Positionality and trajectory across year one: An ethnography of lower proficiency English learners at an EMI university

Andrew Tristan Jarvis

Research output: Unpublished conference presentation (presented paper, abstract, poster)Conference presentation (not published in journal/proceeding/book)Teaching and learningpeer-review


Students at English-medium universities often hold complex relationships with English. English can enable better integration into university life and the academic community. It is also seen to provide better access to opportunities which can enhance learners’ international experience and global network. Yet integration into these desired circles comes with struggle and tension. This is especially the case with students entering university with a lower level of English. These students not only have to contend with the practical use of English, but also their ownership and confidence with the language. These students are often positioned on the periphery or hold deficit language identities as they pursue their studies. This makes exercising agency, accessing resources and shifting trajectories all the more challenging.
I will discuss results from an ethnography of year one university students in Hong Kong. The study takes a critical sociolinguistic approach using a range of data collection methods including reflective accounts, qualitative interviews, observation and other artefacts. The study is unique in that I have worked with the students closely as part of an English mentoring scheme. This approach has enabled deep exploration of themes to produce a dynamic and situated picture. My presentation will focus on how the focal participants discursively position themselves across year 1. The results show the emerging and complex tensions they experience. While seeing university as a fresh opportunity to embark on an identity project fuelled by desires to become competent intercultural speakers, these students faced distinct obstacles. Endeavouring to shift trajectories, participants were held back by their past learning experiences and ultimately, lack of linguistic capital.

In neoliberal times, more universities in non-Anglophone countries are gravitating towards English language instruction policies. It is important to understand the journeys of lower language level students so that they can participate in an equitable learning experience.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusNot published / presented only - 2021
EventSociolinguistics Symposium SS23 -
Duration: 7 Jun 202110 Jun 2021


ConferenceSociolinguistics Symposium SS23


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