Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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Engaging narratives: using language biographies to facilitate student learning

Belinda Mendelowitz, Ana Ferreira


Abstract: This article explores the role that reading and writing critical and reflective personal language narratives played in framing key concepts as well as foregrounding identity issues on a large-group first year sociolinguistics course. The specific course under discussion focuses on language, identity and education. We offer an overview of how narratives were utilised to provide multiple entry points into the discourse of sociolinguistics for a diverse group of students and explore students' responses to this pedagogy. The analysis is two-fold. Firstly, we analyse the design of this sociolinguistics unit within the framework of theories of narrative and multicultural education. Secondly, we analyse three language biographies produced by students in this course in terms of student learning, identity issues and sociolinguistic themes. The narratives provided an engaging entry point into academic discourse and provided a means for students to make sense of new and complex concepts in a contextualised and personal way. The language biographies written by students facilitated critical engagement with their own linguistic identities. We conclude that personal narratives are a powerful educational tool, generating the opportunity for students to engage with multiple voices and to (re-)position themselves in relation to a multiplicity of perspectives and experiences.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2007, 25(4): 487–504
AJOL African Journals Online