In this ethnography, I will focus on myself as a MA TESOL student at London Metropolitan University in North London. In particular, I will analyze my accomplishments in the context of the English-speaking surroundings of London as well as the social and cultural environment of multiethnic study groups. I will start with my answers to the questions about my feelings with regard to staying in London, the knowledge I have received here, whether I fit in the learning and social environments. I will also consider the ways my new experiences affect my identity and how I can use them in teaching practice in my home town. Overall, my sojourn in London has helped me better understand that awareness that one’s identity is multidimensional is instrumental in more effective second language acquisition.
Words on myself
I am from Kuwait. There are many ethnicities in my country, and I mixed with people of various nationalities at school. However, it was different from the multiculturality of London where I need to speak English all the time. Actually, I had never traveled outside my country and been to an English-speaking country before my arrival here. Thus, it has been a completely new experience for me, and I have noticed how positively it has affected my acquisition of English. The immersion into the English-language environment has been an eye-opening moment that has inspired and illuminated me whereas the stay with the multiethnic community has opened a world of many other cultures, social habits, and rules.
Data presentation and analysis
Q1. Why do you react the way you do to being here?
A: I love being here in London mixing with other nationalities in a British community. This experience is so life-changing; I have lived in the Kuwaiti community since I was born. I used to mix with international students back at school. Now, I am mixing with other nationalities here in London, and it is completely different. I have realized that it is not Kuwait anymore. Nevertheless, I try to mix and socialize with others as much as I can in order to improve the effectiveness of my stay here.
The answer provided can be analyzed from various perspectives. Firstly, one can consider it in terms of the unidimensional model of acculturation many authors speak about. The opponents of the model, for example, Jia et al. (2014, p. 253), point out that only a bi-dimensional model can encourage a multicultural identity. I originate from the community of one culture, and even though representatives of many other ethnicities came to my country, they were usually immersed in the Kuwaiti culture. When I arrived in London, I faced a very different English culture. Nevertheless, in my opinion, I do not need to fully identify with it for successful second language acquisition.
Moreover, studying in London and the need to mix with people has served as a powerful motivation to me. According to Jia et al. (2014, p. 257), motivation is directly related to language achievement, constituting the idea that the more motivated an individual is, the more likely the individual will be to exhibit achievement in language proficiency. The English-language environment becomes a powerful motivation per se because a person is self-motivated to communicate with people who do not know his/her native language. It involves all three phases of L2 motivation (Dornyei 2008, p. 66). Particularly, when students are eager to learn the language of the other community, they experience social and psychological motivation. When they find a stimulating language environment, it creates a cognitive-situated stimulus. The perspective of the process-oriented approach allows students to follow the changes in motivation that happen naturally (Dornyei 2008, p. 83).
Furthermore, a lack of integrative motivation does not prevent an individual from successful acquisition (Larsen-Freeman & Long 2014, p. 304). The motivation to learn a language for utilitarian purposes such as finding a good job or meeting an educational requirement is also instrumental in the process of studying a second language. Sometimes, it can be even more effective than the integrative one. In my case, it has been the combination of both types, and it has turned out to be a very successful mix.
Lastly, referring to language acquisition strategies outlined by Dornyei (2008, p. 182), I have attempted to rely predominantly on the social ones. It can be explained very easily. When I arrived here, I had a lot of knowledge and information in my passive vocabulary. Thus, I have used social events and meetings with people as opportunities to practice and implement the knowledge I possess.
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Q2. What can you learn from being here?
A: I have learned independence and the ways to control my reactions towards other people’s behavior especially those actions that I had never understood before my arrival to London. Later on, I came to know that this was cross-cultural communication. For example, when I first had to use the public transportation facilities in London, I did not know anything about public transportation and how to use it properly. The moment I used the escalator, people started yelling, Move to the right, and they pushed me to the right side. I was in shock. I did not know why they did this to me until I observed individuals around me and started doing the same. Another very obvious thing British people do is apologizing for nearly everything whether it is their fault or not. This habit amused me, and at first, I thought they were scared of everyone, and this showed how weak their personalities were. As I come from the culture where one says sorry only when he/she has done something really wrong and is obliged to apologize, I experienced a culture shock because of the habit. After a while, I understood that it is acceptable and normal to say sorry for an error made by others. Also, upon my arrival, I noticed that the students I met had very different levels of English proficiency, and I attributed it to different learning beliefs.
There are a few inferences that can be made considering the stated above. Firstly, according to Dornyei (2008, p. 67), motivation and the acceptance of the culture you are in are crucial factors that determine the effectiveness of intercultural communication. Therefore, when students have positive views of the culture they study, they are more effective in learning the language. I have learnt to apply the idea to misunderstandings and socially awkward situations. Moreover, I have understood that I need to conform to social and cultural norms and rules at least while I am in England because it is part of who the English are, and it is reflected in the language. At the very least, when I participate in the ritual of saying sorry all the time, I practice the correct forms of saying it.
Additionally, understanding how personal beliefs affect success in learning a foreign language is helpful as it aids to see the gaps and cognitive mistakes and overcome them. With regard to this, Dornyei (2008, p. 214) writes about learner beliefs. His ideas have helped me see why some students are less successful in English acquisition than their classmates. Some believe that the language is too difficult and illogical, and it hampers their learning process; others are sure their foreign language aptitude is low (Dornyei 2008, p. 214). Becoming aware of the mentioned above fact has helped me weed out my own wrongful communication strategies. I have realized that if I want to see significant progress, I need to stop using my native language and completely immerse myself in the English-language environment.
Q3. How does it feel to be a student in this environment? How does it feel to be a student and not a teacher?
A: Being a student here in London is so productive. I have found a lot of sophistication in the environment. Fitting in has not been hard at all as I am used to mixing with international students owing to my experience back in Kuwait. The only difference between fitting in here and in Kuwait is that now I am surrounded by students who vary in age, culture, and mentality. I have learned a lot from them and more about their cultural background and how they feel about their stay here in London.
This answer highlights the fact that learning a language in the target language environment is very productive both in linguistic and cultural senses. Vygotsky’s notion of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) can be applied here (Lantolf, Thorne & Poehner 2015, p. 212). Although as a teacher I believed I was on a high level, I have found out that the immersion into the English-language environment has expanded the amount of my knowledge. Through collaboration with peers and the professors’ guidance, I have seen how much I can learn in addition to what I already knew.
Besides, the learning environment in Kuwait was not as stimulating as in London because I could always switch to my native language and clarify something or express myself more precisely. In the multiethnic community of London, I am deprived of such an opportunity simply because other students are from other countries, and we have to communicate only in English as it is the only common language for us. Interaction always facilitates language acquisition. As Gass and Mackey (2015, p. 199) put it, It provides learners with opportunities to receive modified input, to receive feedback, both explicitly and implicitly, which in turn may draw learners’ attention to problematic aspects of their interlanguage and push them to produce modified output.
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Q4. What has being here helped you understand about your own culture, values, beliefs, and about your identity as an English/or Arabic language teacher?
A: Right after I arrived here, I was playing the role of the observer. I was comparing both cultures all the time, and then, I came to realize how wrong it was to continuously compare two different cultures. As a result, I have decided to detach from this and focus on my identity and what I can learn from being here in a new culture; and what I can do to make the best out of this experience. The sociolinguistics module raised my awareness about how we as language users/teachers are affected by culture all the time. I will definitely make use of what I have studied in the course.
The stated above answer reveals that I have reevaluated my approach to teaching and my identity. I used to feel a kind of inferiority complex. Consequently, I strove to develop an accent and language proficiency similar to native speakers. In the absence of those, I believed that it was my drawback. However, eventually, I have realized that the fact that I am not a native speaker can be my advantage as I have a better sense of my native language and can compare and contrast the two languages for my students helping them to develop effective language learning approaches. I can focus their attention on aspects of their native language that are different from the language they study (Gass & Mackey 2015, p. 197).
Furthermore, I have seen how effective immersion into the English-language environment is. It expands the ZPD and improves comprehension. According to VanPatten (2015, p. 113), Acquisition is, to a certain degree, a by-product of comprehension. The TESOL program has highlighted to me the fact that identity is constantly changing and reminds a site of struggle (Norton & McKinney 2011, p. 74). Therefore, I do not need to reject my previous identity in order to construct a new one. In fact, I can view my identity as multiple and continuously reshape it depending on the need and situation.
By experiencing the English culture firsthand, I have better understood the interconnectedness between language and culture. I have become more aware of how important immersion into a language environment is and how instrumental it is for second language acquisition. The degree of immersion can vary but as a teacher of English, I am interested in experiencing it to the fullest extent possible. Furthermore, due to going abroad, I clearly see how my native culture affects my view of the world and how it is anchored in the language. The change of location has helped me to change my mentality. The degree of it can vary but as a teacher of English, I am interested in experience the largest degree of immersion. Additionally, the analysis of my personal motivation will assist me in helping my future students to control their own motivation. I can see that instrumental motivation can be more effective than integrative one. Moreover, as a non-native speaker, I am now equipped well to guide my future students toward greater confidence in SLA because I can compare and contrast the two languages. Lastly, the knowledge of a language opens up a different mentality and expands our mental horizon. I think it is one of the main reasons to study a foreign language because it makes us more tolerant and acculturated.