Adult English language learners in Iran
Adult English Language Learners in Iran: An Exploration of Language Practices and Learner Identities
English, as the official foreign language of Iran, serves different purposes including being a linguistic resource to access required information for technical, scientific and economic development. For nearly 40 years, Iranian politicians viewed the English language as a tool to convey their ideologies to the world and ignored the mutual interrelationship between language learning and identity formation of language learners. Now that English language learning has become a prominent phenomenon globally, as well as constituting a ‘heated market’ in Iran (Davari, 2013), politicians see it as a threat to Iranian Islamic identity. They have worked hard during this period to establish an Iranian identity based on Islamic values. However, the espoused Islamic values are different from and people’s social practices. Authorities blame the cultural hegemony of the English language and globalisation as a threat to Islamic values in Iranian society. Consequently, they have banned the teaching of English to primary level students and have initiated further censorship and restrictions in how English is taught and learned. In line with the educational reform, English is no longer the sole foreign language and students can choose their preferred foreign language between other foreign languages such as Italian, German, Spanish, Russian and French.
Despite new changes in policy, many of Iranians are still motivated to learn English. Language is critical to culture and identity formation and affects social participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991). In this study, I asked what engages Iranians to learn English and what social, cultural and educational practices influence their language learning. I wanted to explore adult language learners’ cultural practices, perceptions and beliefs mediating their identities. I explored the interrelationship between English language learning and Iranian identity formation as it is positioned in an Iranian political landscape that represses English language learning. My study explored the concept of cultural identity and the way that a cohort of adult Iranian English language learners negotiate their identity formation while learning English. The intent of this thesis is to provide new insights into English language learning and its impact on identity formation within Iranian society.
To achieve this purpose, the following research questions have been formulated to guide the research approach:
· How do Iranian language learners’ cultural practices, perceptions and beliefs mediate their learner identities?
· How do Iranian language learners experience English language learning and how do they negotiate identity formation?
In addressing the research questions, I am using Pennycook’s practice theory to systematically explain and represent the influence of English language learning on Iranian culture and identity formation. Language as a local practice theory (Pennycook, 2010) is the study of the dynamic relationship between practices and social structures and conceptually frames the methodology and the design of my study. Pennycook’s theory of language as a local practice connects practices, space and time to offer my investigation a clearer understanding of sociocultural practices. This theory provides a more critical view of the emergence and interrelationships of everyday language practices.
I employed mixed methods to address the research questions and conduct the data collection. I needed to first develop a survey to explore ecology of English language in Iran at first. The survey investigated possible social, cultural and affective factors around Iranian language learning. From the findings of the survey, I chose 14 language learners for my semi-structured interviews. To understand more about the cultural influences on Iranian English language learners, I asked these participants deeper, open-ended questions in relation to their language learning experience in Iran. To analyse the data I used Ritchie and Spencer’s (1994) five-step analysis process. These steps are familiarisation, identifying a thematic framework, indexing, charting, mapping and interpretation. Findings of this study will provide potential insights into learners’ understanding of the complex nature of English language learning and its impact on their identity development. Such insight might also feed into policy understandings and contribute to future decision-making regarding the Iranian educational system. Overall, I am trying to shed light on English language learning in social context of Iran and look for the relationship among language, culture and identity. The dynamic interrelationship among language, culture and identity underpin Iranian practice in society.