"Identity signals the way a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed through time and space, and how the person understands possibilities for the future." Bonny Norton, "Identity and Poststructuralist Theory in SLA"
I feel that especially in the United States, second language learners or English language learners are looked down upon for their apparent inability to communicate effectively with others. (I've seen snide remarks posted on the Internet about this situation: if a native English speaker can't speak Spanish after 4 years of classes in high school, why should they demean people who can't fully speak English but live here regardless?) Interactions with native speakers are crucial in identity formation for second language learners, because I feel often these native speakers have authority over whether a second language learner is successful at assimilating into, or passing as being native to, the particular nation's culture. Likewise, it appears that second language learners who are living outside of their country of origin may be plagued with an identity crisis-- living in a country whose language they do not speak with obvious fluency, yet separated from their home culture has huge ramifications on their sense of identity and place and relationship between the two. A question that came to me during the reading related to this idea: is it possible to preserve history, culture, and heritage while still feeling apart of another culture or nation, or is assimilation necessary in order to be accepted by dominant structures? I feel this is an issue that is relevant to many minorities or marginalized groups who struggle for acceptance but also wish to maintain a sense of community that is uniquely theirs.
Norton addresses specifically the issues of identity formation in the classroom and how poststructuralist theory can help teachers and other staff members think critically about their classroom practices. Recognizing the existence of multiple identities, Norton claims, can help educators effectively teach and help their students instead of assuming that one strategy, activity, or teaching pace will be helpful for all students (this is obviously not true, as seen through the vignettes Norton provides). Through my work at the Odegaard Writing and Research Center, I have been exposed to many discussions about ELLs and their language acquisition process. I think learning more about the strategies used to help in SLA are extremely important, as this initial education will make a huge impact in a second language learner's identity in the country as a whole. Thinking more broadly to the program in Germany, this article is especially pertinent to the studies of migration and immigrant populations, as often these groups are marginalized because language barriers deem them as lesser or undeserving of being marked as a "German" or an "American," etc. Investigating more into immigrant populations and their experiences with language acquisition would be interesting. What is it about language that makes it integral to identity formation in a particular country, perhaps more so than outward appearances or other external signifiers?