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Learning Chinese : three autobiographical narratives Lester, Pamela Lyn

Abstract

This autobiographical case-study is an arts-informed narrative inquiry into learning (Mandarin) Chinese as an Additional Language (CAL). I have been studying Chinese for over a decade, but in this thesis I focus on the six months (September 2009–February 2010) I spent studying CAL at a high intermediate level in Taipei. I offer three creative non-fiction narratives connected to that experience. The first is a language memoir that mixes languages (English and Chinese), poetry and prose. The second is a reader’s theatre script that re- presents conversations on Chinese with a variety of people (students, teachers and expatriates) from my CAL community in Taipei. The third is a bricolage of image-texts related to CAL selected from internet sources. I conceptualize all three narratives as autobiographical in that they explore various sources – individual, communal, and societal – that are invariably woven together in any story of the self. By using multiple autobiographical accounts to explore lived experience I am working with an opportunity to explore the elusive, shifting, context- dependent and influential nature of narrative sense-making. This approach also provides an opportunity for tensions, resolutions, dissonances, and resonances to reverberate across the stories in ways that stimulate unity without the expense of uniformity. Further, each narrative serves to triangulate the others, drawing as they do on different source materials and perspectives. Yet all three narratives are also fundamentally individual creations, identity texts (Cummins, 2006) even, and as such work to investigate how the personal is inevitably professional, the artistic simultaneously academic, and how representation is always also creation. This investigation of narratives and identities is not peripheral to CAL learning itself. As my understanding of the forces operating on my CAL identity increases, implications for my trajectory as a language learner emerge in significant, liberating ways. This in turn, allows the integration of CAL-related linguistic, sociolinguistic, and cultural habits into my ongoing personal narrative to become more conscious, comfortable and complete. I offer this study as an invitation to participate in the important, complex, and urgent work of increasing awareness of one’s self-in-context.

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Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

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