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To be or not to be – identity in EFL

There is ongoing research into the role that identity plays as a motivation in foreign language education. Some claim learners develop new identities stemming from the links they create with new and different social contexts, and the aspiration to belong to ‘imagined communities of the target language speakers’. Others argue that classroom-based EFL doesn’t allow construction of a new identities or point out that the imagined communities are global and transnational rather than linked to a specific culture.


Recent research analysed in the study ‘Bicultural or hybrid? The second language identities of students on an English-medium university program in Sweden’ (Henry, A., & Goddard, A.) lists two types of identities EFL learners can develop. In countries where the distance between local and English-mediated culture is greater, learners can develop a bicultural identity in which aspects of the local culture coexist with participation in a broader global culture. In countries where the culture is often English-mediated, such as Sweden, learners develop hybrid identities in which elements of the local culture are less clearly separable from the global culture to which they aspire to belong.

The study in the Journal of Language, Identity and Education looked at students on an English-medium bachelors degree in Sweden. It highlighted that the aspiration to ‘escape confinement’ and live more cosmopolitan lives contributing to global causes played an important role in the students’ motivation to pursue English medium-education.