Language brokering and identity construction: Exploring immigrant children's language practices in a multilingual South African context
Wunseh, Quinta Kemende
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The purpose of the research was to examine the relationship between identity construction and English second language (L2) learning through language brokering. Its focus was on how immigrant children served as language brokers for their parents and other immigrants in South African multilingual contexts. Through the lens of the Sociocultural, Poststructural and Phenomenological Variant Ecological System (PVEST) theories, the study unravelled the nexus between children's language brokering and identity construction through English (L2) which is the main medium of instruction in South African schools. I argued that identity construction in a second language and through language brokering is a fluid phenomenon which is influenced by a number of factors and which should be understood within a particular context, particularly in multilingual environments. This study was based on a qualitative case study research design. It was conducted in two primary schools in one semi-urban area in Cape Town, Western Cape. The study employed a snowball sampling which involved immigrant children of different ages from Francophone countries. The children's parents and their teachers also formed part of the study. Data was collected by means of semi-structured interviews with immigrant children or learners and their parents. The Francophone immigrant children were observed outside the classroom in order to establish how they interacted with their peers on school playgrounds. The immigrant learners' personal narratives were collected and analyzed to enhance triangulation. Thematic analysis was used to understand how immigrant children acted as language brokers, and how they negotiated and constructed their identities through English (L2) learning. The findings of this study indicated that Francophone immigrant children navigated different spaces with regard to language brokering. Some of the children displayed excitement and positive attitudes towards language brokering as a means of integration in the host country, while others perceived language brokering as a source of stress and frustration. Parents expressed pride towards their children as language brokers and they viewed language brokering as a vehicle to access better life opportunities through English (L2) learning. Teachers showed empathy towards children who acted as language brokers, but they experienced challenges with regard to accommodating language diversity in their classrooms due to the complex nature of multilingual practices in South Africa. Overall, language brokering was viewed as a mediated activity with implications for immigrant children's identity construction through exposure to English (L2) which perpetuates the hegemonic status of English in South Africa. The study concluded that language brokering, language learning and identity construction are mutually constituted concepts which influence each other. Through language brokering, immigrant children's identities could be seen as being fluid as they shifted from one language to another.