Identiti(es) and investment in learning English: an ethnographic study of Syrian refugees in the UK

Al-Dhaif, Amina (2020) Identiti(es) and investment in learning English: an ethnographic study of Syrian refugees in the UK. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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This PhD project explored the experiences of 14 adult Syrian refugee language learners, recently arrived in the North East of England, as they learned English and negotiated their sense of self in their new environment. It sought to uncover the ways in which identities, identity transformations, and relations of power were implicated in the Syrians’ investment in learning English. Further, it aimed to explore the conditions under which the Syrian learners were learning English and negotiating who they were in their ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) college and classrooms.

To address these research questions, data was collected through a 14-month ethnographic project with 8 female and 6 male Syrian learners who came from various cultural, socio-economic, and educational backgrounds in Syria, 4 of their ESOL teachers, and the manager of their ESOL institution. Data collection methods included semi-structured interviews with the learners, their ESOL teachers, and the college manager; classroom observations and field notes alongside audio-recordings and subsequent transcriptions of classroom events; learner diaries, either written or audio-recorded according to the participants’ preferences; learner shadowing, both in-class and beyond; researcher diaries; and a collection of relevant documents. Data was collected both in Arabic (with subsequent translation into English) and in English.

The analysis drew upon poststructuralist theories of language, identity, and positioning, Lave and Wenger’s communities of practice (CoP) framework (Lave and Wenger 1991), and Norton’s theory of identity and language learning (Norton 2000). The findings of the project show that, through the processes of learning English and participation in new communities of practice, the participants (re)constructed their social class, religious, and gendered identities; identities which were expansive and/or restrictive factors in their learning of English. The analysis also reveals that the learners’ multiple identities did not emerge and operate independently of each other. Instead, the various identities of each Syrian learner interconnected to create a complex picture of how an individual’s identity/ies was/were enacted. Additionally, the findings show the ways in which many of these language learners acted with agency in forging English learning opportunities, accessing English-speaking communities, and resisting marginalising discourses, noting also that their agency was at times situated and constrained by power structures in their inter- and intra- communities. Teacher and institutional awareness and appreciation of the complexity and diversity of the learners’ identities and the interrelated intersections between identity and language learning can help them (1) develop a deeper and richer understanding of their learners’ level of investment in learning English and their classroom practices and (2) support their learners in tackling the challenges they face in and beyond the language learning classroom.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Motivation, positioning in ESOL classes , social class and language learning, religion and language learning, gender and language learning
Subjects: L700 Human and Social Geography
R900 Others in European Languages, Literature and related subjects
X900 Others in Education
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 28 Jan 2021 08:41
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 14:36

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