Foreign Language Students’ Perceptions of Their Identity


Foreign language learning innvolves cognitive, affective and social functioning of the persons involved in this experience. As a social practice, it is also related to the learners’ perceptions of their identity, specifically to their language identity which refers to the relationship between one’s sense of self and the language used to communicate. This implies that using a system of communication, the speaker develops a new sense of self that remains in a dynamic relation with other senses of self, based on (an)other language(s) the person knows.

Language learners’ identity is no longer defined as fixed and stable but as “complex, contradictory and multifaceted” (Norton 1997, p. 419). It is dynamic because learners enter into various discourses and negotiate their position within different communities of practice. Language both shapes and is shaped by identity of its users.

This article discusses how students of English as a foreign language perceive the role of this language in their construction of selves/identity. First, postmodern conceptualisations of identity and identity categories are presented along with their relevance to the field of Second Language Acquisition. Second, selected empirical studies pertaining to adult immigrant contexts, foreign language contexts and study abroad contexts are briefly reported. Then the results of an empirical study on the students’ of English (n=83) perceptions of their identity in the context of foreign language study are introduced. The study revealed that most of the participants realise complex relations between language learning and their identity and are aware of the effects that studying English (as well as other foreign languages) has on them. English gave them new possibilities in life, allowed them to communicate with people worldwide and make friends with them. They have new and interesting prospects for the future. It affected their personality by making them more open-minded and tolerant of otherness. The knowledge of English gives the students power, prestige, and opportunities to live and work in a changing world of complex social relations.


foreign language learning; postmodern identity; investment; study abroad; English Philology

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Published : 2019-06-30

Piasecka, L. (2019). Foreign Language Students’ Perceptions of Their Identity. Theory and Practice of Second Language Acquisition, 5(1), 93-112.

Liliana Piasecka
Opole University  Poland

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