ERG SES E 02, Language and Education
According to Freire (1996), critical education promotes the practice of freedom in order to turn marginalized and oppressed individuals into central actors of history process. Such transformation is not only necessary to develop critical thinking, but also to contribute for a more humanitarian world. Thus, as education in general, language teaching can also be understood as a way to contribute to inclusion and change lives.
Data released by the UN Refugee Agency (2017) shows that about twenty people from various parts of the world are forced to leave their homes every minute, due to severe human rights violations. In the past years, an increase in the number of people coming to Europe looking for asylum has been observed. This situation has been generating many debates about humanitarian themes and how to teach language to those individuals.
Language is conceptualized as a symbolical capital (Bourdieu, 1995). Thus, learning the host’s language is a way to exchange knowledge and to participate in social and cultural activities such as work, health care services and leisure, for example. The possibility to engage in essential social activities give the confidence individuals need to be more empowered and active citizens. According to Freire (1996), political action for the oppressed must be a cultural action for freedom, which means that language is not only a tool to communicate, but also a way to fight for social emancipation.
One of the main issues that asylum seekers have when they try to rebuild their lives in the new country is the linguistic barrier. Based on that, this research aims to study language learning for asylum seekers in Italy, especially those integrated in the Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR). My focus is the Autonomous Province of Bozen/Bolzano (also called South Tyrol), although I believe this paper can also be useful in other European countries, due to the proximity of cultural values.
I decided to take South Tyrol as an example because of the historical co-existence of three ethnolinguistic groups: Italian, German and Ladin. Even though after the Second Autonomy Statute of 1972 the three groups live together pacifically, there is still an enormous social division between them (Zinn, 2017). Due to this situation, “immigrants who settle in the province are fundamentally required to ‘choose sides’—that is, for the most part, integration does not occur within a unified multilingual receiving society, but rather into a portion of the society in which one of the official languages dominates” (Zinn, 2017, p. 99). Thus, my research aims to understand how asylum seekers feel being in the middle of these historical ethnolinguistic division.
Having in mind all those aspects, my major research questions are:
- Which language(s) do asylum seekers learn in the SPRAR project in South Tyrol and why?
- How do they perceive the offer of language teaching in the SPRAR project in South Tyrol and what are its main challenges?
- How can language learning help to reach social emancipation?
This paper uses qualitative approach in an ethnographic research, adopting interviews and participant observation. The participant observations take place in language classes offered by the SPRAR project and the interviews are done in three different groups. First with asylum seekers of different SPRAR projects in South Tyrol, second with language teachers, then with the project´s coordinators. My intent with an ethnographic research is to look deep at the situation and collect data from different sources to have a rich understanding of the problematic. Also, I believe that this methodology allows us to look at asylum seekers not as a number in a graphic, but as persons that have individual experiences to share.
As this paper is part of my ongoing Phd thesis, I have not reach a final conclusion yet. Thus, I will present the theoretical and methodology aspects to illustrate the complexity of the problem. My preliminaries outcomes are the follow. One aspect that we should considerer is that many of those individuals have little formal knowledge in their own mother tongues, which makes the learning process harder. The second aspect is the possible influence of South Tyrolean language policies in the language acquisition process. In other words, the challenge to learn at least two foreign languages to be fully integrated in the divided South Tyrolean society. Therefore, I believe that asking asylum seekers about the way they are trying to overcome adversities to learn the host’s language will help us understand how we can improve policies regarding those persons. And, by doing so, empower and lead those marginalized individuals to social emancipation.
BOURDIEU, P. (1995) Language and symbolic power. Edited and Introduced by John B. Thompson. Translated by Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press Cambridge. CATARCI, M., & FIORUCI, M. (Eds.). (2015). Intercultural education in the European context: theories, experiences, challenges. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. COOPER, R. L. (1989). Language planning and social change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. FREIRE, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the oppressed (revised). New York: Continuum. GRIN, F. (2005). L’enseignement des langues étrangères comme politique publique. Haut Conseil de l’Évaluation de l'École, n° 19. Geneva. HORNBERGER, N., TAPIA, A., HANKS, D., DUEÑAS, F., & LEE, S. (2018). Ethnography of language planning and policy. Language Teaching, 51(2), 152-186. McCARTY, T. L. (2015). Ethnography in Language Planning and Policy Research. In: Hults, F. M. and Johnson, D. C (eds) Research Methods in Language Policy and Planning. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES (2017). Global trends. Forced Displacement in 2016. Geneva: UNHCR. ZINN D.L. (2017) Migrant Incorporation in South Tyrol and Essentialized Local Identities. In: Decimo F., Gribaldo A. (eds) Boundaries within: Nation, Kinship and Identity among Migrants and Minorities. IMISCOE Research Series. Springer, Cham
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