Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Resourcefulness in English Language Classrooms: Emerging possibilities through plurilingualism

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Julie Choi
Ulrike Najar

Abstract

Reports on refugee and migrant women in Australia show these women have low literacy in their first language, limited English language abilities, and minimal formal schooling. With major funding cuts to the adult migrant education sector and persistent public ‘deficit views’ of immigrant and refugee’s levels of literacy, approaches to teaching and learning in this sector require flexible views of language that embrace plurilingualism as a valuable resource within and outside of the socially-orientated ESL classroom. In this article, we present and discuss our findings from a study in which we co-taught English to immigrant and refugee women in a housing estate in Melbourne, Australia, and investigated the effects of a plurilingual view on the women’s English language learning experience and communication skills. Drawing on recorded classroom dialogues, observation notes, and worksheets produced by the women, we demonstrate the extraordinary plurilingual resourcefulness immigrant and refugee women bring to the challenge of learning to communicate in English. Our aim is not to promote a particular teaching approach, but to suggest the value of ongoing critical reflection on the underpinning ideas of plurilingualism for immigrant and refugee learner groups such as those we experienced in our own classroom interactions.

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Author Biography

Julie Choi, Melbourne Graduate School of Education

Dr. Julie Choi is a Lecturer in Education (Additional Languages) in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. She is co-editor of the book Language and Culture: Reflective Narratives and the Emergence of Identity, author of Creating a Multivocal Self: Autoethnography as Method, and co-editor of Plurilingualism in Teaching and Learning: Complexities across Contexts.