Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Becoming Citizens: Racialized Conceptions of ESL Learners and the Canadian Language Benchmarks

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Becoming Citizens: Racialized Conceptions of ESL Learners and the Canadian Language Benchmarks

Article excerpt

In this article, I report a qualitative study that sheds light on how adult learners of English as a Second Language (ESL) are constructing new national identities in the context of the challenges associated with immigration. In particular, I trace how the common threads among their conceptions of citizenship compare with those embedded within official, national assessment, and curriculum documents. Using a broad questionnaire and a focused set of semi-structured interviews at a large ESL site in British Columbia, my research reveals the gaps between the experiences of these immigrants and how these documents construct and position idealized and racialized conceptions of second language learners.

Key words: Adult ESL; identity; immigration; assessment and curriculum documents; semi-structured interviews; gap analysis; racialized conceptions; language learning; Language Instruction to Newcomers to Canada (LINC); language policy and planning

Dans cet article, l'auteur presente une etude de cas qualitative qui permet de mieux comprendre comment des adultes apprenant l'anglais a titre de langue seconde (ALS) se faconnent de nouvelles identites nationales dans le cadre des defis associes a l'immigration. L'auteur analyse tout particulierement de quelle maniere les elements communs de leurs conceptions de la citoyennete se comparent a certains des themes des documents de curriculum et d'evaluation officiels. Reposant sur un vaste questionnaire et une serie ciblee d'entrevues semi-structurees menees dans un grand centre d'ALS en ColombieBritannique, cette recherche revele les ecarts entre les experiences de ces immigrants et la facon dont ces documents creent et positionnent des conceptions a la fois idealisees et racialisees des personnes apprenant une langue seconde.

Mots cles : adultes en ALS, identite, immigration, documents d'evaluation et de curriculuto, entrevues semi-structurees, analyse des ecarts, conceptions racialisees, apprentissage d'une langue, Cours de langue pour les immigrants au Canada (CLIC), politique -et amenagement linquistiques

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In this article, I outline a qualitative study to examine the nature of alignments and gaps between the conceptualizations of Canadian citizenship that are expressed in official national assessment and curriculum documents and those that are articulated by a community of adult learners of English as a Second Language (ESL). Drawing on the voices of Punjabi-speaking immigrants enrolled in a government-sponsored ESL program, my study sheds light on how a contemporary sample of adult ESL learners is constructing new national identities in the context of the challenges associated with coming to Canada. In particular, tracing how the common threads among their conceptions of citizenship compare with those embedded within national ESL assessment and curriculum documents, I illuminate how these documents construct and position idealized conceptions of second language learners.

As this study establishes in detail, significant gaps occur between the principal national assessment and curriculum documents used in this context and the views expressed by the learners in this study. The participants described Canadian citizenship predominantly in terms of human rights, multicultural policy, and the obligations of being citizens. The documents, however, rarely refer to citizenship in these terms. Instead, they tend to describe being Canadian in terms of normative standards, including various forms of social behaviour that imply the existence of a dominant and singular culture to which second language learners have to conform.

The present study raises serious questions about the nature and purpose of adult English language programming in Canada. Despite what multicultural policy statements might claim to the contrary, key curriculum and assessment documents tend to position ESL learners as relatively powerless, passive, and atomized recipients of programming designed to normalize them into a dominant culture. …

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