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What are the factors that influence the success of two ESOL Learners in the UK? A Case study of the differing learning journeys of two Economic Migrants.

 

There are a plethora of factors implicated in L2 attainment, success may be down to individual factors, as well as social or institutional factors. Recently, researchers have been looking at SLA in terms of the individual and the relationships between them and their ‘various world and experiences they inhabit and which act of them’. This paper discusses ESOL learners and their ‘worlds and experience’ with a view to enhance our understanding of SLA in the context of the multicultural society of today’s Great Britain.

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This case study seeks to explore the learner journeys of two migrant workers in the UK and will examine how far their environments have shaped their journeys and how far they have acted within those environments to lift the constraints imposed by them. (Block, 2007). The learners, Svetlana and Malgorzata, are employed in a similar capacity within the pottery manufacturing industry but have experienced differing L2 learner journeys, coming from countries with different education systems, Latvia and Poland respectively and have achieved different levels of mastery. Furthermore, it is expected that through the differing accounts of their language learning experience, it will investigate how motivation and identity in L2 acquisition factors into their L2 identities.

The learners currently reside in Stoke-on-Trent, an area with a rich history in industry and famed for being the home of the pottery industry such as Wedgewood and Royal Doulton. The last decade had seen a post-industrial decline however the pottery industry has experienced a recent resurgence and now employs around 40,000 people in North Staffordshire area (National Conversation on Immigration, 2017). Furthermore, population in the area has experienced a small increase, partly caused by international migration, with estimates stating that 13.2% of the population were born outside the UK (Annual Population Survey, 2015). However, views on immigration in the area are mixed, with a number of participants of a recent ‘National Conversation’ panel expressing hostility towards EU migrants. Furthermore, during the EU referendum, 69.36% of people in Stoke on Trent voted to leave the EU with many citing immigration as an influencing factor (NC, 2017). It could be argued that experiencing hostility in a new country could impede L2 acquisition, in fact, scholars have argued that a learner’s environment does play as important a role as individual factors, and that the success of developing a new linguistic identity depends the learner themselves and those people in the learners environment. (Lantolf and Pavlenko, 2001)

The two learners are second language (or ESOL) learners, that is, learners who are learning the language of the country in which they reside, as opposed to foreign language learners who study a L2 outside the communities where the language is used. For that reason, it could be assumed that the learners were more highly motivated than foreign language learners and also had more opportunities to use the language. However, Norton (2001) disagreed with this assumption, stating that it was a combination of factors, social interaction, gender, race and class which played a part in the ability to access the language as well as the learner’s own motivation.

Migrant workers to English speaking countries such as the UK, United States and Australia learn English for several reasons which in turn creates a diverse ESOL classroom with students having different backgrounds, motivations and levels of aptitude. Increasingly these classrooms and their teachers are subject to narrowed institutional understanding and limited resources. Furthermore, ESOL teaching and learning is often seen by policy makers merely as a ‘service to the economy’ (Simpson, 2011, p.10)

Skills for Life, England’s national strategy for improving the basic numeracy and literacy skills of adults, added ESOL to its framework over a decade ago, which in turn increased its popularity and funding. In recent years, one of the agendas that ESOL has been dominated by the agenda that is the importance of English ability for employability. This agenda is the basis of Svetlana and Malgorzata current ESOL classes, as they learn English as part of their employers scheme. Therefore questions are raised on whether they are learning English because they want to or because they have to? 

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