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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton January 21, 2017

Young learners’ portrayals of ‘good English teacher’ identities in South Korea

So-Yeon Ahn

So-Yeon Ahn is an assistant professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, where she conducts research on language ideology and identity, language and cultural awareness, and social and cultural approaches to language learning.

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and Gordon Blaine West

Gordon West is an assistant professor of TESOL at Sookmyung Women’s University. His main work is in the young learner TESOL program. His research interests focus on practitioner research, narrative, and critical applied linguistics.


In the climate of shifting language policies and constant influx of native English-speaking teachers to South Korea, the question of what constitutes a “good” language teacher (GLT) arises. To this end, the present study examines how 577 young English learners (K-6th grade) come to demonstrate their understanding of GLT by making use of visual images and written narratives. A social semiotic, multimodal approach to analysis is employed to scrutinize how these textual and visual narratives construct and/or presuppose a certain image of teacher identity and, as a result, display societal ideologies (Jewitt 2009). The findings yield two dimensions with regard to the objects associated with GLTs, an emotional/abstract dimension and a teaching-related dimension, and the differing use of these objects in relation to teacher gender indicating students’ awareness of teacher roles and gender. Moreover, the ways in which learners place themselves in the storied worlds seem to provide evidence for how teacher identity is, in fact, co-constructed with the notion of learner identity. Thus, the study underscores the complex nature of GLT identity construction and further highlights the benefits of using both textual and visual methods to gain better insights into learners’ beliefs about, attitudes towards, and perspectives on teachers, students, and language learning.

About the authors

So-Yeon Ahn

So-Yeon Ahn is an assistant professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, where she conducts research on language ideology and identity, language and cultural awareness, and social and cultural approaches to language learning.

Gordon Blaine West

Gordon West is an assistant professor of TESOL at Sookmyung Women’s University. His main work is in the young learner TESOL program. His research interests focus on practitioner research, narrative, and critical applied linguistics.


This study was supported by the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Research Funds of 2016. Our deep appreciation goes to anonymous reviewers and the editor for their insightful comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this article.


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Appendix 1: Data collection tool

Published Online: 2017-01-21
Published in Print: 2018-05-25

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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