Identity and Culture Shaped by Foreign Language Learning: A Case of Iranian University Students

Scientific Study, 2015

70 Pages


Table of the contents

Chapter One: Introduction
1.1. Overview
1.2. Learning English in Iran
1.3. Statement of the Problem..
1.4. Significance of the Study
1.5. Research Objectives
1.6. Research Questions
1.7. Definition of Key Words
1.8 Outline of the study

Chapter Two: Review of Literature
2.1. Overview
2.2. Identity and Language Learning
2.3. Poststructuralist Identity
2.4. Theories of language
2.5. Theories of learning
2.6. Cultural Identity..
2.7. English, Globalization, and Imperialism
2.8. Issues of Culture in English Language Teaching...
2.9. Previous Studies.

Chapter Three: Methodology
3.1. Overview.
3.2. Research Procedure
3.3 Participants
3.4. Instruments
3.5. Data Collection ..
3.6. Data Analysis

Chapter Four: Data Analysis and Results
4.1. Overview
4.2. The Questionnaire
4.3. The Interview..

Chapter Five: Discussion Conclusions, Implications & Suggestions for Further Studies
5.1. Overview.
5.2. Discussion
5.3. Conclusion
5.4. Limitation of the Study
5.5. Implications.
5.6. Suggestions for further studies

Appendix 1

Appendix 2.

Appendix 3.



We would like to express our special appreciation to all those who contributed to this study. First of all, we would like to express our immense gratitude to Dr. Eslami Rasekh for his helpful advice, encouragement and constant support. We would also like to thank Mr. Dara Tafazoli for his generous support.

Dedicated to all Iranian Researchers in the Field of Language and Identity….


As shifting identity and target cultural attachment act as important factors in the language learning process, this study aims to analyze the effects of learning English on the culture and identity change in Iranian EFL learners. To this end, fifty BA and fifty MA students majoring in TEFL participated in the study by answering the questionnaires. Also, twenty of them were interviewed along with ten EFL instructors. To control the factor of gender, all the participants were male. The data comes from two questionnaires and semi-structured interviews. The data was analyzed using SPSS. The interviews were analyzed based on content analysis procedures. The results of the study revealed that the younger the participants were the more they were interested in shifting their identities and attaching to the target culture. The results further indicated that MA students had more information about both their native and the target culture and they could manage their shifting identities better than the BA students.

List of Tables

Table 1- Results for questions 2.3.-2.7

Table 2- Results for questions 2.8. and

Table 3- Independent Samples t-test for Home Culture and level of degree

Table 4 Independent Samples t-test for Home Culture Attachment

Chapter one: Introduction

1.1. Overview

The present study focuses on shifting identity among Iranian university students majoring in TEFL. More specifically, the researcher tries to answer the following question: do Iranian EFL students’ increased knowledge of the English language and culture change their attitudes towards their native language and the Iranian culture as well as the English language and the Western culture? In this introductory chapter a background for the study is presented. Next, statement of the problem, purpose of the study, significance of the study and research questions are presented. Following that, the key terms of the study are defined.

1.2. Learning English in Iran

The history of learning English in Iran goes back to many years ago. There have always been English teachers and English classes in Iran. However, the arrival of new technologies, e.g., computer, the internet, cell-phones, etc., affected English learning in Iran like many other countries in the world (Chirimbu and Tafazoli, 20113). These days, people feel a growing need to learn English as they have more communications with foreigners. Unfortunately, public schools have not been successful in helping Iranian students to be proficient in English.

Consequently, a lot of private language institutes were mushrooming. Many young Iranians became interested in going to such institutes as they claim that by joining them anyone would be able to speak English in a few months. Nonetheless, there was a paradox then; the students were taught only grammar and vocabulary at school without any attempts to communicate in English which was in contrast to what was going on in private language institutes with their focus on communication and the speaking skill.

Nowadays, such private institutes are totally popular among Iranian students. No matter of the validity, there is a common sense that it is almost impossible to learn to speak English at Iranian schools. Therefore, if anyone wishes to communicate in English, she has to enroll in the private sector. Such a belief becomes more like a fact if we consider that the Ministry of Education asked the Iran Language Institute to take charge of the English course of schools due to low quality of English courses at schools.

Quality is not the only distinguishing factor that motivates students to join private institutes. Students can learn about the target culture, something which is not dealt with at all in schools. Many of such students become interested in English a lot so they continue their studies in English at university.

Having learned about the target culture, mostly the American culture, fresh students majoring in English usually behave differently in comparison to students in other majors.

1.3. Statement of Problem

To learn English at school or language institute is not the only issue of English learning in Iran. As learning English became very popular among Iranian students, American culture caught their attentions too. Now there are a lot of Iranian students who are familiar with the American culture as much as, if not more than, the English language. Many of them listen to American music, wear western outfits, and even talk with American styles.

Changing one’s identity and integrating with a western culture cannot be considered as a problem; however, it becomes problematic when such a change hinders and misdirects communication and learning, respectively, due to the overuse of the target culture i.e., American culture. That is why this study aims to delve into the different facets of the culture and identity change among Iranian EFL learners.

Identity change is more common these days as people are experiencing globalization. That is why sociocultural issues have significant role in identify shift and reconstruction.

As Norton (2008) believes:

In more recent years, the difference between social and cultural identity is seen to be theoretically more fluid, and the intersections between social and cultural identities are considered more significant than their differences. In this research, identity is seen as socioculturally constructed, and educators draw on both institutional and community practices to understand the conditions under which language learners speak, read, and write the target language. Such research is generally associated with a shift in the field from a predominantly psycholinguistic approach to second language learning to include a greater focus on sociological and anthropological dimensions of language learning, particularly with reference to sociocultural, poststructural, and critical theory.

1.4. Significance of the Study

The focus of this study is on the concept of cultural identity which is not about who we are individually; rather, it deals with the idea that who people are in relation to others. What distinguishes us from being members of especial groups and communities is our identity which gives us the sense of togetherness with certain people. It is again our identity that separates us from those who do not have many things in common with us. A salient note is that we do not have one identity; rather, we do have several different identities that are forming and changing constantly in the globalizing world.

There are two important reasons for this study: first, in the literature, we can see that only few studies have been done to analyze the nature of shifting identities among Iranian students and that is mostly limited to Iranian EFL teachers not the learners. Second, many studies done regarding shifting identity are not analyzed, interpreted and compared to the identity shifting strategies used by EFL learners in an Iranian context. Thus, this study aims to cover the above-mentioned aspects of culture and identity change in Iranian EFL learners

1.5. Research Objectives

The main aim of the study is to find out how the Iranian students’ attitudes towards language and culture may change under the influence of the English language, and how attitudes shape their cultural identity as modern, educated Iranian individuals. One way to achieve this, is finding out if and how the contact with the English language and the Western culture affects perception of the Iranian culture, and their perception of themselves as individuals as well as members of the Iranian society. In addition, the Iranian students’ attitudes towards the western culture and the spreading of the English language are found out in order to discover the relations between their attitudes towards the Iranian and the Western cultures, and how it all affects the shaping of their cultural identity as Iranian people.

1.6. Research Questions

The main research question for this study is do Iranian EFL students’ increased knowledge of the English language and culture change their attitudes towards their native language and the Iranian culture as well as the English language and the Western culture? A yes/no answer to the above-mentioned question is not the purpose of this study. Rather, it aims to see in what aspects those changes can be seen. As it is very important to see how such changes may affect EFL learning, a modest attempt has been made to analyze the pros and cons of culture and identity change on the Iranian students learning English as a foreign language.

1.7. Definition of Key Words

1.7.1: Language Identity: Language Identity is considered as “…the assumed and/or attributed relationship between one’s sense of self and a means of communication which might be known as a language (e.g. English) a dialect (Geordie) or a sociolect (e.g. football-speak)” (Block, 2007, p. 40). However, in this study identity refers to “ a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed across time and space, and how the person understands possibilities for the future” (Norton, 1997, p.410).

1.7.2: Cultural identity: As Norton (1997) believes cultural identity is “... the relationship between individuals and members of a group who share a common history, a common language, and similar ways of understanding the world” (p. 420).

1.7.3: Identity Shifting: Identity shifting occurs when one is able to swiftly shift identity according to the linguistic and cultural context (Val&Polina, 2010). Identity shifts occur during the acquisition of another language and that the identity shifts are closely linked to social identity (Buch, 2007, p.9).

1.7.4. Foreign Language: According to Richards and Schmidt (2002) foreign language is “…a language which is not the language of large numbers of people in a particular country or region, is not used as a medium of instruction in schools, and is not widely used as a medium of communication in government, media, etc.”(p. 206).

1.7.5: Social Identity: Social identity is “…a range of social personae, including social statuses, roles, positions, relationships and institutional and other relevant community identities one may attempt to claim or assign in the course of social life” (Ochs, 1993, p.288, cited in Dornyei & Schmidt, 2001, p.129).

1.8. Outline of the Study

The present study is organized into five chapters. In this first chapter, statement of the problem, significance of the study along with the purpose of the study are presented. Chapter Two deals with the relevant literature underpinning different ideas and opinions on identity in general and the construction of identity among Iranian EFL learners in particular. Upon presenting related theoretical concepts and classifications, a number of studies are presented in a more detailed way. The methodology of the study is fully presented in chapter three. In chapter four, the results of the study are fully elaborated upon. Chapter five presents a discussion of the findings of the study. In the rest, it outlines the conclusions, pedagogical implications of findings, and suggestions for further research.

“We unconsciously build walls that segregate cultures, notwithstanding our intention of building bridges between them” (Norton, 2008, p.116)

Literature Review

2.1. Overview

This study focuses on the construction of identity among Iranian university students majoring in English. More specifically, do Iranian EFL students feel that their increased knowledge of the English language and culture change their attitudes towards their native language and culture as well as the English language and the western culture? This chapter will focus on the literature that I found helpful to understand these questions 1) what is the relationship between language and identity; 2) what is cultural identity?

2.2. Identity and language learning

Recent studies and publications (Block, 2003; Rezaee, 2012) indicate that researchers have oriented toward sociolinguistic issues related to language learning and not psycholinguistic ones. One of the realizations of this new trend is the recent interest in investigating identity in language studies. With the emerging of a wide range of publications on identity (e.g. Block, 2007; Joseph, 2004; Morgan & Clarke, 2011; Norton, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2008, 2010, 2011; Pavlenko & Blackledge, 2004) this line of research is at the center of attention in applied linguistics. The subject of identity and language learning is of interest to researchers within many different fields; anthropology, second language acquisition, language education, sociolinguistics, and applied linguistics among others. This interest as Norton and McKinney (2008) discuss has been accompanied by a shift in the conception of identity which foregrounds the sociocultural aspects rather than the psychological ones, and conceives of identity not as static and uni-dimensional but, following poststructuralist theorists, as dynamic, multiple, and a site of struggle (Hall, 1992a; Weeden, 1997; Norton, 2000). This shift of conception has led to a better understanding of language learners in the social, political, and cultural contexts in which they learn the language and interact with different people by taking different positions.

In essence, identity is one’s sense of self (Block, 2007). Scholarship on second language identity has been growing exponentially in recent years. This surge of interest can be understood in the context of a broader paradigm shift towards perspectives with a greater focus on sociological and anthropological dimensions of second language acquisition (SLA). These perspectives are in turn anchored in sociocultural, critical and post structural theory.

Learning a new language is associated with the construction of new identities. Initial studies of language and identity can be found in the publications in 1970s and 1980s. Many researchers are interested in the role of identity in language learning perhaps none as well-known as Bonny Norton. Her seminal books, papers and research have influenced the theories of social identity and language learning. As Norton defines, identity is “how a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed across time and space, and how the person understands possibilities for the future” (Norton, 1997, p.410). Language learners are interacting and communicating within different social groups and this interaction affect the perception of their identity which is related to the social world. As Norton (1997) believes identity is constructed by language, and that people establish their identity by how they choose to use language (Freed, 1995).

In terms of Norton’s work, which draws on poststructuralist theory, identity is theorized as multiple, changing, and a site of struggle; it is conceptualized as produced in the context of diverse relations of power, operating at the level of interaction between people, and in the context of broader social, political, and economic processes (Norton & Toohey, 2011). At the level of social interaction, Norton (2010) argues that, “ every time we speak, we are negotiating and renegotiating our sense of self in relation to the larger social world, and reorganizing that relationship across time and space” (p.350).

Poststructuralist theory has become the predominant overall orientation among researchers interested in exploring the links between identity and language learning. However, we need to bear in mind that there are multiple perspectives underpinning identity research all of which are legitimate and have made precious contributions to our understanding of the role of identity in applied linguistics.

2.3. Poststructuralist Identity

In very general terms poststructuralism is a move beyond the associations and entailments of structuralism. At core, structuralism was the quest for unchanging, universal laws of human behavior while poststructuralism transcended this focus beyond the supposed universality of human behavior and social phenomena to a more nuanced, multileveled and complicated framing of the social world. Smart (1999) refers to the four core issues which poststructuralists are concerned about:

1) The crisis of representation and instability of meaning
2) The absence of secure foundations for knowledge
3) The centrality of language
4) The collapse of the conception of the autonomous subject and a counter concentration on the ways in which individuals are constituted.

Current research on second language identity conceives of identity as dynamic, contradictory, and constantly changing across time and place rather than seeing language learning as a gradual individual process of internalizing a neutral set of rules, structures, and vocabulary of a standard language, applied linguists have begun thinking differently about language learning. The new theory suggests that second language learners need to struggle to appropriate the voices of others; they need to learn to command the attention of their listeners; they need to negotiate language as a system and as a social practice; and they need to understand the practices of the communities with which they interact. Drawing on such theory, becoming a ‘good’ language learner is seen to be a much more complicated process than earlier research had suggested (Norton and Toohey, 2001).

As described by Gee “Identity as an analytic lens for research in education” being recognized as a certain “kind of person”, in a given context, is defined as “identity”. ‘In this sense of the term, all people have multiple identities connected not to their internal states but to their performances in society’ (P.99).

Following Norton (2000), identity in general refers to “who am I?” question. Norton (2000) considered language learning as an identity construction process; that is whenever language learners speak, they exchange information and at the same time organize and reorganize a sense of who they are and how they are socially related to the world around them therefore they construct and negotiate their identity. In this view, peoples’ identity will shift according to their social and economic relations. According to Norton (1997), speech, speakers, and social relationships are inseparable. In the following table, different types of identity and their relevant definitions are represented based on Block 2006a:

Table 1: Individual/collective identity types (based on Block 2006a: 37 adopted from Block, 2006b as cited in Rezaei 2012)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten.

As Rezaei (2012) reports, the main theories informing the identity related studies include Bakhtin’s poststructuralist theory of language, Critical Theory of Marx and Foucault, Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, Weeden’s feminist poststructuralist view of subjectivity, Tajfel’s social identity theory, Bourdieu’s theory of power in discourse, and finally Hall’s and Bhaba’s postclonial perspective. However, most of the studies focus on the poststructuralist view proposed by Bakhtin, Bourdieu, Hall, Weeden and Giddens, who contributed to the development of a general poststructuralist and constructivist view of identity.

Different issues regarding identity in education are classified and investigated in subcategories like identity and ideology, identity and gender, identity and race, identity and writing, language learner identity, and teacher professional identity. Block (2007) categorizes research on identity into three distinct groups based on the context of the study namely: L2 identity among the immigrants, L2 identity in second language context, and L2 identity in foreign language context. According to Hall (1992), identity is formed in interaction between the self and the society. Studies on identity have been done in a wide range of contexts including the United States (Lu, 2005), Canada (Norton, 2000), the United Kingdom (Block, 2007), Vietnam (Ha & Que, 2006), China (Cui, 2006; Gu, 2010; Seppala, 2011), japan (Duff & Uchida, 1997), Hong Kong (Tsui, 2007), Indonesia (Widianto, 2005), Costa Rica (Buch, 2007) among many other research contexts. Evidences suggest that nowadays the emphasis is shifting from individual identity towards collective identity.

In recent years different conceptions in the field of research on language learning are consistent with theories of language and learning, among which identity is not an exception. To build upon Norton’s ideas in order to understand current conceptions of identity and language learning, it is necessary to understand current theories of language and learning, and how these are related to theories about learners and their identities.

2.4. Theories of language

As Norton (2006) believes that second language research had adopted an interdisciplinary, critical approach to identity research. Among famous researchers who work on identity, Bakhtin, Bourdieu, Weeden, and Lave and Wenger address identity as a sociocultural construct.

Identity researchers, in order to understand the relationship between identity and language learning, have employed poststructuralist and sociocultural theories to progressively explicate how identity has been conceptualized in a multicultural society (Norton & Toohey, 2011). Norton (2010) suggested that in order to understand the relationship between language and identity, we should understand the poststructuralist theory of language, which is defined as ‘discourse’. Poststructuralist theories of language achieved much prominence in the late 20th century, and are associated with the work of Bakhtin (1981,1984), Bourdieu (1977,1991), Hall (1997), and Weeden (1997).

Today researchers are interested in poststructuralist theories of language in the area of identity and language learning. These theories are different from structuralist theories of language related to the work of Saussure. This Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure (1966), emphasized the study of the linguistic knowledge (competence) that allowed idealized speakers/hearers to use and understand language’s stable patterns and structures. From this perspective, actual instances of language usage (performance), which could be affected by memory lapses, fatigue, slips, errors and so on, were not seen as a revealing of idealized patterns, and thus were of little interest in the scientific study of language. However, poststructuralist theories of language, on the other hand, proposed by many, but especially by Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin (1981, 1984, 1986) who saw language not as a set of idealized forms independent of their speakers or their speaking, but rather as situated utterances which speakers, “in dialogue with others”, struggle to create meaning (Norton & Toohey, 2011). In this view the concept of individual speaker is a fiction as all the speakers construct their utterances jointly on the basis of their interaction with listeners, both in historical and contemporary, actual and assumed communities (McKinney & Norton, 2008).

Bourdieu, a contemporary French sociologist, focuses on the “unequal relationships” between interlocutors and the importance of “power” in structuring speech. In arguing that “speech always owes a major part of its value to the value of the person who utters it” (1977, p. 652), Bourdieu suggests that the value ascribed to speech cannot be understood apart from the person who speaks and that the person who speaks cannot be understood apart from larger networks of social relationships. He argues that, when a person speaks, the speaker wishes not only to be understood, but to be “believed, obeyed, respected, distinguished” (Norton & Toohey, 2000). If learners of English cannot claim ownership of the language, they might never consider themselves as legitimate speakers of it (Bourdieu, 1977). The works of these two sociocultural theorists offers us to think differently about language learning rather than seeing language as a gradual individual process of internalizing a neutral set of rules and structures.

The work of Christine Weedon, like that of Bourdieu, focused its attention on the conditions under which people speak, within both institutional and community contexts (Norton, 2006). As Norton (2006) clearly points out, Weedon, like other poststructuralist theorists, foregrounds the central role of language in her analysis of the relationship between the individual and the social:

Language is the place where actual and possible forms of social organization and their likely social and political consequences are defined and contested. Yet it is also the place where our sense of ourselves, our subjectivity, is constructed (Weedon, 1987, p.21 cited in Norton, 2006).

It is worth mentioning that Weedon’s notion of “subjectivity” differs from humanist conceptions of the individual dominant in Western Philosophy. “While humanist conceptions of the individual presuppose that every person has an essential, unique, fixed, and coherent “core”, poststructuralism depicts the individual -the subject- as diverse, contradictory, dynamic, and changing over historical time and social space” (Norton, 2000, p.5). This shift of considering learners not as individual language producers but as members of social and historical communities, moves observers toward examining the conditions for learning, appropriateness in practices, in any special community.

Gunther Kress’s notion of “discourse” and “genre” is complementary to that of Bourdieu in that he sees social relationships as central to his theory of language: “language always happens as text; and as text it inevitably occurs in particular generic form, that generic form arises out of the action of social subjects in particular social situations” (Kress, 1993, p.27 as cited in Norton, 2000). As Norton (2000) mentions, Kress (1989) argues that the power relations between participants in an interaction have a particular effect on the social meanings of the texts constructed within a given genre, whether oral or written. Like Bourdieu, Kress stresses the importance of recognizing that theories of language cannot be developed apart from an understanding of social relationships and that social relationships are rarely constituted on equal terms (Norton& Toohey, 2000).

2.5. Theories of learning

Formerly researchers used psychological research paradigms in language learning research, viewing SLA as a mental process, but recent works had attempted to investigate language learning as a socioculturally situated social practice (Norton & Toohey, 2000). Therefore, the importance is emphasized to be on relational activities occurring among speakers in various sociocultural contexts not just in the minds of the learners in isolation. Also drawing on Vygotskian notions of the sociality of learning, these studies contest views of language learning as individual minds acquiring linguistic, or even sociolinguistic, competence (Norton & Toohey, 2000).

As Norton (2000) well discussed “educational research might focus not so much on assessing individual ‘uptake’ of particular knowledge or skills but rather on the social structures in particular communities and on the variety of positioning available for learners to occupy in those communities” (Norton & Toohey, 2000, p.119). Being a successful learner is not a matter of how well one acquire or ‘uptake’ special knowledge individually but a matter of how well one can cooperate, interact, and communicate appropriately in different social contexts. Bakhtin has noted that learning is a matter of appropriating the language practices of others and Love and Wenger (1991) discuss that it is through co-participation in community practices that learners learn. Sociocultural theorists report similar results and suggest that language and culture are no longer scripts to be acquired, as much as they are conversations in which people can participate.

The more recent work of Wenger (1998) on leaning, meaning, and identity has been influential in the development of the concept of “imagined communities” (Norton & Toohey, 2000). The term “imagined communities’ was coined for the first time by Benedict Anderson (1991), who discussed that what we think of as nations are imagined communities, because in even the smallest nation the members may be unknown for their fellow-members, yet they exist as an image of their communion in their minds. Thus we can feel a sense of community with people we have not met. These imagined communities are not real and concrete like those in which we engage every day, but might have a stronger effect on our current actions and investment. Wenger (1998) has noted that the imagination serves as a link between attempts to engage with practice, on the one hand, and align ourselves with broader enterprises, on the other (Norton, 2006). In her view, imagination is “a process of expanding our self by transcending our time and space and creating new images of the world and ourselves” (p.176). This concept of imagination focuses on the relationship between imagination and ‘investment’ in communities of practice. The important point here is that the notion of “imagined community” assumes an imagined identity.

Norton (2001), drawing on her research with two immigrant adult language learners argued that students’ desired communities are not limited to the classroom, extending to personal imagined communities so that each student seeks to join a certain community of practice which might be different from the next student. Significantly, some of these desired communities are imagined communities which learners strive to join to benefit from a wider range of identity options (Norton, 2006). Essentially, an imagined community brings with it an imagined identity.

Norton’s research with two immigrant language learners suggests that learners have different investments in particular members of the target language community and the people in whom learners have the greatest investment may be those who provide access to the imagined community of a given learner, and also the extent to which such investment are productive for learner participation in both the classroom and the wider target language community is of great importance.

2.6. Cultural identity

Previous studies on learner’s identity changes focused on cultural identities. Lambert (1975) divided bilingualism in two different types; “subtractive” and “additive”. In subtractive bilingualism, the native language and native cultural identity are replaced by the target language and target cultural identity. In additive bilingualism, the learner’s native language and native cultural identity are maintained while the target language and target cultural identity are acquired in addition. Although subtractive bilingualism in the form of complete “acculturation” has been favored by a few, additive bilingualism has been regarded by many as an ideal kind of bilingualism (Yihong, Ying, Yuan & Yan, 2005). Language is closely related to individuals or group’s social identity. The transformation, that is adopting a new identity can, on the one hand, be expressed in the gradual loss of unique cultural traits and imitation of a foreign culture, or, on the other hand, in the formation of an intercultural personality with different levels of cultural, linguistic, and communicative competence (Dastghoshadeh & Jalilzadeh, 2011).

Hall (2003), in his seminal paper defines cultural identity in two different ways: “First, identity in terms of collective, shared history among individuals that reflects the common historical experiences and shared cultural codes which provides us, as ‘one people’, with stable, unchanging and continuous frames of reference and meaning, beneath the shifting divisions and vicissitudes of our actual history. The second position defines cultural identity as “what we really are”; or “what we have become”. Cultural identity, in this sense, is a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being’. It belongs to the future as much as to the past, undergoing constant transformation” (p.225). Hall (2003) also defines diaspora identities as “those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference” (p.235).

In the case of Iran, Hall’s first description of identity represent the official Iranian identity, meaning the fixed or stable cultural identity that is common among officials and authorities. The second description, on the other hand, represent the more flexible and realistic cultural identity that is formed and reformed by individuals and how they experience Iran and the world. Young Iranian university students, who are the target group of this study, are living between the “past” and “future”, constantly reshaping their cultural and self identities.

Gardner and Lambert (as cited in Buch, 2007, P. 9) commented that “the most successful second language learners are psychologically willing to adapt to various behaviors or cultural norms of speakers of the second language. Furthermore, as one learns a second language, one negotiates between the two languages and cultures, thereby becoming a member of both linguistic and cultural groups”.

We should teach both language and culture together, it is impossible to teach a foreign language without its culture base. As language teachers we should bear in mind that teaching language in a foreign context without its cultural base means teaching useless and meaningless symbols and signs to students. Knowing the single words, phrases, and expressions is one thing and understanding the implied meaning ascribed to the utterances another, which is a complex social practice. Our policy makers should be aware of this important fact that cultural instruction does not necessarily mean imposing the target language culture on our own one. On the contrary getting familiar with different cultures is a good opportunity for language learners to compare different aspects and recognize the values of their own culture and respect them even more than before.

Concluding remarks of Jou (2012) in his recent paper on identity negotiation and language learning have the following implications:

First, a broad range of interactions may affect the process of identity construction. In bilingual and multilingual communities today, active members of a sociocultural community are no longer restricted to local and social groupings. Second, as learners’ social world does not revolve around a single axis, language learning is rendered socioculturally dependent by virtue of the complex nature of communities of practice. As such, their identity construction entails learners’ active participation both in their local social practices and in wider social worlds. Finally, it is essential that language teaching professionals recognize that students may express their sociocultural identity through a social world in which their identity is constructed and transformed. Thus, cultural and communicative practices both inside and outside the classroom have a bearing on the construction of identity (p.56).

According to Brown (2007) along with learning a second language, a second identity is internalized; that is the learner’s worldview, self-identity, and ways of thinking, feeling, acting, and communicating can be disorganized by a new culture contact (as cited in Pishghadam & Ordoubody, 2011). So learning English as a foreign language gives learners a chance to examine their home culture, for reaching new perspective on their society. This is the point where Pishghadam and Ordoubody (2011) declare that language learners may appreciate or depreciate their own cultural values after such a cultural contact and subsequent reflection.

Ricento (2005) noted that early work in SLA was influenced by the theories of social identity developed by Tajfel (1981). According to Tajfel social identity is understood as being derived from an individual’s membership in a social group or groups. Social identity is marked by the interaction among the individual, the social context and the other individuals, and it is due to this interaction that new identities emerge. If an individual’s emotional needs were not met within a certain group, that person could change his/her group affiliation. “If a change in group membership involved linguistic adaptation, one result could be subtractive bilingualism or even language erosion and loss over time” (Ricento, 2005, p.896).

Gardner and Lambert (1972) studied foreign language learners in Canada, the United States, and the Philippines to determine the role played by attitude and motivation in language learning. They propose two kinds of motivations; instrumental and integrative. Instrumental motivation reflects targeted, pragmatic purpose for learning a language. Integrative motivation is when learners wish to integrate themselves within the second language cultural group, to become a part of that society.

The notion of “investment” inspired by the work of Bourdieu (1977) represent the socially and historically constructed relationship of learners to the target language and their ambivalent desire to learn and practice it. Notion of instrumental motivation according to Norton and Gao (2008) assumes learners to have complex identities, changing across time and space, and reproduced in social interacting thus investing in the target language is investing in the learner’s own identity (cited in Pishghadam & Ordoubody, 2011, p.149).

According to Norton (2006) “social identity” was seen to reference the relationship between the individual and the larger social world, and “cultural identity” referenced the relationship between an individual and members of a particular ethnic group (such as Japanese, Chinese, and Iranian) considered sharing a common history, a common language, and similar ways of understanding the world. In earlier works ( such as Norton peirce, 1995) these two concepts were examined as opposed to each other within the dynamic and changing nature of identity. However, in recent years the intersections between social and cultural identities are regarded to be more significant than their differences. That is why in more recent works (Rezaei, 2012), identity is seen as socioculturally constructed and researchers draw on both institutional and community practices to understand the conditions under which language learners speak, read and write the target language (Norton, 2006). As Norton herself clearly points out: “as I examined the articles with greater care, however, I came to realize that the commonalities in the conceptions of identity, as articulated by different 'researchers, were more marked than their differences” (Norton, 2006, p.2).

2.7. English, Globalization, and Imperialism

Global English in a sociolinguistic context refers almost literally to the use of English as a global language. It means a common language for the world. The English language has achieved a genuinely global status since it has developed a special role which is simply perceived in every country (Crystal, 2003). Having such a status, the global English has to be of great importance, influencing all domains of the human activity in the world, such as the media, foreign language teaching, business, etc. This growing importance is also recognized in Iran since the increasing number of English teaching institutions can be found in almost every city in Iran.

The unique role of English as an international language inevitably affects the way it is taught since, according to McKay (2002), the set of assumptions based on which English as an international language is taught and learned should be entirely different from any other languages' learning and teaching assumptions.

English has been one of the most hybrid languages during history, as it has been influenced by several other languages since Anglo-Saxon times (Crystal, 2001). In the 5th century, Germanic populations from northwest Europe and the Anglo-Saxons invaded and settled in Britain. Therefore, the structure and vocabulary Old English was Germanic in nature. From the 7th to 14th century, Britain has undergone several invasions from Scandinavian Vikings and consequently many items of their vocabulary entered into English.

Almost fifty percent of vocabularies of modern English originate from French which was due to conquest of Britain by Normans in 1066 (Zacharias, 2003). History simply shows that "the language has always been something of a vacuum-cleaner sucking in words and expressions from the other languages" (Crystal 2001, p. 56). But today, with more contact being made with other languages than ever before, the borrowing is much greater than it has been in the past. A wider range of language is involved: There are over 350 modern languages listed in the etymology files of the Oxford English Dictionary. And the borrowing is now found in all varieties of English, and not just in more academic of professional domains.

It is a fact that there are new hybrids emerging in all over the English-speaking world (Crystal, 2001). Kachru and Nelson (2001) have viewed the global spread of English as two diasporas. The first diaspora included migrations of large numbers of English speakers from the present British Isles to Australia, Newzealand, and North America.

The second diaspora of English involved transportation of the language, and English speaking people in the colonial context of Asia and Africa. In Quirk's account (1988, cited in Brutt-Griffler, 2002), the first diaspora refers to demographic model of language and the second one to imperial model. He has also provided a third model referred to as econocultural model of language spread, which is a combination of economic or commercial centrality of language and cultural/intellectual role in the world community. This model underlies English's current spread to Continental Europe and Latin America. In this regard Phillipson (1992) has argued that "whenever British have settled, they have taken their language with them" (p. 109).

Therefore we can see that English was brought into socio cultural contexts by a very small number of users and become greatly important by larger local populations. Nowadays, in post-colonial times, the role of English is expanding with greater vigor. The British imperialism sent English around the globe by successful expedition of its military forces. However, Crystal (2003) indicates that "it may take a military powerful nation to establish a language, but it takes an economically powerful one to maintain and expand it" (p. 85). In the 20th century, the economic supremacy of the United States of America has been responsible for maintaining the international role of English (Graddol, 1997, cited in Zacharias, 2003).


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Identity and Culture Shaped by Foreign Language Learning: A Case of Iranian University Students
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Shakiba Razmeh (Author)Amin Davoodi (Author), 2015, Identity and Culture Shaped by Foreign Language Learning: A Case of Iranian University Students, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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