A Hong Kong ESL Learner’s Story: Autonomous Learning as Keeping on and Taking Charge

By Mhairi Mackay and Ming-chun Sinn.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Key themes in the continuing development of theory and practice in the area of learner autonomy are “in or out-of-class” language learning and the quest for research methodologies suitable for the exploration of self-direction and self-instruction (Benson, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2007). This article is divided into three main parts. In the first part, the concepts of life history research, narrative inquiry, autobiographical narratives and co-constructed narratives which inform the present study are entailed. In the second part, MACKAY, the first author, addresses the issues of learner autonomy by reporting on a life history research project which involves collecting the language learning stories of a Hong Kong student learning English both within the system and outside of it through his own initiative in “keeping on at resource persons” and “taking charge” of his goals and processes. SINN Ming-chun tells his own story of how he taught himself in the first place to do well in English examinations at school, and later how to improve and continue his language learning developing a lifelong language improvement attitude. In the third part, the second author, Sinn, first writes his autobiographical narratives encompassing his final undergraduate year (2009-10) in which he experienced English language teaching and research publications. He then utilizes a dialogical approach to show how co-constructed narratives draw attention to the significance of intertwined learner and teacher experiences; to problematize the notion that “learner autonomy” is equal to “one can learn without teacher/tutor advice, guidance, instructions or feedback (see e.g. Lee, Jor, & Lai, 2005; Tang, 2009a); and to blur the line between theory and story. If language learning is essentially a social phenomenon, then this life history-cum-co-constructed narrative inquiry research foregrounds the socio-cultural and social-ecological situatedness of researching English language learning and human communication.

Keywords: Learner Autonomy, Independent Learning, Learner and Teacher Experiences, Life History Research, Narrative Inquiry, Autobiographical Narratives, Co-constructed Narratives, Reflexive Research, ESL, Hong Kong

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp.159-184. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 748.877KB).

Mhairi Mackay

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Mhairi MACKAY is an internationally experienced secondary and tertiary teacher specializing in independent language learning. She has taught in Oporto in Portugal, Adana in Turkey, Colchester in Britain, Sydney in Australia, Gore, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch in New Zealand, and Hong Kong. She possesses an MA from University of Bristol in 2006, another MA from Auckland University and GDipTESOL from Waikato University in 1999. Her latest conference presentation was at the 4th Independent Learning Association Conference on a Hong Kong language learner's life story using narrative theory. She worked as an instructor in the Independent Learning Centre at The Chinese University of Hong Kong from 2007-2010. She has now gone back to New Zealand, her mother country, to continue her teaching career.

Ming-chun Sinn

Junior Research Assistant, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Anson Ming-chun SINN is currently a Junior Research Assistant in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Graduated with B.A. (English Studies) and B.Ed. (English Language Education) from CUHK, he is interested in doing research pertaining to language arts teaching, engendering education, pop-cultural literacy and learner autonomy. His latest conference presentation was at the 17th International Conference on Learning on a student-poet’s story using discourse analytical approach. Keen on creative journalism, he once held the post of Chief Editor for his high school newspaper, Whats’Up (http://www2.lkkc.edu.hk/~whatsup/), and Netter (http://plate.fed.cuhk.edu.hk/netter/), a blog under the project “Platforms for Language Teacher Education” launched by the Faculty of Education, CUHK. He currently serves as an Associate Editor for several leading research journals, including The International Journal of Learning, The International Journal of the Book, The International Journal of The Humanities, The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, The International Journal of Diversity in Organisations, Communities and Nations, and The International Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Change Management.

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