“It comes from you”: Agency in adult asylum seekers’ language learning through Process Drama

  • 1 Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
  • 2 University of Padova, Padova, Italy
Fiona Dalziel
  • University of Padova, Padova, Italy
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  • Fiona Dalziel is a university lecturer in English Language and Translation at the University of Padova, Italy, where she teaches on the BA programme in Language, Literature and Cultural Mediation and the MA in Modern Languages for International Communication and Collaboration. Her research interests include: promoting learner autonomy; academic writing; the use of drama in language learning, including that of adult migrants. She has been the coordinator of the university English drama group for 20 years.Erika PiazzoliErika Piazzoli is a university lecturer in Arts Education at Trinity College Dublin. She is international coordinator of the School of Education, and teaches on the Master’s programme in Language Education and Drama in Education. Her research interests include: second language teacher education; aesthetic education; performative language pedagogy; the use of drama in language learning, including that of refugees and migrants.
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In this paper, we present a study of adult asylum seekers learning Italian as a Second Language through Process Drama. Adopting an ecology of language approach, we first set the scene by examining some of the most salient issues regarding the language learning needs of asylum seekers and refugees, including the challenge of fostering both language proficiency and a sense of autonomy and agency. We then introduce the topic of performative, or drama-based pedagogy, focussing on how this has been adopted for second-language learning, presenting the main features of Process Drama. We go on to evaluate a number of drama-based projects aimed specifically at adult asylum seekers and refugees before presenting the specific context of this study. The Process Drama sessions, organised in the 2016/2107 year, were part of a project called “Cultura e Accoglienza”, which allowed for the enrolment of 30 asylum seekers as “guest students” at the University of Padova in Northern Italy. In particular, we look at one of the Process Drama sessions, in which the participants became members of an association of community workers welcoming migrants, and the teacher took on the role of the asylum seeker. Through the dramatic frame, we, as facilitators, drew on the learners’ expertise in settling into the Italian culture, and in welcoming new arrivals. Our aim was that of using ‘time’, ‘place’ and ‘role reversal’ as distancing devices to challenge the notion of ‘otherness’. The analysis from videos, focus groups and teacher journals suggests that the drama gave participants the chance to shift perspective, and that this impacted on their sense of agency as second language learners.

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Language Learning in Higher Education, the journal of the European Confederation of Language Centres in Higher Education, deals with the most relevant aspects of language acquisition at university. It publishes contributions presenting the outcomes of research on language teaching, blended learning and autonomous learning, and language assessment, as well as aspects of professional development, quality assurance and university language policy.