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Language for Resilience – University of Reading

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  • Language on the move

    Researching language and migration

Language for Resilience

Dr Tony Capstick imageDr Tony Capstick is a lecturer in Applied Linguistics. His main areas of interest are teacher education, multilingualism and migration.

Before becoming an academic, Tony was an English language teacher trainer in developing countries and spent most of his career working in Asia and the Middle East. He is interested in language education and the political contexts in which that occurs, and his PhD research project was on migration between Pakistan and Britain. Much research has been carried out on the outcomes of migration, whereas Tony is more interested in what happens in the country of origin as well as the destination. His research focuses on grassroots migration working with families that use local languages and non-standard varieties of English.

"As a Sociolinguist, I'm less interested in proficiency in Standard British English, and more interested in the kind of nonstandard English that migrants use to cope in certain situations. A lot of the migrants who I work with would not be able to pass exams or score highly on an IELTS test, but they are able to do what they need to do in order to migrate."

Tony teaches a third year module called 'Language and Migration'. This gives students a vivid account of how languages are used in different parts of the world and how political decisions are made regarding the medium of instruction: for example in Jordan you need English to go to university, in Lebanon you need French or English to go to school, in Turkey you need Turkish, and in Iraq you'll probably need Kurdish or Arabic depending on the region. Also, Tony is interested in how migrants use a mixture of languages.

"Displaced people often tell me: 'We are learning English to get to Germany. Then we will learn German when we are there.' English is the global language."

In the 'Language and Migration' module, students also get to study what we mean by 'power'. Refugee camps are run by international agencies who often speak English, so speaking some English might give migrants access to more resources, i.e. jumping to the front of the queue simply because they can fill in an English form. He also explores other grassroots type of power: a migrant might not speak English but he or she might have developed the ability to read English online. When people go online they are mixing registers and genres and grammar, very complex things are going on and this is very different to standard British English. Students get to explore these different forms of language expression through their studies.

"It can be difficult to understand how we research power, but by looking at the language use of migrants and giving students the tools and the skills to analyse this rigorously, it gives them the skills to build evidence to show how access to certain languages is shaped by power relations. Studying at Reading, students develop a knowledge of the use of language mixing and how English fits in."

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