Vera Williams Tetteh has just completed her PhD thesis about “Language, Education and Settlement: A Sociolinguistic Ethnography on, with, and for Africans in Australia.” The thesis is now available for download from Language on the Move here.
This sociolinguistic ethnography explores the interplay between language learning, education and employment experiences of black African migrants in Australia. The black African migrant presence in Australia is recent and their experiences in settlement are poorly understood. Africans from a wide variety of diverse backgrounds tend to be homogenised as ‘black’ and seen as a monolithic group. It is particularly the refugee and humanitarian visa entry point that predominates in perspectives on Africans in Australia.
The present study seeks to overcome these homogenising perspectives through a focus on diverse pre- and post-migration experiences, particularly as they relate to language learning, education and employment. Data for the study come from extensive participant observation in African communities in urban and rural New South Wales as well as individual interviews with 47 adult African men and women from eight African countries of origin.
Focusing on differences in pre-migration educational opportunities and the status of English in their countries of origin, the analysis distinguishes four groups: migrants from Anglophone African countries who have completed secondary education or above; migrants from non-Anglophone African countries who have completed secondary education or above; migrants from Anglophone African countries who have had no or low schooling; and migrants from non-Anglophone African countries who have had no or low schooling.
Findings indicate that well-educated migrants from Anglophone countries do not think of themselves as second language learners and reject the idea that they should engage in further English language learning in Australia. However, their African English repertoires are not readily accepted in Australia and their credentials do not translate into jobs commensurate with their qualifications. Given this discrepancy between self- and other-perceived language skills and qualifications, participants in this group attribute the underemployment they experience to racism.
By contrast, well-educated migrants from non-Anglophone countries are found to embrace their positioning as second language learners and to engage in learning English. Participants in this group, too, are unemployed or underemployed but they attribute their situation to their limited English language proficiency and their lack of local experience. Hence, they expect their situation to change once they will have acquired these.
Participants with no or low formal education from Anglophone and non-Anglophone countries are found to be keen to learn English, enhance their education and gain employment. However, language learning and further education opportunities are ill-suited to the specific needs of these two groups. Both groups are highly gendered and comprise predominantly women who are pushed into traditional gender roles as housewives, stay-at-home mothers and carers because of the absence of pathways specific to their educational and language learning needs.
Overall, the research demonstrates a persistent mismatch between diverse pre-migration linguistic repertories and education trajectories, and post-migration language training and education pathways into settlement in Australia. These findings complicate notions of the second language learner and new migrant groups with implications for SLA research and migrant settlement policy.