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Member’s Profile: Ashley Moore

 

In this month’s Member’s Profile, Ashley Moore discusses the origin of his research interests and their impact upon his teaching practice.

Member’s Profile

Ashley Moore

I clearly remember the exact moment that I became interested in the idea that would become the driving force behind my current research interest:the notion of sexual identity and how it interacts with second language learning. My first job in Japan was working as an ALT in Kagoshima prefecture and I would often travel into the city with friends for “international”parties. These parties are a fantastic opportunity for foreign residents and their Japanese friends to get together and socialise. It was at one of these events that I first became aware of the possible links that might exist between the two seemingly disparate ideas of sexuality and second language learning. Surveying the room my friend noted that the majority of the Japanese men at the party were gay. Moreover, they were generally very good speakers of at least one second language. I began to wonder if there was a connection between their sexual identities and their motivational investments in learning a second language.

Informal chats with my Japanese friends who were gay gradually began to develop into a research project as I began to realise that many of these people shared similar experiences and opinions. Many of the men I spoke to had spent a considerable amount of time living abroad, often explicitly stating that the different opportunities available to them as gay men (such as same-sex marriage in Canada) were the main reasons for them choosing to live abroad. In the early stages of the research I really felt that this was the answer but,as I began to carry out more thorough interviews and analysis,an altogether more complex relationship began to emerge. Many gay Japanese men manage to live happily in their native country without learning a second language or moving abroad. The participants in my research, however, resisted what they felt to be the restrictive,feminine modes of male, gay sexual identity available to them in Japan. They also tended to resist the very powerful heteronormative pressures that pervade Japanese society (such as the perceived need for a man to be married and begin a family) and saw foreign travel as a way of circumventing them. To this end, they invested in learning English as an international language in order to maximise their chances of communicating with other people around the world.

Of course, this research has affected the way I look at not just how the sexual identity of some gay learners may drive them to learn a second language but, more generally,how the professional, ethnic, and gender identities (amongst countless other kinds of identity) of learners may spur their motivational investments in learning another language. In seeking to better understand how learners’ experiences of various aspects of their identity develop as they learn a second language and (hopefully) participate in the target language culture, we can better scaffold their development through the classroom and promote a deeper engagement with the second language and its speakers.

In my own teaching practice, I’ve started to sit down with individual students and actually ask them about their long-term motivation for learning English. Simply asking students about when they first decided to study English at university and what they hope to use English for in the future has enabled me to reflect some of their desires in the materials that I present to them. From these informal chats I am now beginning to develop a research project to explore and record how the various identities of the students that I teach interact with the learning process and how this relationship changes over time. Engaging students on this subject also provides me with the opportunity to encourage them to think critically about the limitations and frustrations that learners often experience in terms of their identity when they move to another country (and what happens if and when they return to their native country).

My work on sexual identity and second language learning is something I plan to develop during my doctoral studies in the future. Ultimately,I’d like to explore the ways in which the work on identity currently being undertaken by SLA researchers around the world might practically inform our teaching practices and better serve students. I’d be pleased to hear from people with similar research interests.

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