Friday, January 11, 2013

Second Language Socialization in a bilingual chat room: Global and Local Considerations

RRR: Unit 8
Second Language Socialization in a bilingual chat room: Global and Local Considerations
Wan Shun Eva Lam(2004)
       The author of the paper aimed to examine the social practices and their effects in the language learning by observing two girls involved in a bilingual Chinese English chat room to develop their fluency in English. Results of the study have shown a mixed code of language was developed among the participants (the 2 Chinese immigrants’ girls and the other interlocutors).
       This paper discusses the importance of such studies on how people navigate across contexts of socialization in the locality of the nation-state and the virtual environments of the internet to articulate new ways of using English creating a new ethnic identity.
        In the theoretical part of the paper, the author sees language learning as an important social practice. Globalization affects socialization. Therefore when considering cultural and social networks, it is better understanding identity through engagement in social practices beyond boundaries. Identity as suggested by the author is how people attach themselves affectively into the world.
       The author also focuses on how the new forms of social networking have emerged on the internet prompt particular uses of English among young immigrants who are in the process of learning English as a second language. He examines the social and discursive practices in the network and seeks understanding how English is used in this global context of the internet.
       The writer argues that learning takes a place in a social environment and the process of language and socialization are integrated. Gee (1996) argues that discourses (socially specific practices of literacy) are not mastered by overt instruction, yet through enculturation into social practices through scaffolded and supported interaction with people who have already mastered the discourse. Interviews with the 2 girls revealed that they were derived to take part in the chat rooms because they had fewer opportunities to speak to Chinese’s English speaking peers because they felt embarrassed of making mistakes. Those fewer opportunities given to almost most immigrants were due to ethnic grouping in the US. The two girls then tried the HK chat room to make friends and learn English as well. So these chat rooms provided safer environment for learning and practicing English. The girls felt comfortable speaking English after joining the HK chat room. While chatting, they used English code-mixing between English and Romanized Cantonese depending on who they were talking to and the topic of conversation. They used Romanized Cantonese figures which contain little semantic content, but serve to indicate an utterance or express attitudes and emotions. The Romanized Cantonese particals served to fulfill an important role in code-switching between the two girls and other interlocutors in the social network. It also served other purposes such as creating humor, interpersonal address and role shifting. Cantonese honorifics were adopted by the chatters to serve as a rhetorical device in cod-switching both to signal an alternative system of social relational practices and for the additional semantic features that they provide.
        In the discussion, the author points out that the two girls experience showed how they improved their linguistic competence through social engagement in the internet chat room using a mixed-code variety of English which has been  adopted and developed among the chatters using a distinguished linguistic and a discursive conversations of Cantonese language. This enabled them to develop a sense of fluency and confidence in an English speaking country as well as served to create a collective ethnic identity for the chatters around the globe as bilingual Chinese emigrants.
       I agree with the author chat rooms may provide opportunities for chatters (students) to participate freely and negotiate as well as developing new identities for themselves as it was the case of the two Chinese girls who were not able to be indulged in real classroom conversations due to ethnic grouping. Moreover, interaction online using chat rooms and other CMCs are more desirable than face-to-face interaction which might cause embarrassment or shyness among conservative people. In addition, chat rooms also provide opportunities for chatters to be anonymous, so they don’t dare even if they commit a mistake because their real identities and personalities are hidden under unknown nicknames and difficult to be uncovered so they feel in a safer environment there.
On the other hand, this kind of study might be useful for non academic purposes related to language acquisition because it doesn’t focus on accuracy , but if the main purpose is to see how much language was gained and how it was used properly during chatting then accuracy should be considered as a main aim. In other words, the purpose is for communicative purposes only by improving fluency rather than accuracy. Moreover, these chat rooms might not provide learners with real opportunities for real communication. What if these 2 girls are involved in real communicative situations with real people, will they be able to use these codes in real life? Will these codes be meaningful to the others when the girls use the cod-switching which was just invented by them, but unknown to the others? And finally, during the chatting process there was no feedback provided to the chatters to help improve their English language because the other interlocutors are also of the same level of English.

Badriya Al Mamari

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