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At home in Australia : identity, nation and the teaching of English as a second language to adult immigrants in Australia

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posted on 13.01.2017, 02:03 by Faine, Miriam
This is an autoethnographic study (e.g. Brodkey, 1994) based on ‘stories’ from my own personal and professional journey as an adult ESL teacher which I use to narrate some aspects of adult ESL teaching. With migration one of the most dramatically contested spheres of modern political life world wide (Hall, 1998), adult English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching is increasingly a matter of social concern and political policy, as we see in the current political debates in Australia concerning immigration, citizenship and language. In Australia as an imagined community (Anderson, 1991), the song goes ‘we are, you are Australian and in one voice we sing’. In this study I argue that this voice of normative ‘Australianess’ is discursively aligned with White Australians as native speakers (an essential, biological formulation). Stretching Pennycook’s (1994a) argument that ELT (English Language Teaching) as a discourse aligns with colonialism, I suggest that the field of adult ESL produces, classifies and measures the conditions of sameness and difference to this normative ‘Australian’. The second language speaker is discursively constructed as always a deficient communicator compared with the native speaker. The binary between an imagined homogeneous Australia and the ‘migrant’ as essentially other, works against the inclusion of the learner into the dominant groups represented by their teachers, so that the intentions of adult ESL pedagogy and provision are mitigated by this imagining, problematizing and containing of the learners as other. The role of ESL teachers is to supervise (Hage, 1998) the incorporation of this other. Important policy interventions (e.g. Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2006; ALLP, 1991a) are based on understanding the English language as a universalist framework of language competences inherent in the native speaker; on understanding language as consisting of fixed structures which are external to the learner and their social contexts; and on a perception that language as generic, transferable cognitive skills can be taught universally with suitable curricula and sufficient funding. Conversely in this study I recognise language as linguistic systems that define groups and regulate social relations, forming ‘a will to community’ (Pennycook, op. cit.) or ‘communities of practice’ (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Language as complex local and communal practices emerges from specific contexts. Language is embedded in acts of identity (e.g. Bakhtin, 1981) developing through dialogue, involving the emotions as well as the intellect, so that ‘voice’ is internal to desires and thoughts and hence part of identity. Following Norton (2000) who links the practices of adult ESL learners as users of English within the social relations of their every day lives, with their identities as “migrants”, I suggest that the stabilisation of language by language learners known as interlanguage reflects diaspora as a hybrid life world. More effective ESL policies, programs and pedagogies that assist immigrant learners feel ‘at home’ within Australia as a community of practice (Wenger, 1998) rest on understanding immigrant life worlds as diasporic (Gilroy, 1997). The research recommends an adult ESL pedagogy that responds to the understanding of language as socially constituted practices that are situated in social, local, everyday workplace and community events and spaces. Practices of identity and their representation through language can be re-negotiated through engagement in collective activities in ESL classes that form third spaces (Soja, 1999). The possibilities for language development that emerge are in accord with the learners’ affective investment in the new language community, but occur as improvements in making effective meanings, rather than conformity to the formal linguistic system (Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000).


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Farrell, Lesley

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education