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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


(Re)constructing Newcomers: Linguistic, Spatial and Relational Distributions of the Self

Dawn Allen.

In North America's largest immigrant receiving societies – largely urban areas – linguistic and cultural pluralism is characteristic of many of the immigrants themselves as well as of the environments into which they are expected to integrate. Such pluralism has proven particularly challenging for the nationalist and unilingual agenda of the Quebec government and its policy makers, particularly in the area of education. While education policies and programs acknowledge the importance of students' maintenance of their languages and cultures of origin, educational practice assumes this linguistic and cultural pluralism should occur outside of the schools, thus creating tension between language development and identity construction for newcomer adolescents. Drawing on data from a year-long study with 18 adolescent newcomer youth, as well as on theoretical concepts of distributed cognition, this paper argues that Quebec schools' emphasis on linguistic and cultural unity is in conflict with new-immigrant students' knowledge of themselves and their multilingual, multicultural environment. Rather than being marginalized, this new-immigrant knowledge – distributed across languages, physical spaces, and interpersonal relations – should instead be viewed as central to the successful academic, linguistic and social integration of these youth.


Dawn Allen  (Canada)

McGill University Montreal, Quebec Canada

Currently enrolled in my fourth year of doctoral studies at McGill University, I recently completed the data-collection phase of my study of the integration of a group of Montreal’s immigrant adolescents. My interest in immigrant adolescent integration stems from my experience with this age group teaching ESL in California as well as EFL in France and Mexico. Montreal, my home now for eight years, is a very rich context for continuing my investigation into the socio-political complexities of language learning, identity construction, and integration.

  • Immigrant integration
  • Language learning
  • Identity construction

(30 min Conference Paper, English)