Identity and Motivation Among Heritage Language Learners of Italian in New Zealand: A Social Constructivist Perspective

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Over the last two decades, New Zealand has become one of a small number of culturally and linguistically superdiverse nations in the world (Spoonley and Bedford, Welcome to our world: Immigration and the reshaping of New Zealand. Auckland: Dunmore Publishing, 2012), and yet the teaching of migrant heritage languages in New Zealand receives little governmental support, leaving the maintenance of these languages largely in the hands of self-funded ethnic community groups, which seldom possess the resources to implement effective language teaching initiatives. Based on a study of the self-reported experiences of heritage language learners of Italian in New Zealand, this chapter provides a microperspective on the learning journeys of five New Zealanders of migrant background who set out to learn their heritage language through courses of Italian as a foreign language. Designed as a longitudinal exploration of language learning motivation through a series of in-depth narrative interviews and detailed classroom observations, the study’s main inquiry focuses on the significance of the learners’ own constructions of their Italian identity (or Italianità) for the development of their motivational trajectories throughout 18 months of learning. By explaining the learners’ motivation as the result of their own processing and reactions to key factors, relationships, and events both inside and outside the language classroom, the study illustrates the deeply personal and identity-dependent nature of the motivational processes observed, supporting a conceptualization of HL learning motivation that is in line with modern SLA theorizations of second language learning motivation as a dynamic, identity-related and socially constructed process.


Heritage language Identity Motivation Italian New Zealand 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of HumanitiesMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand

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