Linguistic diversity and social inclusion in Australia

2012 workshop on 'Linguistic Diversity and Social Inclusion in Australia' at Macquarie University

2012 workshop on ‘Linguistic Diversity and Social Inclusion in Australia’ at Macquarie University

How does language intersect with social inclusion in contemporary Australia? Do social inclusion policies address linguistic diversity? What do we know about the relationship between linguistic diversity and inclusion in schools, workplaces and higher education? It is questions such as these that a special issue of the  Australian Review of Applied Linguistics devoted to Linguistic diversity and social inclusion in Australia addresses. Guest-edited by Ingrid Piller, the special issue brings together selected presentations from the 2012 Macquarie University workshop devoted to the same topic.

Please find abstracts of the articles in the collection below. All the contributions in the special issue are available for open access through the National Library of Australia.

Linguistic diversity and social inclusion in Australia

Ingrid Piller

This editorial introduction orients the reader to current public debates and the state of research with regard to the intersection of linguistic diversity and social inclusion in contemporary Australia. These are characterised by a persistent lack of attention to the consequences of linguistic diversity for our social organisation. The editorial introduction serves to frame the five original research articles that comprise this special issue and identifies the key challenges that linguistic diversity presents for a fair and just social order. These challenges run as red threads through all the articles in this issue and include the persistent monolingual mindset which results in a pervasive language blindness and an inability to even identify language as an obstacle to inclusion. Furthermore, where language is recognised as an obstacle to inclusion this usually takes the form of assuming that an individual suffers from a lack of English language proficiency. Improving English language proficiency is then prescribed as a panacea for inclusion. However, on close examination that belief in itself can constitute a form of exclusion with detrimental effects both on language learning and equal opportunity.

Language and social inclusion: Unexplored aspects of intercultural communication

Simon Musgrave, Julie Bradshaw

Social inclusion policy in Australia has largely ignored key issues of communication for linguistic minorities, across communities and with the mainstream community. In the (now disbanded) Social Inclusion Board’s reports (e.g., Social Inclusion Unit, 2009), the emphasis is on the economic aspects of inclusion, while little attention has been paid to questions of language and culture. Assimilatory aspects of policy are foregrounded, and language is mainly mentioned in relation to the provision of classes in English as a Second Language. There is some recognition of linguistic diversity but the implications of this for inclusion and intercultural communication are not developed. Australian society can now be characterised as super-diverse, containing numerous ethnic groups each with multiple and different affiliations. We argue that a social inclusion policy that supports such linguistic and cultural diversity needs an evidence-based approach to the role of language and we evaluate existing policy approaches to linguistic and cultural diversity in Australia to assess whether inclusion is construed primarily in terms of enhancing intercultural communication, or of assimilation to the mainstream.

Dodgy data, language invisibility and the implications for social inclusion: A critical analysis of indigenous student language data in Queensland schools

Sally Dixon, Denise Angelo

As part of the ‘Bridging the Language Gap’ project undertaken with 86 State and Catholic schools across Queensland, the language competencies of Indigenous students have been found to be ‘invisible’ in several key and self-reinforcing ways in school system data. A proliferation of inaccurate, illogical and incomplete data exists about students’ home languages and their status as English as an Additional Language/Dialect (EAL/D) learners in schools. This is strongly suggestive of the fact that ‘language’ is not perceived by school systems as a significant operative variable in student performance, not even in the current education climate of data-driven improvement. Moreover, the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), the annual standardised testing regime, does not collect relevant information on students’ language repertoires and levels of proficiency in Standard Australian English (SAE). Indigenous students who are over-represented in NAPLAN under-performance data are targeted through ‘Closing the Gap’ for interventions to raise their literacy and numeracy achievements (in SAE). However, Indigenous students who are EAL/D learners cannot be disaggregated by system data from their counterparts already fluent in SAE. Reasons behind such profound language invisibility are discussed, as well as the implications for social inclusion of Indigenous students in education.

‘Like the fish not in water’: How language and race mediate the social and economic inclusion of women migrants to Australia

Donna Butorac

Learning English is an important aspect of post-migration settlement in Australia, and new migrants with beginner to intermediate proficiency are strongly encouraged to attend government-subsidised English language classes. Underpinning the framing and delivery of these classes is a commitment to the discursive construction of Australia as an English-monolingual nation state, in which increased English proficiency will lead to new migrants gaining employment, thereby achieving an important benchmark of successful inclusion in Australian society. The assumption that English language acquisition leads to social and economic inclusion is not challenged within the settlement English program, and the language learner is seen as linguistically deficient in English, rather than as an emerging bi- or multilingual. Moreover, the ways that race, as well as gender, mediate both language learning and social inclusion are never problematised. This paper is based on data from a longitudinal ethnography that examines subjectivity in three interactional domains – family, society and work – in order to explore how language, race and gender impact on the post-migration settlement trajectories and sense of social inclusion of women migrants to Australia.

Working it out: Migrants’ perspectives of social inclusion in the workplace

George Major, Agnes Terraschke, Emily Major, Charlotte Setijadi

This paper explores the concept of social inclusion from the perspective of recent migrants, from language backgrounds other than English, at work in Australia. We adopt an understanding of social inclusion that acknowledges the importance of economic independence, while also considering migrants’ feelings of connectedness at work and their sense of belonging. Based on qualitative interviews with migrants collected two years apart, we explore the ways language and language practices can lead to feelings of inclusion or exclusion at work. The data suggests that migrants who felt included at work often had colleagues and/or bosses who actively supported and encouraged them in learning new skills, and made an effort to connect with them through small talk. In contrast, participants who felt excluded were unable to fully participate in work activities and/or workplace interaction because of limitations they or others placed upon them based on their English proficiency. We suggest that social inclusion, as it relates to employment, can also encompass different things for different people. For some, a sense of belonging is not promoted solely by having work or the ability to connect with colleagues, but also by obtaining employment of a type and level commensurate with their pre-migration status.

Writing feedback as an exclusionary practice in higher education

Grace Chu-Lin Chang

This ethnographic research probes into feedback on academic writing received by Taiwanese students in Australian higher education institutions, and examines whether the feedback received helped students to participate in the written discourse of academic communities. Academic writing dominates the academic life of students in Australia and is the key measure of their academic performance. This can be problematic for international students who speak English as an additional language and who are expected to acquire academic literacies in English ‘by doing’. As a social practice, academic writing depends on participation in dialogue for students to be included in the community of academia. However, the findings show that few participants received any useful feedback. Some assignments were never returned; in other cases, the hand-written feedback was illegible, and often included only overly general comments that puzzled the participants. As a result, the learning process came to an end once the students handed in their assignments; feedback failed to promote further learning related to content, and particularly to academic writing. The article highlights the few instances where participants received helpful feedback that was accessible and constructive, and which can be considered best practice for the promotion of academic literacy.