Identity construction through English second language learning : a case study of French speaking students at the University of the Western Cape
The purpose of this case study was to investigate how the Francophone students from Congo, Gabon and Cameroon negotiated competence and identities in English (L2) in and outside the classroom. The study also aimed at understanding the nature and extent of academic support that was made available to the Francophone students who had to learn through the medium of English (L2) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Through the lens of the sociocultural and poststructural theories, the study argues that identity construction in a second language is a fluid phenomenon which should be understood within a particular context, particularly in multilingual environments like UWC. The study followed a qualitative research design which involved three methods of data collection, namely, observations, semi-structured interviews and student narratives. A thematic analytical framework was used to understand the Francophone students’ experiences, and how they negotiated and (re)constructed competence and identity in English (L2) in the lecture rooms and in local communities. The findings of the study indicate that English (L2) was perceived as an investment by the Francophone students. They show that competence in English (L2) was a source of voice and agency for the students. They also illustrate that there is a close relationship between (second) language learning and identity construction, and that identity is socially constructed. The study concludes that identity construction is a fluid phenomenon which should be understood in relation to the changing social context, which is embedded in language competence.