Adapting Other Narratives to Make Sense of Your Own

In my previous post, I wrote about how I used to see my students simply as Taiwanese college students learning English. In a shallow sense, yes, they are. In the same way, their student narratives can also be interpreted by researchers as just students telling stories.

Or, narratives can be more.

Also from my last post, I mentioned that I have been conducting interviews with a small group of students with a research interest in narratives of prospective EFL teachers. During the initial stages of conducting interviews, I was interested in exploring how the narratives being told to students influenced their language learning process, language identity, or beliefs about language learning. I asked students about what people told them about learning English and their opinions about what other people told them. Yet, when analyzing their narratives, I found out that students were not telling me narratives other people had told them; instead, they were telling me their own narratives, altered and appropriated from others for their own purposes. And they were not telling me about the process and difficulties of learning English, not about grammar, pronunciation, reading, writing, etc, but they were telling me about the learning of English, or in other words, of learning English as a social practice within the societal context of Taiwanese society.

One student told me the conflicting messages he received from the people around him in terms of whether or not he should be an English Instruction major. For example, while his friends and classmates from high school envied him for his English proficiency, well-known in Taiwanese society to make you a more marketable employee, his parents and relatives objected to his desire to be an English major and pursue a career teaching English. This seems a bit surprising because one would think that Taiwanese parents would love for their children to be pursuing a teaching career. On top of that, he also has a lot of self-doubt and insecurities about whether or not his level of English proficiency is good enough. With all these factors, it’s apparent from his narrative that being a student preparing to be a future EFL teacher is no simple task.

Taking this complexity into consideration, how do students make sense of such a career path? Keep in mind, these are students with no teaching experience, students that are actually only in their first year of college. How are they supposed to understand what it means to be an EFL teacher? What I want to study in my research is the role narratives help students make sense of their future identities as EFL teachers. In my students case, he was able to adapt narratives told to him by others (some good, some bad), and reinterpret them for this own purposes, and eventually incorporate them as his own.

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