The right to a voice and the fight to be heard: The experience of being an ESL user in Australia

Kettle, Margaret A. (2013) The right to a voice and the fight to be heard: The experience of being an ESL user in Australia. In 13th International Pragmatics Conference (IPrA): Implicit discrimination in public discourse symposium, 8-13 September 2013, New Delhi. (Unpublished)

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This paper focuses on the fundamental right to be heard, that is, the right to have one’s voice heard and listened to – to impose reception (Bourdieu, 1977). It focuses on the ways that non-mainstream English is heard and received in Australia, where despite public policy initiatives around equal opportunity, language continues to socially disadvantage people (Burridge & Mulder, 1998). English is the language of the mainstream and most people are monolingually English (Ozolins, 1993). English has no official status yet it remains dominant and its centrality is rarely challenged (Smolicz, 1995).

This paper takes the position that the lack of language engagement in mainstream Australia leads to linguistic desensitisation. Writing in the US context where English is also the unofficial norm, Lippi-Green (1997) maintains that discrimination based on speech features or accent is commonly accepted and widely perceived as appropriate. In Australia, non-standard forms of English are often disparaged or devalued because they do not conform to the ‘standard’ (Burridge & Mulder, 1998). This paper argues that talk cannot be taken for granted: ‘spoken voices’ are critical tools for representing the self and negotiating and manifesting legitimacy within social groups (Miller, 2003). In multicultural, multilingual countries like Australia, the impact of the spoken voice, its message and how it is heard are critical tools for people seeking settlement, inclusion and access to facilities and services. Too often these rights are denied because of the way a person sounds.

This paper reports a study conducted with a group that has been particularly vulnerable to ongoing ‘panics’ about language – international students. International education is the third largest revenue source for Australia (AEI, 2010) but has been beset by concerns from academics (Auditor-General, 2002) and the media about student language levels and falling work standards (e.g. Livingstone, 2004). Much of the focus has been high-stakes writing but with the ascendancy of project work in university assessment and the increasing emphasis on oracy, there is a call to recognise the salience of talk, especially among students using English as a second language (ESL) (Kettle & May, 2012).

The study investigated the experiences of six international students in a Master of Education course at a large metropolitan university. It utilised data from student interviews, classroom observations, course materials, university policy documents and media reports to examine the ways that speaking and being heard impacted on the students’ learning and legitimacy in the course. The analysis drew on Fairclough’s (2003) model of the dialectical-relational Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) to analyse the linguistic, discursive and social relations between the data texts and their conditions of production and interpretation, including the wider socio-political discourses on English, language difference, and second language use. The interests of the study were if and how discourses of marginalisation and discrimination manifested and if and how students recognised and responded to them pragmatically. Also how they juxtaposed with and/or contradicted the official rhetoric about diversity and inclusion. The underpinning rationale was that international students’ experiences can provide insights into the hidden politics and practices of being heard and afforded speaking rights as a second language speaker in Australia.

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ID Code: 90640
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Accent, Second language learning, Implicit discrimination, Speaking in a second language, Pragmatics
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > SPECIALIST STUDIES IN EDUCATION (130300) > Specialist Studies in Education not elsewhere classified (130399)
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Cultural & Professional Learning
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Copyright Owner: Copyright the author
Deposited On: 24 Nov 2015 03:38
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2015 03:38

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