Building L2 social connections: the case of learners of Auslan (Australian Sign Language)

Louisa Willoughby, Cathy Sell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Social interaction, and the attendant negotiation of meaning, is of prime importance for developing second language (L2) skills. Yet how learners go about building L2 social networks–and why some have more success than others in doing so–remains underexplored. This article explores this phenomenon via a 12-month longitudinal case study of three hearing adult learners of Auslan (Australian Sign Language) who were studying the language in a vocational education setting. Drawing on language diaries and stimulated recall interviews, we explore the learner’s contact with deaf signers and use of Auslan with hearing peers, as well as the factors shaping this involvement and how it changed as their language proficiency developed. While one of our learners threw herself into volunteering and emerged from the study with strong L2 social networks, the other two struggled to varying degrees to build networks and balance the demands of paid work and L2 study. Socio-economic factors played an important role in shaping our student’s engagement and investment in L2 learning. From this, we argue that tertiary L2 programs may be subtly reproducing privilege, and need to address this if we are serious about increasing minority representation in L2 programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3436-3447
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • second language learning
  • Sign language teaching
  • social networks

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