Immigrants, Identity and Second Language Acquisition

Stefana Gargova

I am a PhD candidate working under the supervision of Prof. Michael Hager. My dissertation entitled Culture, Identity and Attitudes of Immigrant Learners of German in the Context of the German Integration Course examines immigrant learners’ identity constructs along with their attitudes and beliefs about the German language and culture. Grounded in the theoretical work on language, culture and attitude, the core of my research is based on several case studies of recent adult immigrants to Germany who are enrolled in the German Integrationskurs. My qualitative study illuminates the relationship between aspects of identity, such as cultural affiliation and belonging, and the individual’s dispositions towards the target language and culture, with an eye to how those factors interrelate to produce specific learning behaviors and outcomes. Using narrative inquiry as a tool for both internal and cross-case analyses, the participants’ accounts are captured in questionnaires and interviews I have been distributing at specific stages of the Integrationskurs. I analyze and interpret the data employing poststructuralist conceptualizations of identity as continually reshaped and reconstructed. The results will shed light on the intricate relationship between learners’ identity constructs and their attitudes towards the integration process, emerging out of mandatory language and culture instruction. In addition, my findings will illuminate the immigrants’ learning objectives, their critical language awareness and how both these impact their use of learning opportunities.

My interest in second language acquisition (SLA) has been shaped by my own experience with resettlement, language acquisition, and integration. I have previously lived in Bulgaria, Germany, and Sweden, and am fluent in four languages. After graduating from the University of Cologne with a B.A. and M.A. in Nordic and Germanic Languages, with a focus on applied linguistics, I joined Toronto’s Ph.D. program in German Literature, Culture, and Theory in 2007. In preparation for the transdisciplinary approach to my dissertation research, I enrolled in graduate seminars on immigration and integration in the Department of Sociology. At the same time, I started teaching German at all levels and later took on a coordinator position for the advanced classes. I also volunteered as an ESL teacher at the Oakville Literacy Council where I worked with recent adult immigrants.

My contribution to teaching was honored with this year’s TATP Teaching Excellence Award. In August 2012, I also joined the TATP Team at the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation at U of T, where I will be conducting departmental training for first year TAs both on UTSG and UTM campuses, and developing and facilitating TATP workshops on various topics, including grading, feedback, class management, lesson planning, etc. Some of my research on creative and effective incorporation of culture in SLA and teaching will be showcased in a forthcoming article in the 2013 issue of the Foreign Language Annals, as well as in upcoming presentations at international conventions.

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Page updated on November 12, 2012

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