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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

Narrative interactions

Date Released: Sun, 3 July 2011 12:32 +0200

Masako is a Japanese woman who found community – and a new husband – in the process of learning English after she immigrated to New Zealand.  Gert, an Afrikaans financial advisor who also moved to New Zealand, found that his life changed far less in his new setting. These stories were told in a talk about language learners' stories by Dr Gary Barkhuizen, at Interactions and Interfaces, a conference about language hosted at Rhodes University.

Barkhuizen, the third keynote speaker at the conference, flew in from the University of Auckland in New Zealand to participate in the conference. He is a past student of Rhodes University, and also went on to become a lecturer in the Rhodes Linguistics department before leaving for New Zealand 10 years ago.

The first part of his talk focused on the stories of immigrants into New Zealand who attend English language classes. One of these immigrants was Masako, who told Barkhuizen,about her difficulties with adjusting to another way of life in a different culture, and the added pressure and stress of trying to acquire another language. Masako’s English language tutor, Anne, told her story from a different perspective, showing how Masako's language learning was part of a bigger process of personal growth, as she was left by her first husband and married a New Zealander.

Barkhuizen used a total of 42 interviews with language tutors and 41 written stories of language learners and looked for the most important common themes in them and in this way, was able to reconstruct those stories according to a framework called narrative analysis.

The opposite approach, analysis of narratives, involves ripping stories apart. To demonstrate this approach, Barkhuizen told Gert's story. Gert had spoken to Gary about his 50th birthday braai which he spent in New Zealand, comparing it to his 40th birthday braai which he spent in South Africa. Barkhuizen also used this story as an example of ‘small stories’ which speakers usually insert into their conversation.

One of Barkhuizen’s main points was that often the researcher has an inevitable effect on the collection and analysis of stories. He ended off his talk by saying “The interactional context of the interview cannot be erased”, because it is as important as the story itself.

Article by Babongile Zulu

Photo by Ju-ann Hockly

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