Objectives of the GReBL
The GReBL aims to develop its research according to three main areas, which may interact :
1) First, the sociological (or ethnographic) axis focuses on the referential dimension of life stories. Not only do these narrations, considered as mere data, allow a better understanding of the complex nature of a L2 acquisition, but also of the diversity of the trajectories of acquisition of the learners and the social contexts they encounter.
2) The second axis looks more precisely into the linguistic and narratological dimension of language biographies, in an attempt to identify formal or contextual features (language, interlanguage, story, interaction). This approach brings about two sub-categories of problems:
a. On the one hand, a socio-constructivist perspective shows that the identity of the learner, his experience, the nature of his competences or the origin of his motivation in learning a second language are not mere subjects of investigation, pointed out during the interviews, but emerging entities constructed only through the discourses performed by the L2 learners. How the interactions and linguistic or narrative structures give shape to these entities has to be described. From this point of view, the way that the learner configures the circumstances of his acquisition may define the notion of trajectory of acquisition. Thus, the trajectory does not necessarily cover the entire period of acquisition, but is limited by the learner to what he presents as the key moments of the process and around which he organises his discourse about his acquisition. As the analysis of what emerges from the discourse is also linked to the sociological domain, a sociolinguistic articulation of sociological and linguistic perspectives stands in the centre of the research of the GReBL.
b. On the other hand, it is possible to analyse the data from a more theoretical perspective. The autobiography concerning the trajectory of the language acquisition of a learner can be regarded as an exemplary case of more general phenomena. From a narratological point of view, the way that various genres of language biographies are realised might be contrasted, regarding whether they are written or conversational, whether they present the acquisition as a trajectory or not, whether they recount mere anecdotes, consider the past and/or the future, and so on. The relationships existing between genre, function and form of the biographical narration might also be investigated, as well as the notion of tellability : in the particular case of learners of second or foreign language, cultural norms of the target language (scripts) are not necessarily routine, and this deeply affects and structures in a particular way (cf. the notion of interlanguage) the usual functioning of the narrative activity.
3) The third axis is essentially didactic, which implies institutional consequences. It aims to reflect on didactic uses of the language biography, i.e. on its direct effect (beneficial or the reverse) on the appropriation process of the learner who produces it (see story of life in education). The fact of “recounting her learning” (Molinié) in a reflexive manner implies the learner’s awareness of the links she establishes between her current practice and her language story. A better understanding of these links might encourage the learner to re-invest in her language learning, to renew her motivation and to include her practice on a continuum. Moreover, the language biography represents a collection of data, which, for the language teacher, enriches knowledge of second or foreign language acquisition, as well as constituting a possible trail of exploration of new educational means.
Two main approaches coexist within this field of the didactic exploitation of the language biography in institutional contexts:
a. On the one hand, we focus on the reflexivity implied by the biographical production. Thus, the dissociation produced by the narrative activity of a current subject who produces a discourse (the deictic “I”) and a past subject who is the object of the story telling (the diegetic “I”) may be underlined. This approach insists on the learner supporting her acquisition, which allows her to quit her role of a passive subject receiving the input of a teacher. In contrast, the learner becomes active by supporting her acquisition of the language. In other words, she moves from a retrospective look at the past to a renewed project of acquisition.
b. On the other hand, the trajectory of the learner is often described as a biographical discontinuity, a break of identity, and many assume that narrative productions can help the learner building up new significations and some kind of continuity for her trajectory. Regarding this, however, it should be noted that the guided activity of producing a language biography (in class or in the context of a research project) is only a small aspect of the identity dynamics that take place in the everyday life; and identity relies probably not only on narrative discourse, but also on other kind of sociological behaviours, on identifications or habitus. Additionally, one can assume that the reflexive and pedagogical role of language biography aims more to deconstruct self-representations that could constitute obstacles in language acquisition, rather than to rebuild coherent representations of one's life trajectories.
Linking these two concepts allows the learner to renew her investment towards the task of appropriation. Indeed, life experiences gain a position within the institution and help the learner to understand in what way her opportunities to speak are socially structured and hence, how she may try to provoke opportunities to communicate with native speakers in diverse contexts (home, job, etc.).
Even if these three axes of research obviously emerge from different disciplinary traditions and methodologies, they are, nevertheless, interdependent, and rely on a socio-constructivist and socio-pragmatic frame of interpretation. Thus, it is clear that the understanding of the way learners constitute a learning trajectory (sociological approach) contains a didactic dimension for the teacher-researcher, and this understanding also needs to take into account the nature of the biographical discourse as a place of construction and transformation of reality, and not as its mere reflection.
Hence, the contributions of the researchers of the GReBL might contribute in many ways to these perspectives and, at the same time, may enrich the global understanding of the various phenomena linked to the language biography. The three axes of research mentioned above could be reformulated from a temporal point of view:
1. Past (referential-sociological dimension of the LB)
2. Present (discursive-linguistic dimension of the LB)
3. Future (pragmatic-didactic dimension of the LB).
Generally speaking, it might be of great use to consider the way in which these various temporal perspectives are connected to each other in all biographical activities, and in particular in the language biography.