Young people’s vernacular literacy practices online: identities and language learning

Submitted by: Daniel Cassany
Abstract: In the project Digital Identities and Cultures in Language Education (, we analyze how young people build their discourse and affinity identities (Gee, 2000) by participating in social networks and fan communities online. From a qualitative and ethnographic perspective and through the theoretical lenses of New Literacy Studies (Barton & Lee, 2013), we collect data (Androutsopoulos, 2013) that we analyze with content and discourse analysis order to answer two main questions: 1) which literacy practices are young people developing online? and 2) what learning do they extract from such practices?
Our data stem from the online activity of 17 teenagers (12-18 years old) from four schools in Barcelona. We conducted two semi-structured and face-to-face interviews (one general and another situated into a specific practice) and participant observation of their profiles (on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube) for months, capturing and analyzing hundreds of posts (texts, photos and videos).
The findings reveal that: 1) while all participants have a significant activity online, their attitudes, purposes and practices are very diverse; 2) young people tend to prefer Instagram (to explore and interact with others) and YouTube (to create content), while they show less interest in Facebook or Snapchat; 3) boys and girls make use of the affordances of the Internet to develop their gender identities consciously; 4) they can be broken down into two categories of users: “spectators” and “creators”. “Spectators” post occasional texts that are less elaborate and sophisticate, often curating other people’s content, because their interest is to browse, explore and learn from friends’ and celebrities’ posts. “Creators” post more frequently and with more sophistication (gameplays, challenges, tutorials, etc.), to explore their creative selves, gain audience and influence them. Most informants report that these practices allow them to develop their identities (overcome shyness, develop humor, contact friends, improve teamwork skills) and learn about technology (software, video, photo), interculturality (diverse communities, language variation) and languages (Spanish as L1 or English as L2).

Keywords: vernacular practices, fan practices, informal learning, social networks, digital identity.

Androutsopoulos, J. (2013). Online Data Collection. In C. Mallinson, B. Childs, & G. Van-Kerk (Eds.), Data Collection in Sociolinguistics (pp. 236–250). New York: Routledge.
Barton, D., & Lee, C. (2013). Language Online: Investigating Digital Texts and Practices. New York: Routledge.
Gee, J. P. (2000). Identity as an Analytic Lens for Research in Education. Review of Research in Education, 25(1), 99–125.