First Advisor

Kimberley Brown

Date of Publication

Spring 6-4-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


Applied Linguistics




Adult learning -- Social aspects, Second language acquisition, Motivation in education, Classroom environment, English language -- Study and teaching -- Foreign speakers



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 157 pages)


After Norton Peirce's (1995, Norton, 2000) groundbreaking work in conceptualizing identity as "multiple, changing, and contradictory," many researchers have explored language learners' identities. However, few studies of identity have been conducted within the "overlooked and understudied" (Mathews-Aydinli, 2008) context of adult community ESL (English as a Second Language), and even fewer studies have focused on LESLLA (low-educated second language and literacy acquisition) learners in mainstream community ESL programs.

This thesis, based on a case study of an adult LESLLA learner in a community ESL class, analyzes how this student's identity, the social context of her life, and the classroom space shaped her investment in participating in the ESL class.

Ethnographic interviews revealed that the participant's investment in language learning was linked to her identity in multiple and contradictory ways: while the participant eventually left the ESL program, her self-identification as 'no preparada' (uneducated) and therefore 'burra' (stupid) seemed to be a motivating challenge, not an insurmountable obstacle, and her sense of investment in language learning remained strong even though her in-class participation was limited.

The results have pedagogical as well as theoretical implications: there is clearly value in engaging learners' lives in the classroom as well as including learners' voices in research to have a clearer recognition of how learners see themselves and their "possible selves" (Dornyei, 2009) to be able to understand the complex factors that underlie their investments in language learning.


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