Essay: Theory Behind Second Language Socialisation (Sls)

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Theory behind Second Language Socialisation (SLS) and Some of Its Applications in ESOL Research

As English continues to become the lingua franca of choice in the business world, educators are faced with some challenges as well as opportunities to deliver more effective educational services that are tied to the needs of second-language learners in an increasingly multicultural society. Using language as a key point, a growing number of researchers are examining how the socialisation process can be used to help English learners become more proficient in their use of English in a larger process that leads to becoming a complete citizen. Because resources by definition are scarce, it is important to determine how a better understanding of the socialisation process on the part of educators can contribute to improved academic and social outcomes for English-language learners, making the focus of this study particularly relevant and timely. This paper reviews the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning the theory behind second language socialisation and some of its applications in current ESOL research. A summary of the research, important findings, and likely future trends are provided in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Background and Overview

As the need for second language instruction has grown in recent years, so too have the demands for more effective approaches (Firth & Wagner 2007). In this regard, Gregg emphasizes that, "In recent years, a number of researchers in the field of second language acquisition have voiced discontent regarding the tendency of second language acquisition (SLA) research to be conducted within a framework of cognitive science. Others have expressed this same discontent, and gone beyond it to call for a new SLA paradigm, the 'language socialization paradigm'" (2006, p. 413). This point is also made by Garrett and Baquedano-Lopez who report, "In the two decades since its earliest formulation, the language socialization paradigm has proven coherent and flexible enough not merely to endure, but to adapt, to rise to these new theoretical and methodological challenges, and to grow" (2002, p. 339).

To date, the research concerning language socialization has largely been directed at developing a better understanding concerning how young children are socialized into the norms and patterns of their culture by and through language and research based on this theoretical perspective has traditionally regarded the language socialisation process as being "a dynamic and interactive process that extends throughout the lifespan as people come to participate in new communities, define and redefine themselves according to new roles, and either acquiesce in or challenge the definitions and role relationships formulated by others" (Schecter & Bayley 2004, p. 605).

The importance of fluency in the dominant language of any society for numerous reasons including access to services, employment, relationships, and so forth, is well documented of course, but the precise reasons for second-language acquisition will likely differ from learner to learner, making the need for studies that examine this need among various population groups especially important. In this regard, the results of a study by Alexander, Edwards and Temple (2007) confirmed that English fluency is an important part of the assimilation process, but beyond this obvious association were some interesting observations concerning how English fluency represents a boundary of sorts that defines the "haves" from the "have notes." For instance, Alexander and her associates cite the recent focus on English instruction by the UK government as a means of facilitating socialization and assimilation. According to Alexander et al., "In recent years, the Home Office has adopted a reinvigorated policy of citizenship education and integration towards both new immigrants and settled minority ethnic communities. One of the cornerstones of this new policy is English language, which is seen as a key tool for the successful integration of Britain's diverse communities" (2007, p. 783). Based on their research, Alexander and her colleagues maintain that "English language is used symbolically as a cultural boundary marker, which both defines minority ethnic 'communities' and excludes them from the re-imagined national 'community'" (2007, p. 783). Using language as a departure point for further examination of the concept of socialisation in the community, these researchers conclude that "minority ethnic 'communities' are best understood as arising out of systems of localised 'personal' networks which challenge reified and abstract ideas of 'imagined communities' and provide insights into the performance of citizenship and belonging 'from below'" (Alexander et al. 2007, p. 783).

An operationalization of the theoretical perspective involved in also in order. According to Brown, Anderson, Bauer, Berns, Hirst and Miller (2006), "Socialization refers to the interactional processes through which novices develop the competence required for participation in the social life of a particular community or communities, including routine cultural practices, such as language and literacy activities, and local preferences for action, thought and emotion. These processes occur in large part through language, the primary symbolic medium of cultural reproduction and transformation" (p. 466). The theory in support of second language socialisation maintains that the needs of foreign language teachers include ". . . The initiation, implementation and EVALUATION of language learning processes of which the cultures involved form an indispensable part" (emphasis author's) (Byram 2000, p. 44). With respect to the function of second language socialisation research, Byram distinguishes research from teaching thusly: "The function of research is to steadily advance our knowledge and understanding of language learning processes, while that of teaching is to make what we already know as transparent as possible to future teachers so that they can build on it in their teaching practice" (2000, p. 44).

From a second language socialisation perspective, then, the competence level needed to successfully navigate in an English-language community in ways that include the ability to facilitate communication by others can be said to have been achieved when certain outcomes are consistently demonstrated. For example, Byram (2000) cites research by Kramsch (1993) and concludes that, "If foreign language learners have intercultural communicative competence, they should be regarded as intercultural speakers who are able to interact with people from another country and culture in a foreign language and to negotiate a mode of communication and interaction which is satisfactory to themselves and the other and to act as mediator between people of different cultural origins" (p. 44). The role of language in this theoretical framework is therefore key, but it may include differing views of the relative importance of one factor over another, but with a common theme relating to how language is used to assess personal success as well as the success of others. In this regard Byram adds that, "Their knowledge of another culture is linked to their language competence through their ability to use language appropriately…and their awareness of the specific meanings, values and connotations of the language" (2000, p. 44).

Applications of Second Language Socialisation in ESOL Research

A review of the recent literature concerning second language socialisation indicates that someone has opened the gates and a flood of research is being poured through. While the scope of this growing body of research transcends the applications of second language socialisation for ESOL research purposes, a goodly number of them have this focus and these studies are summarized in Table 1 below, together with the key findings that emerged from the research. This approach is congruent with the guidance provided by the American Psychological Association's Publication Manual (5th ed.), which states, "Word tables present qualitative comparisons or descriptive information. For example, a word table can enable the reader to compare characteristics of studies in an article that reviews many studies, or it can present questions and responses from a survey or shown an outline of the elements of a theory. Word tables illustrate the discussion in the text" (2002, p. 161).

Table 1

Recent applications of second language socialisation in ESOL research

Author(s)

Key Findings

Comments

Vickers (2007)

This study focused on naturalistic L2 socialization processes and showed that particular interactional processes serve to define expert, socialized participants, and that particular interactional processes operate to socialize novice learners in an electrical and computer engineering team meeting. The results of this study showed that L2 socialization is part of a larger process of socialization in human development, which is dependent on the novice participants' access to opportunities for interaction with socialized members of the community.

This researcher conducted a longitudinal, ethnographic study among engineering students to examine the interactional processes surrounding second language (L2) socialization. Vickers notes that, "L2 socialization perspectives argue that the cognitive and the social are interconnected, and that learning an L2 is a process of coming to understand socially constructed meaning distinctions" (p. 621). Citing a number of studies that have evaluated L2 socialization that have shown that L2 instruction, or L2 instruction in combination with participation in particular speech communities, provides nonnative speakers with socialization opportunities to gain access to the community's speech norms.

Baynham (2006)

This study identified some interesting trends in the delivery of ESOL instruction from the perspective of student agency and teacher contingency in the construction of classroom discourse specifically with respect to refugees and asylum seekers.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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