EFL University Students' Journey in Claiming Their Foreign Language Identity

Document Type : Research Article


Department of Linguistics and Foreign Languages, Faculty of Literature and Humanities, Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran


Identity and agency, based on the related literature, are the central parts of any learning activities, especially for language instruction. Following a mixed-methods design, identity options and their related indicators were studied among EFL university students. To this end, a sociodemographic-based questionnaire and four writing tasks were utilized as the instruments, which were filled out by 334 EFL university students. The data were then analyzed through a six-phase thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Having deployed a concurrent transformative strategy, the researchers transformed the extracted codes and themes into numbers, then analyzed them descriptively and inferentially. The results of the study showed that five identity options were dominant among the participants. Four identity indicators of "native language", "gender", "major", and "proficiency level" were also found to significantly correlate with the five identity options and affect their intensity and salience. Our findings demonstrated that language learning is a process of constant and continuous negotiation of self-positioning and repositioning. The study also showed that identity options are determined by students' past trajectories, social and relational contexts, challenges, and cultural-based shared perceptions. The study suggests that learners' identities and histories are strategically implemented in pedagogy to develop a supportive space for the students to exploit their potential.


Alimorad, Z. (2014). Examining identity options in native and nonnative produced textbooks taught in Iran: A critical textbook evaluation. Journal of Research in Applied Linguistics, 5(2), 95–112.
Alimorad, Z. (2015). I'm no longer a child: A closer look at the interaction between Iranian EFL university students' identities and their academic performance. Journal of Research in Applied Linguistics, 5(Special Issue), 43-52.
Amireault, V. (2020). Integration process and identity redefinition of Chinese adult learners of French as a second language in Quebec. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 19(6), 365–378.
Anagnost, A. (2008). From “class” to “social strata”: Grasping the social totality in reform-era China. Third World Quarterly, 29(3), 497–519.
Andreasen, J. K., Bjørndal, C. R., & Kovač, V. B. (2019). Being a teacher and teacher educator: The antecedents of teacher educator identity among mentor teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 85, 281–291.
Block, D. (2014). Second lagunage identities. Bloomsbury Academic.
Boonchum, P. (2009). A study of self-identity changes and correlation of influential factors of Thai students studying English. Educational Research and Review, 4(11), 535–548.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.‏
Brown, L. & Cheek, E. (2017). Gender identity in a second language: The use of first person pronouns by male learners of Japanese. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 16(2), 94 –108.
Bucholtz, M., & Hall, K. (2005). Language and identity. In A. Duranti (Ed.), A companion to linguistic anthropology, (pp. 369 – 394). Blackwell.
Collier-Thomas, B., & Turner, J. (1994). Race, class and color: The African American discourse on identity. Journal of American Ethnic History, 14(1), 5– 31.
Cummins, J., Hu, S., Markus, P., & Kristiina Montero, M. (2015). Identity texts and academic achievement: Connecting the dots in multilingual school contexts. TESOL Quarterly, 49(3), 555–581.
Day, E. M. (2002). Identity and the young English language learner. Multilingual Matters.
De Castro, G. L. (2021). Investigating optional functional element and obligatory contour principle in L2 comprehension and production among ESL learners. Journal of Research in Applied Linguistics, 12(1), 3-14.
Duff, P. A. (2012). Identity, agency, and second language acquisition. In A. Mackay & S., M., Gass (Eds.), Handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 410–426). Routledge.
Enyedy, N., Goldberg, J., & Welsh, K. M. (2006). Complex dilemmas of identity and practice. Science Education, 90(1), 68–93.
Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. Routledge.
Gu, M. M., & Lai, C. (2019). An ethical analysis of how ESL teachers construct their professional identities through the use of information technology in teaching. British Educational Research Journal, 45(5), 918–937.
Hall, H. R., & Brown-Thirston, A. (2011). Understanding teenage girls: Culture, identity and schooling. R&L Education.
Hansen, J. G., & Liu, J. (1997). Social language and identity: Theoretical and methodological issues. TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 567–576.
Ivanič, R. (1998). Writing and identity (Vol. 10). John Benjamins.
Jackson, J. (2014). Introducing language and intercultural communication. Routledge.
Lane, A. K., Hardison, C., Simon, A., & Andrews, T. C. (2019). A model of the factors influencing teaching identity among life sciences doctoral students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 56(2), 141-162.
Liu, S. (2015). Searching for a sense of place: Identity negotiation of Chinese immigrants. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 46, 26–35.
Manyak, P. C. (2004). What did she say? Translation in a primary-grade English immersion class. Multicultural Perspectives, 6, 12–18.
Martin, C. (2020). From LSA to teacher: The value of classroom experience in shaping a ‘teacher’identity. Support for Learning, 35(1), 23–42.
McNamara, T. (1997). Theorizing social identity; what do we mean by social identity? Competing frameworks, competing discourses. TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 561–567.
Meo, A., & Tarabini, A. (2020). Teachers’ identities in second chance schools: A comparative analysis of Buenos Aires and Barcelona. Teaching and Teacher Education, 88, 1–11.
Monrouxe, L. V. & Rees, C. E. (2015). Theoretical perspectives on identity: researching identities in healthcare education. In J. Cleland, & S. J. Durning (Eds.), Researching medical education (1st ed., pp. 129–140). Wiley-Blackwell.
Nguyen, X. N. C. M., & Dao, P. (2019). Identity exploration and development in TESOL teacher education: A three‐dimensional space narrative inquiry perspective. TESOL Journal, 10(4), 492–508.
Nordstrom, J. (2020). Teaching in the periphery: Teacher identity in community language schools. Teaching and Teacher Education, 96, 1–9.
Norton Peirce, B. (1995). Social identity, investment and language learning. TESOL Quarterly, 29, 9–32.
Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 409–429.
Norton, B. (2013). Identity and language learning: Extending the conversation (2nd ed.). Multilingual Matters.
Oyserman, D. (2009). Identity‐based motivation: Implications for action‐readiness, procedural‐readiness, and consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 19(3), 250–260.
Oetzel J. G. (2009). Intercultural communication: A layered approach. Vango Books.
Park, H. (2012). Insight into learners' identity in the Korean English as a lingua franca context. Journal of Language, & Education, 11(4), 229–246.
Pavlenko, A. & Blackledge, A. (eds.). (2004). Negotiation of identities in multilingual contexts. Multilingual Matters.
Ren, Y., Kraut, R., & Kiesler, S. (2007). Applying common identity and bond theory to design of online communities. Organization Studies, 28(3), 377–408.
Rubenfeld, S., Clément, R., Lussier, D., Lebrun, M., & Auger, R. (2006). Second language learning and cultural representations: Beyond competence and identity. Language Learning, 56(4), 609-631.
Shin, J. (2016). Hyphenated identities of Korean heritage language learners: Marginalization, colonial discourses and internalized whiteness. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 15(1), 32–43.
Taylor, F. (2013). Self and identity in adolescent forgien langage Learning. Multilingual Matters.
Taylor, F., & Busse, V. (2016). When the learner becomes the context: Strategic identity display in learning English as a foreign language in Europe. In J. King (Ed.), The dynamic interplay between context and the language learner (pp. 66–83). Palgrave Macmillan.
Toohey, K., Manyak, P., & Day, E. (2007). ESL learners in the early school years: Identity and mediated classroom practices. In J. Cummins & C. Davison (Eds.). International handbook of English language teaching (pp. 625–638). Springer Science.
Vallente, J. P. C. (2020). Framing pre-service English language teachers’ identity formation within the theory of alignment as mode of belonging in community of practice. Teaching and Teacher Education, 96, 1–11.
Vasilopoulos, G. (2015). Language learner investment and identity negotiation in the Korean EFL context. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 14(2), 61–79.
Villegas, D. F. M., Varona, W. H., & Sanchez, A. G. (2020). Student teachers’ identity construction: A socially-constructed narrative in a second language teacher education program. Teaching and Teacher Education, 91, 1–10.
Virkkula, T., & Nikula, T. (2010). Identity construction in ELF contexts: A case study of Finnish engineering students working in Germany. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 20(2), 251–273.
Wielgosz, M., & Molyneux, P. (2015). “You get to be yourself”: Visual arts programs, identity construction and learners of English as an additional language. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 14(4), 275–289.
Wolff, D., & De Costa, P. I. (2017). Expanding the language teacher identity landscape: An investigation of the emotions and strategies of a NNEST. The Modern Language Journal, 101(S1), 76–90.
Yazan, B. (2019). Toward identity‐oriented teacher education: Critical autoethnographic narrative. TESOL Journal, 10(1), 1–15.
Zenker, O. (2013). Irish/ness is all around us: Language revivalism and the culture of ethnic identity in Northern Ireland (Vol. 6). Berghahn Books.
Zotos, E. K., Moon, A. C., & Shultz, G. V. (2020). Investigation of chemistry graduate teaching assistants' teacher knowledge and teacher identity. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 57(6), 943–967.