Discourses, Identities and Investment in English as a Second Language Learning: Voices from Two U.S. Community College Students

Yueh-ching Chang


Adopting a qualitative case study methodology, the present study illuminates how two multilingual students enrolled in a U.S. community college ESL class negotiated the sociocultural norms valued in their multiple communities to make investment in learning English in college. Drawing on Gee’s theory of Discourse and identity (1996) and Norton’s theory of investment (2000), the study found that each student’s investment in learning the language practices of the classroom was shaped by the diverse Discourses in which they participated across time and space. Despite confronting structural constraints, the focal students were able to mobilize their multiple Discourses to negotiate the existing sociocultural norms and invest in identities that have the potential to transform their lives. These findings suggest that multilingual students’ learning at the college is shaped by their socio-cultural milieu and future aspirations. Thus, language educators should recognize their multiple identities as well as their agency, and broaden the curriculum goals to accommodate their diverse linguistic and educational needs.

Keywords: Discourses, identities, investment, community college, ESL, multilingual students

Full Text:



Becker, L.A. (2011). Noncredit to credit transitioning matters for adult ESL learners in a California community college. New Directions for Community Colleges, 155, 15-26.

Blumenthal, A. J. (2002). English as a second language at the community college: An exploration of context and concerns. New Directions for Community College, 117, 45-53.

Bunch, G. C. (2008). Language minority students and California community colleges: Current issues and future directions. Community College Policy Research, 1. Retrieved 7/10/2014, from http://c4.ucr.edu/images/pdf/C4PolicyResearchJournalIssue1Spring2008.pdf

Chang, Y. (2011). Picking one’s battles: NNES doctoral students’ imagined communities and selections of investment. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 10(4), 213-230.Chang, Y. (2010). Discourse and identity in online language learning: A case study of a community college ESL classroom (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest/UMI Dissertation Publishing.

Chang, Y. & Sperling, M. (2014). Discourse and identity among ESL learners: A case study of a community college ESL classroom. Research in the Teaching of English, 49(1), 31-51.

Cheng, A. (2008). Analyzing genre exemplars in preparation for writing: The case of an L2 graduate student in the ESP genre-based instructional framework of academic literacy. Applied Linguistics, 29(1), 50-71.

Chisman, F. P., & Crandall, J. (2007). Passing the torch: Strategies for innovation in community college ESL. New York, NY: Council for the Advancement of Adult Literacy.

Cohen, A. & Brawer, F. (2008). The American community college. (5th ed.) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Condelli, L. (2004). Effective instruction for adult ESL literacy student: Findings from the what works study. Washington, DC: American Institute for Research.

Crandall, J., & Sheppard, K. (2004). Adult ESL and the community college. New York, NY: Council for the Advancement of Adult Literacy.

Crystal, D. (2012). English as a global language (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Curry, M. J. (2004). UCLA community college review: Academic literacy for English language learners. Community College Review, 32(2), 51-68.

Darvin, R. & Norton, B. (2015). Identity and a model of investment in applied linguistics. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 35, 36-56.

Flowerdew, J. & Miller, L. (2008). Social structure and individual agency in second language learning: Evidence from three life histories. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 5(4), 201-224.

Gee. J. P. (1996). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses. New York, NY: Routledge.

Gee, J. P. (2000-2001). Identity as an analytic lens for research in education. Review of Research in Education, 25, 99-125.

Gee, J. P. (2001). Literacy, discourse, and linguistics: Introduction and what is literacy? In E. Cushman, E. R. Kintgen, B. M. Kroll & M. Rose (Eds.), Literacy: A critical sourcebook (pp. 525-44). New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s. (Reprinted from Journal of Education, 1989, 171(1), pp. 5-25.)

Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1976). The discovery of grounded theory. Chicago: Aldine.

Gordon, D. (2012). “I’m tired. You clean and cook.” Shifting gender identities and second language socialization. TESOL Quarterly, 38(3), 437-457.

Graddol, D. (1998). The future of English. London, UK: The British Council.

Haneda, H. (2005). Investing in foreign-language writing: A study of two multicultural learners. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 4(4), 269-290.

Harklau, L. (2000). From the “good kids” to the “worst”: Representations of English language learners across educational settings. TESOL Quarterly, 34(1), 35-67.

Higgins, C. (2011). “You’re a real Swahili!”: Western women’s resistance to identity slippage in Tanzania. In C. Higgins (Ed.). Identity formation in globalizing contexts: Language learning in the new millennium (pp. 127-145). Boston, MA: De Gruyter Mouton.

Hood, M. (2009). Case study. In J. Heigham & R. A. Croker (Eds.). Qualitative research in applied linguistics: A practical introduction (pp. 66-90). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hyland, K. (2007). Genre pedagogy: Language, literacy and L2 writing instruction. Journal of Second Language Writing, 16(3), 148-164.

Jackson, J. (2011). Mutuality, engagement, and agency: Negotiating identity on stays abroad. In C. Higgins (Ed.). Identity formation in globalizing contexts: Language learning in the new millennium (pp. 127-145). Boston, MA: De Gruyter Mouton.

Kanno, Y. & Norton, B. (2003). Imagined communities and educational possibilities: Introduction. Journal of Language, Identity, & Education, 2(4), l 241-249.

Kanno, Y. & Varghese (2010). Immigrant and refugee ESL students’ challenges to accessing four-year college education: From language policy to educational policy. Journal of Language, Identity, & Education, 9(5), 310-328.

Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and culture in language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kuo, E. W. (1999). English as a second language in the community college curriculum. New Directions for Community Colleges, 108, 69-80.

Leki, I. (2007). Undergraduates in a second language: Challenges and complexities of academic literacy development. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Levin, J. (2007). Nontraditionall students and community colleges: The conflict of justice and neoliberalism. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Liu, P. & Tannacito, D. (2013). Resistance by L2 writers: The role of racial and language ideology in imagined community and identity investment. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22, 355-373.

Matsuda, P. K. (2006). The myth of linguistic homogeneity in U.S. college composition. College English, 68(6), 637-651.

Matsuda, P. K., Ortmeier-Hooper, C. & You, X. (Eds.). (2006). The politics of second language writing: In search of the promised land. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press.

McKay, S. L. & Wong. S. C. (1996). Multiple discourses, multiple identities: investment and agency in second-language learning among Chinese adolescent immigrant students. Harvard Educational Reviews, 66(3), 577-608.

Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education: Revised and expanded from case study research in education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Miele, C. (2003). Bergen Community College meets Generation 1.5. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 27, 603-612.

Morita, N. (2009). Language, culture, gender, and academic socialization. Language and Education, 23(5). 443-460.

Norton, B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change. Harlow, England; New York: Longman.

Norton, B. (2014). Identity, literacy, and the multilingual classroom. In. S. May (Ed.) The multilingual turn: Implications for SLA, TESOL and Bilingual Education. NY: Routledge.

Norton, B. & Toohey, K. (2011). Identity, language learning, and social change. Language Teaching, 44, 412-446.

Pavlenko, A. (2002). Poststructuralist approaches to the study of social factors in second language learning and use. in V. Cook. (Ed.), Portraits of the L2 User (pp. 277-301). Buffalo, NY: Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data.

Razfar, A. & Simon, J. (2011). Course-taking patterns of Latino ESL students: Mobility and mainstreaming in urban community colleges in the United States. TESOL Quarterly, 45(4), 595-627.

Roberge, M., Siegal, M., & Harklau, L. (Eds.). (2009). Generation 1.5 in college composition: Teaching academic writing to U.S.-educated learners of ESL. New York, NY: Routledge.

Vann, R., Richardson, B., & Escudero, M. (2006). Negotiating identities in a multilingual science class. In T. Omoniyi & G. White (Eds.). The sociolinguistics of identity (pp. 201-216). New York, NY: Continuum.

Wang, H. (Ed.). (2012). Globalizing China: The influence, strategies and successes of Chinese Returnees. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.

Zamel, V. (1995). Strangers in academia: The experiences of faculty and ESL students across the curriculum. College Composition and Communication, 46(3), 506-521.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2013-2022 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD.

International Journal of Education and Literacy Studies  

You may require to add the 'aiac.org.au' domain to your e-mail 'safe list’ If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox'. Otherwise, you may check your 'Spam mail' or 'junk mail' folders.