Adult migrants and English language learning in museums: understanding the impact on social inclusion
Clarke, Sherice Nicole
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This doctoral study explores the museum as site and resource for language learning by adult migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision has emerged over the past decade in museums across the UK and elsewhere within an increasing emphasis on informal adult learning programs. While there has been extensive research on second language acquisition, museum learning and social inclusion separately, there have been few studies that have investigated language learning in the context of museums, and even fewer studies that have sought to understand the benefits of language learning in museums for this target group of learners and how it might relate to the concept of inclusion. The study is centred around an ethnography that addresses these gaps in the literature and which examined three primary questions: (a) what are the target learners’ experiences of social inclusion and exclusion post-migration, and its interface with their English language abilities? (b) what are learners’ perceptions of the impact of participating in ESOL in museums in terms of exclusion and inclusion?, and (c) what occurs in interaction during ESOL in museums? In collaboration with City of Edinburgh Council Museums and Galleries Service, a cohort of 14 adult ESOL learners were studied over a 5-month ESOL course held in the City’s Museums and Galleries. In-depth time-series interviews were conducted with participants over the 5-month period. Narrative analysis (Labov & Waletzky, 1967; Riessman, 1993) of interviews examined narrative trajectories within case and across cases, mapping experiences post migration, in and beyond museums. In order to investigate the affordances of dialogue in museums, conversational interaction was observed and recorded during the 11 weekly museum visits. Conversation analysis (Leinhardt & Knutson, 2004; Markee, 2000) examined what occurred in talk, focusing on interaction between interlocutors, its function and content. Drawing on a social theory that conceptualizes language as symbolic power (Bourdieu, 1977, 1989, 1991) and identities as constructed and reflexive (Block, 2007b; Giddens, 1991; Norton, 2000), analysis indicates that the experience of migration provoked deficit conceptions of self as participants negotiated their new social milieu through English language. Access to opportunities to engage in English are mediated both by institutional forces, e.g. social space afforded in institutional contexts, and perceptions of self. Analysis of dialogue in museums shows participants positioning themselves and being positioned as ‘knowers’, where primacy was given to collaborative meaning making about museum displays, objects and artefacts in conversational interaction. Analyses of interviews indicate shifts in identity trajectories from deficit to competent views of self through participation in ESOL in museums. These findings suggest a cumulative effect of micro-interactions on identities constructed in dialogue and point to the critical role which learning in museums and other informal environments can have in terms of providing social space within which to engage in positive dialogue that both challenges isolation and exclusion and helps foster increasing confidence and competence in the target language alongside feelings of inclusion for the majority of participants in the research.