Thursday, September 14, 2017

To thrive (but not arrive) in a second language: socio-cultural capital
Yesterday morning I met an immigrant Chinese cashier at a Korean supermarket who had been here for a couple of years.  In her early 30's, she seemed quite positive, fashionably sport-dressed and looked very fit--she had just signed up for Orangetheory, in fact. As we talked she struck me as somebody who at least at first glance is thriving in her new culture. She seemed an almost perfect fit to the first half of the profile just produced in a meta-analysis of what it means to "thrive" by Brown of the University of Portsmouth,, reported by Sciencedaily. Brown defines "thriving" as

" . . . an individual experiencing a sense of development, of getting better at something, and succeeding at mastering something"

The list of qualities of a "thriver" are: 
  • optimistic,
  • spiritual or religious,
  • motivated,
  • proactive,
  • someone who enjoys learning,
  • flexible,
  • adaptable,
  • socially competent,
  • believes in self/has self-esteem.
That's her; fits her to a tee, but her English, both her general competence and pronunciation had stalled about a year in. She was engaging, had a wide range of conversational strategies to draw on, but she was at times very difficult to understand, especially when she became animated, which was often. She was very conscious of that and had a reason: her dead-end job. She suddenly shifted into her cashier persona, running through some of the very limited repertoire of phrases she uses every day at work. Her pronunciation and grammar became nearly impeccable!

What a demonstration!

What she seems to lack for her English to improve substantially is socio-cultural capital, the opportunity and network of resources to grow and practice more advanced and sophisticated in her L2. 
Again, according to Brown, (quoting the Sciencedaily report) the thriver has:
    • opportunity
    • employer/family/other support
    • challenges and difficulties are at manageable level,
    • environment is calm
    • is given a high degree of autonomy
    • is trusted as competent.
    Being here alone, as a single woman in this cultural context she has virtually none of those. She did comment half in jest that joining the Orangetheory community and all the beautiful, cut gym rats might be the answer. She may be right. Being a fan of TheoryOrange, myself, I encouraged her. She promised to get back in touch with me after a few months. And I'll report back to you, too.

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