Maria Sabaté (U. Lleida)

University students’ identity constructions as prospective multilingual highschool teachers: A lens into neoliberal educational elitism


Universities have become neoliberalized institutions who compete in the educational marketplace by selling English-mediated ‘multilingual’ degrees (Piller & Cho, 2013), particularly in Humanities, where students are profiled as transnational ‘language workers’ (Heller, 2010); e.g., in the teaching industry. In political economic terms, students are engrained in institutional/governmental structures which position them as workers-to-be whose employability depends on individual self- responsibilization for attaining a command of ‘English-plus-local-languages’ (Flubacher, Duchêne, & Coray, 2018). From a critical sociolinguistic perspective, this paper explores highschool ‘FL-teacher’ identities mobilized by 30 students enrolled in a Multilingualism degree in a top-ranked university (the UAB) in Barcelona. This offered linguistic/literature content in partial EMI courses involving French, Spanish, Catalan, Classics, presented as required ‘skills’ for ‘any profession related to languages in any country of the EU’ (ACP, 2018). The data include audio-recorded life-narratives collected during a two-year ethnography (2011-2013), and follow-up ‘life-after-graduation’ trajectories narrated online (2018). The results show that students engage in language-based neoliberal employability profiling. They self-ascribe excelling English-language communication in academic/work/personal-life domains, attained as teachers-in-training ‘abroad’ and through experience in private language schools. They self-attribute an ‘innate’ talent and intellectual capacity for languages, and inhabit two-FL-teacher identities which distinguish them from ‘ordinary’ highschool teachers with ‘EFL-only’ credentials. These identity projections, which are not problematized even by those who became non/underemployed (almost half of the informants), reveal how university students manage competition in the teaching industry by investing in the multilingualization of the neoliberal academic/professional/moral educational Self (see Codó & Patiño, 2017). This points to forms of socioeconomic distinction and stratification based on elite language-work projections promoted in compulsory and HE educational systems of neoliberalism.
Keywords: higher education; neoliberal employability; elite multilingualism; FL-teacher identities

ACP. (2018). Bachelor’s Degree in English and French Studies. http://www.uab.cat/web/estudiar/ehea-degrees/general-information-1216708259085.html?param1=1264578113763

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Piller, I., & Cho, J. (2013). Neoliberalism as language policy. Language in Society, 42, 23–44.