Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Johnson, Laura R.

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Counseling, Adult and Higher Education


English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers; Adult education


This qualitative study elicited and examined the narratives of 15 adult immigrants learning English in a grant-funded program. The purpose of the study was to listen to student voices to understand persistence and investment from the perspectives of the students. The study utilized a process called reciprocal ethnography whereby participants analyzed their journeys with the researcher to determine what factors in their life histories, experiences, and identities had led them to invest sufficiently in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs in order to reach levels of achievement that would allow them to transition into post secondary and career certificate programs. The findings of the study challenge the notion that successful adults would be those with privileged backgrounds including extensive academic experience, status, and support networks. The success of this diverse group of participants questions the vision and expectations of adult ESL programs of the potential students who may successfully make these transitions and encourages programs to look beyond the more traditional factors that have been utilized to predict student success. The narratives of participants focused on barriers including environmental, situational, cultural, and emotional challenges, and the ability to overcome these challenges was determined by participants as instrumental to their success. Findings indicated that identity and power of the learner is influenced by the social environment and that successful learners are those individuals who have found ways to negotiate these often-inequitable structures. Participants had to challenge the concept of others who concluded that their language skills, or interpretations of them, defined their intelligence or their sense of worth in the community. These individuals had to pursue their goals while being largely ignored or marginalized in their interactions with others. Findings indicated a number of factors that supported participant investment in language socialization and transition. These supports included turning points in their lives that required increased expertise, mentors, and academic environments that acted as "sanctuaries" that helped to counteract experiences and barriers in their social environments. These supports proved critical in the ability of participants to maintain investment in their academic language socialization.


Committee members: Cohen, James; Jeria, Jorge.||Advisor: Johnson, Laura Ruth.||Includes bibliographical references.


274 pages




Northern Illinois University

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