ESOL learners’ views and experiences of language learning, integration and identity

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  • ESOL Learners Views and

    Experiences of Integration,

    Language Learning and


    Jill Court

    PhD Student (ESRC)

    University of Bristol


    English courses for adults living in the UK; Government funded and voluntary sector provision

    Learners include asylum seekers, refugees, EU nationals, spouses of British or EU nationals, migrant workers

    From newcomers to long term residents

    Diverse nationalities, cultures, educational backgrounds ages, employment and family circumstances.


    Promotes espousal of British values and identity and speaking English; measure of willingness to integrate.

    Multicultural and multilingual nature of Britain - threat to Britain and British identity

    those wishing to become citizens

    should demonstrate their

    commitment by learning the English

    language, as well as having an

    understanding of British history,

    culture and traditions Mark Harper,

    Immigration Minister 2013.

    Due to the doctrine of state

    multiculturalism Britain has a

    weakened collective identity David

    Cameron 2011


    Increasingly stringent language requirements for entry and settlement in the UK e.g. 2013: raised level of English required in language

    tests 2015: language test to be taken at small number

    of approved providers Life in the UK citizenship test revised in 2013 to put British history and culture at the heart of it. (Cameron 2011).

    Continued reduction in funding for ESOL courses: 50 per cent (160 million) reduction between 2008 and 2015 (Martin, TES 2016).


  • English is not the only

    barrier to integration

    e.g. inequality,


    Can aspects of integration,

    such as social inclusion and

    access to jobs, affect

    language proficiency?

    What is British


    What is


    What are the views

    of migrant language


    Many barriers to learning English and

    accessing ESOL provision

    ESOL teacher for 15 years, variety of contexts, diverse learners, multiplicity of experiences and aspirations.



    o 1) What do the experiences of ESOL learners reveal about the relationship between learning English and integration?

    o 2) How relevant are the concepts of British identity and values to ESOL learners experiences?

    o 3) What are ESOL learners perceptions of what it means to be integrated?


    Second Language Learning and Identity Theories (e.g. Block 2006; 2007 and Norton 2000; 2013):

    Language learning is shaped by the social context and power relations within which it takes place.

    Applied to the UK context:

    British identity and English language privileged over others

    Political and media discourse - migrants positioned negatively and of lower status,

    non proficient English speakers portrayed as deficient, multilingual skills not valued.

    Combines with potential social marginalisation

    May result in fewer opportunities to practise English; and potential unequal interactions where responsibility for communication is not shared

    Impact on language learning

    (also: Auerbach 1993; Bremer et al 1996, Cooke and Simpson 2009)


    MEd dissertation in 2015.

    Large adult education provider in Bristol

    Participants: my Entry 3 (intermediate) ESOL class, 2 men and 13 women, 10 nationalities, aged between 20-50

    Qualitative methods

    2 group sessions with class using participatory methods

    Interviews with individual learners

    Data: students work produced in participatory sessions, audio recordings of participatory sessions and interviews ,and transcripts



    Group work, tools drawn from participatory pedagogy and participatory ESOL (e.g. Reflect for ESOL; English for Action; Bryers, Winstanley and Cooke 2013). Draws on Paulo Freires critical pedagogy.

    Participatory tools aim to break down the boundaries between teacher (facilitator) and learners (participants); knowledge is shared, mutual learning and reflection.


    oAssist learners to discuss complex concepts and issues in English, visuals and group activities scaffold and support language (Winstanley and Cooke 2016)

    oFacilitate the interviews; opportunity for participants to engage with the issues and activate language before being interviewed.

    Why ? oEncourage participants construct together own meanings and reflect on their experiences, place them as the experts, (rather than myself as teacher, researcher and native English speaker)



    Affects confidence in interactions Isabela:I think some English people dont care understand

    you... I think the people think if you stay here in this country you must speak English, and sometimes [they] dont listen you or ignore youyoure mind is blank, because you nervous, you try to speak and listen and understand everything and sometimes it doesnt work.

    Avoid contexts where they fear they may be positioned negatively

    Mira: Sometimes when I listen to people speak very good English, and I cant not too good, then I feel not integrated

    All the parents they are coming in the school in the evening time. I got a leaflet but I never joined because- the one problem is my English. My English is not too good.Normally I am a very friendly person.

  • RESISTING NEGATIVE IDENTITY POSITIONS Identity positions depend on context

    Isabela: In the supermarket I speak [and] if that person dont understand I try speak again or use another word to explain and if they dont care its not my problemIm a client.

    Mira: Very confident speaker in ESOL class

    o Strong identity positions can be achieved

    Hani: I speak English a lot of places because Im coming college 3 times a week and Im speaking all that day... And then when I finish class I have to go job. My job there is a lot friends; manager, supervisor Im talking, maybe half day I speak English. Or in the city centre, when I shopping, Im speaking all myself I dont have another person help with language. On the bus, I talk English, even some person ask me a question I can answer quick; I can help them what they need I understand

    Forged an identity of competence (Cummins 2009)


    Integration is 50:50

    [It is] more easy for us if we understand British culture, and think we are here and we need to talk British, we need to do some things in British. [But] British people [should] try to understand more, open more mind and try to really understand it is difficult for us [to]stay in another country (Isabela)

    Security, freedom and respect for difference

    Its a very good thing that we are allowed to do our customs (Mandip).

    In the UK is freedom [of]religion, and respect each other... you have to respect your neighbour, what they are, and they respect youit is safe and you can do whatever you like to do and is freedom (Hani).

    Improved opportunities for social interaction e.g. work, neighbourhoods, everyday situations and interactions

    to do something with people from this country (Ginaway)

    Enhance feelings of integration and opportunities to practise English


    English valued as a global language, and as part of multilingual repertoire alongside first languages

    I think English is an international language. If you go everywhere you can communicate with people (Zenia).

    [my children] learn English and they know Bangla very good. I think its a good quality to know more languages. In school they learn also French and German (Mira)

    English skills essential for integration, for everyday purposes, goals and aspirations

    I feel integrated when I can I understand English well (Anonymous written response)

    Feelings integrated impacts on language ability If you feel integrated you feel more confident to speak and you

    know other person understands you, you have communication.(Isabela)


    LANGUAGE AND INTEGRATION self confidence enables ESOL

    learners to communicate

    without anxiety about making


    More social interaction, and

    language practice

    Increased independence and

    feelings of being integrated

    Further increases self- confidence

    Sahra: When I started ESOL class I get confidence I came to the UK I can speak [English] but I was very shy I was silent, even if I know I cant answer. ..after I start ESOL class my teacher say if you shy you never learn, and I remember that. I try to speak I try to answer questions..after that I feel better for my English, I go to GP and I speak. I get self confidence and I can talk and I feel better and I forget to [be] shy. If you shy you cant learn, if you want to learn dont [be] shy.

    I feel integrated when I help myself (Zenia)


    Auerbach, E. (1993) Re-examining English Only in the ESL Classroom. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Spring, 1993), pp. 9-32

    BBC News 2014. Sajid Javid: Immigrants must learn Engl


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