foreign Language University class in English-speaking Canada. The use of imagined learning communities is found beneficial for the students’ teamwork, motivation, and creativity as it is able to relate classroom activities to a large range of identity positions.

Chapter 8, “Foreign Language Motivation and Social Identity Development”, by Lou Harvey employs semi-structured interviews with the aim of exploring 3 ESL students’ identities in relation to their perception of choice and agency in the learning of English, the nature of their English contact experience, perceived benefits of learning English, and their desire to participate in UK social life. The focus of the study is not limited to the education setting but draws on the broader ESL sojourn experience, which shapes and guides the participants’ identity negotiation.

Sonia Gallucci’s Chapter 9, “Emotive Accounts of the Self during an ERASMUS Sojourn Abroad”, is a case study of narratives of one British learner of Italian, which discusses a year-abroad student’s identity development and its manifestation through her use of emotive language. The focus is on the most frequent word “nervous”, which the participant uses when finding herself negotiating power relations.

Stephanie Ann Houghton in the final Chapter 10, “Setting Standards for Intercultural Communication: Universalism and Identity Change”, adapts Byram’s (1997) intercultural communicative competence (ICC) model by adding a stage of identity development to create the Intercultural Dialogue Model (ID Model) (Houghton 2012). The study explores the progression of the EFL students through the ID Model course and their identity development facilitated by their exploration of and critical engagement with Self and Other (peer and foreigner)’s system of values, particularly universalism (caring about the welfare of all people).


The major strength of this book is that it brings together research conducted in several countries, which allows readers to explore additional language identity development in a variety of different settings; this is invaluable because, as Kunschak and Girón exemplify in Chapter 4, this process can proceed differently for language learners from different cultures, educational contexts and so on. Though the title of the book may be misleading, the content is not limited to research on foreign language education and includes research on second language settings as well, such distinction being argued to be irrelevant by the editors. This breadth of research is supported by a number of L1-L2 pairs as well as a range of participant ages (from highschool students to adults) and methods (conversation, interview, and essay analyses, to name just a few).

Another advantage of the collection is that it does not disregard teacher identities (both NS and NNS), which are an important ingredient in education but are often overshadowed by learner identities in research. In this book teacher identity is discussed in connection with classroom interaction and institutional policy. The chapters are organized thematically in that the volume starts with the discussion of teacher identity and continues with learner identity.

The research presented in this volume has a strong connection to L2 pedagogy. The data in several of the chapters come directly from classroom communication, such as teacher-student conversations and essays. Several of the chapters discuss successful syllabi that treat learner identity development as an essential part of the course. A few authors offer implications for language pedagogy, teacher training, and institutional policy.

To sum up, this is a valuable volume for both identity researchers and additional language teaching practitioners.


Byram, M. 1997. Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Houghton, S.A. 2012. Intercultural Dialogue in Practice: Managing Value Judgment in Foreign Language Education. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Zimmerman, D.H. 1998. Identity, context and interaction. In C. Antaki and S. Widdicombe (Ed.), Identities in Talk. 87-106. London: Sage.
Ksenia Gnevsheva is a PhD Candidate in Linguistics at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. Her research interests include Second Language Acquisition, Sociolinguistics, and how these two work together.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781441101150
Pages: 256
Prices: U.K. £ 75.00