‘Our Languages’ was a classroom research project that brought together sociolinguistics and participatory pedagogy. It was funded by the Leverhulme Trust as part of the Diasporic Adult Language Socialisation (DALS) research project. This website emerged out of the ‘Our Languages project and contains resources and information related to the original project to be used by ESOL (English for speakers of other Languages). The website was funded by the School of Education, Communication and Society, King’s College London.
Who we are
Our Languages is a joint project between King’s College London’s Centre for Language, Discourse and Communication and English for Action.
English for Action (EFA London) is a charity that provides action-orientated ESOL courses with community partners across London. They are leading proponents of participatory ESOL and in addition to their ESOL classes, they campaign for ESOL provision, provide teacher training and carry out research to improve their innovative methods.
King’s College London and EFA, alongside partners from Causeway Education and the Bell Foundation, have set up the Hub for Education and Linguistic Diversity (HELD). The Hub aims to facilitate discussions in education to strengthen understanding of linguistic diversity. Its main activities consist of open seminars and related articles. It is guided by a commitment to three fundamental ideas:
a) shared language is vital to social life, but linguistic diversity is also central. Both can be enhanced by education, enriching both the individual and society;
b) local conditions and participant perspectives really matter;
c) theories and research can be powerful tools, helping people to think differently
Aims of the website
This website presents a series of teaching materials for ESOL teachers wanting to explore the theme of ‘languages’, and how they operate in society. It offers a range of suggested participatory tools, activities and texts that can be used and adapted in the classroom. We draw on two major areas of study. Firstly, participatory pedagogy, an approach inspired by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire that builds a critical understanding of the world and supports students to take action for social justice. Secondly, we draw on sociolinguistics, the study of how language interacts with society, and in particular the sociolinguistics of migration.
About: How to use this website
The website contains a range of resources for the ESOL teacher, including:
- Accessible sociolinguistic concepts – we have selected aspects of sociolinguistic study which we feel are most relevant for ESOL teachers and have a short introductory paragraph explaining each one.
- Information about participatory pedagogy, including further reading and training.
- Classroom materials and resources for teachers to use, download, print and adapt for use in ESOL classrooms. On each resource it will be clear which sociolinguistic concept it relates to and we encourage teachers to read the relevant paragraph before using.
- Links to more detailed reading related to sociolinguistics for teachers who want more information.
We have organised the materials into four sections which explore language in a specific domain. The sections are, Our Selves, Our Homes, Our Classrooms and Our Communities. Each of these sections has two tools, with follow on activities and two or three texts plus activities.
The tools generate discussion among students on the topic and can also result in student generated texts for future work. These tools are fundamental to participatory ESOL pedagogy as they build learning around students’ experiences and views, as well as encouraging students to critique those experiences and views. Participatory tools are a set of structured, ‘blank pieces of paper’, which can provide a framework for classroom discussion. There are two different types of tool, descriptive and analytical. Descriptive tools allow students to remember and describe their experiences or show their knowledge and express opinions. Analytical tools allow students to think critically about their own and each other’s views in order to strengthen, qualify, gain a deeper understanding, reflect on, explain, or change their ideas about a particular topic.
Students will often be working using all their linguistic resources. This means using their other languages alongside English to complete the tool. Multilingual work such as this provides opportunities for students to express themselves in multiple ways and also have ideas explained or translated. Where other languages are used alongside English, students (or teachers) can subsequently explain these ideas in English so that everyone follows and the student has the opportunity to hear their ideas expressed in English. Allowing students to do complex thinking and problem solving in an expert language makes it possible for them to engage beyond their level of English and often stretch their language and communication skills, both in English and their other language(s) (which in turn contributes greatly to English development). We feel there is nothing to be gained by students watering their ideas down in order for them to operate monolingually.
Whilst the tools section relies on the students for ideas, information and knowledge, the texts section uses material from outside the group. We include reading texts, audio texts and video texts.
The tools and texts in this website are designed to be used together and they complement each other. The tools should generally be used before the texts as ideally students are given the chance to discuss and explore their own experiences before being expected to react to others’ ideas. In this way students’ own lives are central.
About: Background and context for the materials
These materials were first used as part of a classroom research project , ‘Our Languages’ whose aim was to bridge the gap between ESOL teaching and learning and Sociolinguistics, particularly those areas relating to the language and literacy of migrants in the UK. The research linked ESOL teachers and students with sociolinguistic researchers via an 8 week classroom programme which took place in two classes in different parts of London. As part of this project, we designed materials and resources which would bring some ideas from sociolinguistics into the ESOL classroom to introduce both teachers and students to this area of study. What emerged was a fascinating set of lessons which focussed solely on the themes related to language. You can read more in our report
The original inspiration for the project came from an existing ethnographic research project, Diasporic Adult Language Socialisation, which investigated the lives of Sri Lankan Tamils in the UK. Some of this was very specific to the Sri Lankan diaspora, and some had general relevance to experiences of migration. We focussed on one small part of that research, which was the part that related to language. We used the interview data in two ways. Firstly, we listened to the interviews and picked out themes which we thought would be relevant to ESOL learners in the UK and we drew inspiration from these to devise lessons with a sociolinguistic content, and secondly we used some excerpts of the interviews in the classroom with students as a basis for discussion.