Developing a Learning Identity: A Narrative Study of Algerian Women EFL Students

  • Wafa Zekri

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research aims to understand how English as a foreign language (EFL) learners develop their learning identities. While there has been interest on second language (L2) Self in immigrant contexts, not much has been investigated in EFL contexts. This research is conducted with a group of ten women who are second year bachelor students in Tlemcen University, Algeria. The students’ learning process: their past, and present learning experiences, and their future imagined identity. This research investigates how they have been influenced by their sociocultural backgrounds, and how the social factors contributed to the development of their learning identities, hence how these factors helped them reshape their EFL learning identity. This thesis discusses the key theoretical perspectives on identity through the sociocultural theory. The literature gives a theoretical understanding of narrative, which informs about the key concepts in language learning: identity, agency, investment and imagined identity. A narrative perspective is merged with a broad meaning of experiential learning, scaffolding, and ‘process writing’ to engage the students in a reflective narrative activity.

A narrative approach has been used in two ways: (1) the narrative was used as a methodology, within which a narrative model was designed to assist the students to reflect on their learning experiences in the mentioned periods. (2) Students’ written narratives were collected for data analysis. Focus group discussion is employed as a method to further investigate the themes which emerged from the narratives. My original contribution to the methodology is the applicability of process writing with narrative writing. The results of this research provide insights into the social factors which are presented as ‘mentors’ and ‘marks’. My original contribution to the theory is the representation of ‘mentors’ and ‘marks’ as socio-cultural influencing factors which contributed to the emergence of students’ learning agency in their early learning. This means that agency pre-existed in the past learning experiences, and it is expanded on in the present through language learning. Students’ agency is also discussed as a process of continuity and change. These social factors enable them to develop new self-images. The future is discussed in relation to both the past and the present experiences, and it reveals the students’ ability to imagine their future identities when they will become teachers. Experiences of the past have not constrained the students’ agency, but they have created a salient impact which involved multiple social identities: learning identity, religious identity, language identity, and future imagined/teaching identity.
Date of AwardMar 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorSonya Andermahr (Supervisor) & Dave Burnapp (Supervisor)


  • agency
  • social support
  • self-images
  • investment
  • learning identity
  • future imagined identity

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