Cultural Challenges, Identity and Motivation in State School EFL

  • Martin Lamb
  • Budiyanto
Part of the International Perspectives on English Language Teaching book series (INPELT)


In the past decade or more, a consensus has formed in the applied linguistic community around the importance of identity in language learning. All learning, from a social perspective (e.g., Lave & Wenger, 1991), can be viewed as the construction of a new identity in relation to a certain community; for example, learning to play tennis involves gaining knowledge of the game and physical skills for participation, but it also implies ‘becoming a tennis player’ in one’s own eyes and that of other players — feeling comfortable holding the racket, having the right shoes, speaking the jargon and so on. Similarly, ‘learning an L2 involves a struggle to forge a new identity that is true to the self’ (van Lier, 2004: 47) while being recognised by others as a competent user of the L2. In fact because language is so closely connected to our sense of selfhood, the path to proficiency is likely to be strewn with even more personal challenges than is learning other skills. The novice tennis player can assert his or her other more expert identities (as bank manager, chess player, mother) when chatting with other players, whereas individuals learning a second language in a foreign country are denied their most basic means of self-expression at the same time that they are challenged by aspects of the local culture. Their sense of self may be destabilised, and they may feel ambivalence towards their new community — ‘feeling a part and feeling apart’, as Block (2007: 864) neatly puts it. Such ‘identity work’ is just as much a part of successful language learning as grammar work or skill-acquisition.


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© Martin Lamb and Budiyanto 2013

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  • Martin Lamb
  • Budiyanto

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