Student studying

The paper that we are going to introduce is a case study which focuses on a teenage Chinese immigrant in the United States, Almon. The study looks at how Almon communicates on the Internet in a transnational group of J-pop fans and how this translates into his identity formation. It also draws on critical questions of language and literacy.

Almon was used to concerned that his English literacy skills were poor even after moving to America five years ago. He was enrolled in a remedial composition class but it wasn’t effective. Almon’s frustration made him lose confidence about school work, future job and his staying in America. After working on his home page about J –pop, he successfully improved his literacy skills by posting articles, writing with pen-pals and replying to comments. He built himself a confident, sentimental and smart rhetorical identity in the virtual world. At the same time, his identity in the real world was developed through gaining confidence in using English and strengthening his social relationships in school and community.

While the standard English taught in class made Almon feel excluded and marginalized, the global English he acquired through his Internet involvement enables him to feel part of and connected with an English-speaking community. This makes us rethink the English taught in classes. We should be aware of the fact that nowadays, the kind of language taught in class doesn’t match the kind of English used out of class. Therefore, TESOL in the international and transcultural world should focus on the target language and cultural communities, and provide more opportunities to apply what they have learned in class to real world communication and events.

Through conducting a great deal of research into one particular case, this paper shows us a growing trend in teenagers communicating in online ‘worlds’ and the importance to bring these online languages into the classroom so as to improve students’ literacy skills in the real world. So, here come our questions:

Implications for Teachers?

  • How can we bring the globalized varieties of language used in computer-mediated communications into the classroom to enhance students’ literacy skills?
  • What activities/material can we develop to help bridge the gap for students?

39 thoughts on “L2 Identity Through Writing on the Internet

  1. Motivation is very important for language learning. That’s the problem standard English classroom need to focus on. Students are easy to feel bored with standard teaching way. So I think maybe teachers can guide students to find classmates of same interest. Like setting book club, movie appreciation club after class. Then spare some time on class and invite students to share what they have got with other students. In that way, students can have time doing things they like and have more opportunities to practice.

    • I like your idea! Organizing learners into interest group and asking them bringing what has been discussed and searched into the class is motivated. Learners have chance to use English to do what they like doing.

    • You’re right Lily! Motivation is very important and is sometimes, in my opinion, the proverbial straw on the camel’s back for whether or not a student succeeds or not in their language learning. There is a wealth of research on motivation alone that it’s hard to pick which stance is correct or not.
      In the case of Almon, he was motivated by Jpop to discuss his ideas and that in turn helped him to become a better L2 learner.
      It is constantly the teacher’s responsibility to find ways to motivate students and maybe an activity like this could be created in class for students to take part in and hopefully their language skills will improve. Maybe another question would be, how do we assess their progress?

    • Great idea! Forming clubs could encourage students to actively use what they’ve learned already. And the thought of sharing session in class is an excellent complement to clubs for the reason that except mere interest, approriate pressure could lead to high quality and efficent language production. If they want to surprise their peer students, students will make much more effort to perfect their presentation. I have to say Lily, you really came up with a good method.

    • About the question that how teacher access the learning process, I think it should be depend on different learning activities. However, any learning activities should have a clear syllabus to keep students always be motivated. For example, students may be required to present their outcome every week. The form can be various, like presentation, report, video, or even something related to the new literacies. And teacher can tell students the score will be marked from different aspects, like the originality, quality and something like that.It can be adjusted based on students’ level. In this way, students will pay attention to the activity and teacher can also have a way to access the process.

  2. Hello, I really love the article especially the two questions posed at the end of the article. Chinese teachers just focus on the grammatical rules, which is so boring. and sometimes, students are afraid of communicating with others, because they only know the standard English. the activity mentioned in this case is a good example for improving learner’s learning motivation. and the as a teacher could make students have more activities and several types of activities, which makes students have more motivation. Thank you.

    • Thanks for your like 🙂
      I agree with you that the standardized English acquired in class has kind of prevented learners from natural communication outside class. We teacher, of course, can do a lot of things to bring natural language into classroom.

    • Hi Yueming,
      I wonder if Chinese teachers are starting to reconsider the way that they teach in order to catch up with some of the new literacy practices that we’re learning about?

    • I think examination oriented learning is the biggest barrier for teachers to use new literacy approaches. They are unwilling to apply these approach to classroom teaching because it’s too time-consuming and ineffective for students’ performance in the short run.

    • Cassie, I agree with your comment. Dealing with exam based curriculum is a very difficult situation. In Hong Kong it is so embedded into the education culture that it is hard to bare sometimes.

  3. I agree that motivation is of great importance in language learning. Or I can say that, in all kinds of learning, motivation is important. In China, teachers usually talk and talk for one class, even discusses are seldom seen. I suggest that they set up some activities of new literacies to improve learner’s motivation. And of course these activities are not waste of time. They can be helpful in different aspects to teach students knowledge. I believe in the future, more and more Chinese teachers will adopt these kinds of approaches.

    • Yes, Emma, you are absolutely right. Cramming teaching cannot be used in language teaching any more. And “intrest is the best teacher”. It will definitely speed up our language learning process once we find our own motivation or triggered by the teachers.

    • Emma– I wonder about how will students that live in some of the smaller villages and remote areas be taught? I’d be interested to know what the developmental plans are in terms of infrastructure would be in some areas in China. It would greatly impact the students if they had an opportunity to learn with some ‘high’ technology at their disposal.

  4. Languages used in online environments are quite different from standard languages used in classroom because the functions of the two are different. It may be possible to find that although Almon get so much success online, he may still not good at the school writing course because the standard and criteria for online language and schooling language are disconnect. We do need to reconsider the goal of language education in the future because the way of communicating and participating is changing. It is not right to emphasize global language and ignore standard language or vise versa. The case have implications on teachers that they should create a positive environment for students and give them more freedom to do what they like.

    • Hi, Sherry! You mention a really important point! Yes, global language and standard language should share equal effort in language teaching. They have different functions, one is for formal writing and speaking, the other is for casual daily use. As teacher, we should let students realize the difference between these two kinds of languages in order to use them appropriate.

    • I think it’s true. I think we are taught without distinguishing the academic English/standard English from the daily communicative English. The shortcomings of such pedagogy have been experienced by us and it is an advantage for us at the same time. We, as advantaged English learners, have equipped with the awareness of it and know the flaws in this process. So it’s easy for us to change the current teaching concentions.

  5. Thanks for your sharing! Confidence and motivation are very important in language learning. Students’ good performance in virtual world encourages them to learn further and constantly. Actually, I don’t think there are any big problems of classroom teaching, because school education is not the only way of learning and it’s impossible to learn everythong in class. In my personal opinion, classroom teaching is more for academic purpose while the real use of language for daily communication can be learned more from our daily life. Of course, computer-mediated communications have great impact on both ways of learning.

    • I agree with you Cassie. The language learning in classroom and daily life do not conflict with each other but promoted by each other. The problem scholars concern is that the traditional education cannot provide students with enough preparation for the authentic digital communication. The new way of communication is much more complex than the old one and unfortunately our language teaching and learning in classroom do not keep pace with it.

    • Another question that language teachers perhaps have to address is, as digital communication becomes more commonplace and also more important, can we afford to focus only on academic communication?

    • Thank you professor. Nowadays students have more access to the society via all kinds of digital tools, the teaching of academic communication is not the only thing. Teachers have to give some instructions, but students practice digital communication mainly after class because of the time and other aspect limitations.

  6. Well, what brings Almon to become a successful L2 learner later is that he finds his own way (Jpop Web) as an interest to be engaged in language learning. Personally, good teacher, as an instructor, should design and conduct some class activities for the purpose of stimulating students and combing the knowledge taught into real environment. Such activities could be group clubs as Lily mentioned before, or making their own home page, e-mail exchange project, disscussion and evaluation on online games, etc. Teacher also needs to be flexible about the book and sometimes incorporating certain practical materials input closely linked in social community could be a better option for students to get interested and to apply them more easily.

    • I love your idea of “instructor” and it is true to our language teaching. Teachers are no longer supposed to offer all kinds of knowledge in this digital age. One of the aims of language teaching using new literacies is to make students become autonomous learners who can pursuit a life-long study by themselves. And I think such aim does not set teachers “free” or useless, but provide greater challenges for them to become good “instructors”.

    • I also like your idea of “instructor”. Although new literacies can sometimes serve as the role of tutors in the classroom, this does not mean that teachers are free from their duty. On the contrary, they should be a mentor who connect students with their out-of-class interests in the classroom.

  7. Technology development changes the communication environment. People now communication via instant messaging software, e-mail, blogs, etc. It is therefore crucial for students to learn the new literacies in digital era to prepare them for future literacies they deserve. I think teachers may adopt project-based approach that integrate online resources into the project,thus the online language can be appropriately used by students.

  8. Almon’s personal experience showed everything is possible if you take the right approach. This article has certain implications for teacher, for instance, teacher should act like the facilitator or mediator when introducing students a new interesting technology method to improve second language learning. Beside, teacher should give students enough time to operate on their own, with less instruction, because the best teacher is practicing.

    • It is really a tough work for teacher to transfer their identities in the new era of technology. Teachers should be familiar with not only the knowledge of language but also the new media and internet. Students need to be engaged with an autonomous learning process and method to become a life-long learner, which would be the teaching aim of teachers’.

  9. This case study reminds me of peer acknowlegement. I think Almon in the study get encouragements from peers who share similar interests with him and they agree with him. Also, Almon knows that there are other audience except for his teachers, so he pays more attention to the language he uses. Therefore, besides motivation, it is important to create more audience for students.

    • Yes, absolutely! The acknowledgement and encouragement from peers can be huge influence on learners’ motivation, and learner will become more confident when they are learning and using L2.

    • Both you and Scarlett bring up good points. Peer acceptance and encouragement is very powerful in terms of motivating a student. I think that we as teachers need to always keep this in mind even when we assign small tasks in class.

  10. Every student, who wants to learn well, should find a method suitable for him or her. The language learner in this research is lucky that he has a habit that can assist his L2 practicing through new literacy. This reminds me of one of my previous students. His foundation of all subjects are close to ZERO. I was his class advisor for two years. He and his parents accepted that he would get a terrible grade for NMET. He spent most of time to think something concerning philosophy when everybody else was busy with preparing for NMET. I was really worried about him and I pushed him to learn vocabulary in my office and check it. Though he was grateful for me, I knew that he was not happy and he had no hope for learning from beginning of all subjects within several months. Later I realized that he got a habit of writing things online using L1, all the content are abstract and something philosophic. I then gave him Sophie’s World to read, and he liked it very much. He made notes on the book and later when he returned this for me, I read it again and again, feeling really fulfilled and pleasant. After the exam, I sent the book to him as a present. We both did not talk about the grades he got, but I knew he was talented in something, not English, not math, not physics, but playing orchestra (his secondary school major), and thinking life and world in a critical and wise way. As a teacher, I knew it was impossible for every of my students to achieve high level of knowledge or a language, for there is only one No1, No2 and No3, but what I can do is to inspire them in someway that will motivate them in some way instead of witnessing them do nothing.

    • Fiona,
      That is a great point. For me as a teacher it doesn’t mean to just be a teacher of your respective subject, but to also teach students about the world. We are the ones that are older and more experienced in different things. Students look to us for the answers of not just grammar but also about society and a myriad of other things. If I can teach any one of my students something…… anything…… then I feel that I am a successful teacher.
      Keep motivating your students!

    • Thanks for sharing. It really inspires me a lot about how to be a teacher. I once met teachers will get mad just because students cannot clean the classroom as they expected, let alone students cannot get satisfactory scores.
      Teachers play an important role in students’ life. They should try to be responsible for their behavior and try to be inspiring for students. I truly think that you did the right thing, Fiona.

  11. I’m curious if any of our graduate students here in the English department are using any kind of websites to enhance their already high level of English? I can see why/how it can help a lower proficient student but what about those with an already high level? Writing is so important at this stage, right? Dissertations/Thesis’!

    • I guess man-to-man communication solves this problem and allows language learners with high level of L2 to reach a higher level. One of my friend, who is also a postgraduate students, she has a fixed partner to exchange e-mails with. They have kept writing to each other for three years. They share their daily lives, and their opinions about current issues. Their e-mails are rather long, from 500 to 800 words. I believe this practice helps a lot for both writing skills and critical thinking, which are pretty essential for high level language learners.

    • I have been thinking about this question since I felt my English become sluggish. However, I think few website is suitable for high level english learners. To do the dissertation, we need to acquire cerain genre knowledge. In terms of us, we need to learn how to write certain kind of articles rather than diary or letters, which may involve other proffesional knowledge.

  12. Thanks for sharing Scarlett. I’m sure it will help. I would think though, that it would be better to write to someone that isn’t so close so that you can keep in a more formal format of writing. After a few years of regularly writing to someone I would think that your style would change over time. Just a thought but a good idea. Pen pals are also just fun to have as well.

  13. This is quite an interesting topic. I found that nearly all the writing I have been done is through computer. When finishing writing, I would like to choose upload it to the internet for keeping and sharing. So I think it is necessary to train the students in such a new way, which is the trend of the world.

  14. In most of the cases, though students know that they are taking a foreign language class, they randomly aware of the culture differences behind the language. In case of that, teachers should keep in mind of the cultural difference, and present this difference to their students which might not only help students have deeper understand of the language but also stimulate students’ curiosity of language and its background.

  15. I think the Thorne and Black (2007) article did a nice job of summarizing the affordances of this kind of language work. It can be highly motivational having an audience for one’s writing, but at the same time one has to have a certain amount of confidence writing in a second language to even contemplate doing this kind of thing. I wonder how much patience readers would have if there are several grammatical errors in the writing???

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