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Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication

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Volume 35, Issue 6


Affordances and constraints: Second language learning in cleaning work

Maiju Strömmer
Published Online: 2015-07-08 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2014-0113


This paper examines opportunities for language learning in a cleaning job, which is a typical entry-level job for immigrants. An ethnographic case study approach is taken to investigate examples of the conditions that allow or prevent language learning for the focal participant, a sub-Saharan man who works as a cleaner in Finland. This case illustrates on a micro-scale the impact of the new economy on a worker in a company that has outsourced its cleaning services. Theoretically and methodologically, the study applies van Lier’s (2004) ecological approach to language learning and Scollon and Scollon’s (2004) nexus analysis. The analysis of interaction order shows that within outsourced cleaning services, the cleaner is isolated from the work community around him and communication between him and clients is relayed through intermediaries. Consequently, only occasional opportunities arise for interaction in L2 in the workplace. Examples of work situations that offer affordances for linguistic action are analysed in depth to find out how work-related language learning could be supported. However, the pedagogical value of such affordances might be rather low, and hence, as it often offers very limited opportunities for developing second language skills, cleaning may be a dead-end job.

Keywords: language in the workplace; migration; second language learning; ethnography; nexus analysis; ecological approach


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About the article

Published Online: 2015-07-08

Published in Print: 2016-11-01

Citation Information: Multilingua, Volume 35, Issue 6, Pages 697–721, ISSN (Online) 1613-3684, ISSN (Print) 0167-8507, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2014-0113.

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