‘Here is a long way’. Language learning, integration, and identity
: A mixed methods exploration of ESOL learners’ trajectories.

  • Jill Court

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political discourse tends to characterise English proficiency as the pathway to integration in Britain. However, there is mismatch between the rhetoric and the real-life experiences of migrant and refugee language learners, who are rarely consulted on their experiences and priorities. This thesis attempts to address this by exploring adult ESOL (English for Speakers of other Languages) learners’ accounts of their learning English and integration experiences.

I present new perspectives on these issues by combining rich and comprehensive accounts from longitudinal timeline interviews (n=14) with questionnaire responses (n=409) from ESOL learner participants. By applying an identity conceptual lens to a new conceptual model of integration, I illustrate how ESOL learners’ language learning and integration trajectories are shaped by the ways in which they variously are assigned, claim, negotiate, and resist, identity positions.

This thesis shows that the relationship between language learning and integration can be characterised as a Catch-22 in which English proficiency can improve integration outcomes, but also, positive integration experiences are needed to facilitate progress in language learning. Language learning and integration are interrelated processes in which the rate of progress can vary and may slow down, stall, or even be felt to reverse. Many issues shape ESOL learners’ capacity to maintain motivation over extended periods of time. These include the ability to achieve and sustain more powerful and confident identity positions, and being afforded hope of realising imagined identities and desired futures. Looking beyond English proficiency, I illuminate other key factors which shape ESOL learners’ ability to make headway in Britain, such as feelings of safety, well-being and confidence, and these are influenced by social and material conditions. Attending to the issues raised in the findings can facilitate ESOL learners to keep momentum and move forward in their trajectories.
Date of Award25 Jan 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorFrances Giampapa (Supervisor) & E V Washbrook (Supervisor)

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