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“Successful” migration, (English) language skills and global inequality: The case of Bangladeshi migrants to the Middle East

Elizabeth J. ErlingORCID iD: http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1209-8047 / Qumrul Hasan Chowdhury / Mike Solly / Philip Seargeant
Published Online: 2018-10-10 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2018-0021


Migration has become a vital element of the Bangladeshi economy, which has led to an increasing focus on providing Bangladeshis with the skills needed on the international labour market. English is often cited as one of these skills, and previous research has shown that a primary reason why Bangladeshis wish to learn English is due to its perceived value for pursuing work abroad (Erling, Elizabeth J., Philip Seargeant, Mike Solly, Qumrul H Chowdhury, & Sayeedur Rahman. 2012. Attitudes to English as a language for international development in rural Bangladesh. London: British Council. Available online at http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/publications/attitudes-english-a-language-international-development-rural-bangladesh.). The extent to which English is of value in economic migration, however, has been underexplored in research (Coleman, Hywel. 2010. The English language in development. London: British Council. Available at http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/publications/english-language-development.). Drawing on data from a qualitative study which provides new insights into the experiences and perceptions of a cohort of returnee migrants, this article investigates the perceived value of (English) language skills for migration. The study finds that economic migrants see the advantages of having particular skills, especially English, for economic gain. However, applying a capabilities lens to their narratives (Sen, Amartya. 1999. Development as freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.) reveals the difficulties of classifying their experiences in terms of “success” given the deeply embedded structural issues and challenges the participants report facing. This article therefore questions assumptions that language skills can be transformational when social inequality is (re)produced in the context of migration.

Keywords: applied linguistics; language education; world Englishes; language policy


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About the article

Published Online: 2018-10-10

British Council, Funder Id: 10.13039/501100000308, Grant Number: English Language Teaching Research Award

Citation Information: Multilingua, ISSN (Online) 1613-3684, ISSN (Print) 0167-8507, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2018-0021.

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