UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exchanging stories : a narrative ethnography of immigrant seniors’ English language learning experiences. Balyasnikova, Natalia


The growth of the ageing population worldwide has been noted as one of the “major forces shaping the 21st century” (World Health Organization, 2007, p. 6). Reflecting the trends of global demographics, Canadian census indicates that the proportion of seniors is rapidly growing across Canadian provinces (Statistics Canada, 2014). However, one peculiarity of the Canadian context is that the increased number of seniors can be in part attributed to immigration patterns. With many immigrant seniors arriving in Canada with little to no English, language learning support becomes a significant issue for research, educational practice, and seniors’ wellbeing. By drawing on the theoretical constructs of the contact zone and agency, this thesis examines the role of English language learning in the lives of ageing immigrants in Canada. Ten immigrant seniors participated in a customized language learning class in a community-based program, which was centered on narrative expression as the main pedagogical strategy. The participants were asked to create written and multimodal texts in response to a series of prompts about their language learning and use upon arrival in Canada. In addition, each of the participants was interviewed about their language learning experiences. Thematic analysis of written, spoken, and multimodal data suggests that senior adult language learners seek social connection through agentive undertakings of language learning. The oral and written narratives of the participants portray language learning as a way to grow social circles and work through experiences of racism, ageism, and linguicism. In addition, practices observed during the classroom-based ethnography support the use of narrative as a core pedagogical practice, and story-sharing as a strategy to facilitate language learning in community-based settings.

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