WP87 Politics, policy and practice: ESOL in the UK and the USA

Simpson & Whiteside
Collection: Key word


In November 2011 the authors spoke at a seminar at King?s College London on the topic of policy and practice in adult ESOL. This paper draws on the talks at that seminar and the ensuing discussion between the authors. We frame it dialogically: we open with James Simpson?s contribution to the original event, and Anne Whiteside responds with her own angle on the issues raised in Simpson?s paper. These initial contributions are informed by the authors? recent research in adult ESOL, in inner-city Leeds and in San Francisco, respectively. The third and final turn of the exchange is taken by Simpson, replying with his reactions to Whiteside?s perspective.

Simpson begins by discussing recent research into the superdiverse multilingual realities of contemporary language use in the UK. He then addresses what Blommaert has described as ?modernist reactions to postmodern realities? (Blommaert 2008:2): how dominant political and ideological forces that are heavily monolingualist ? and monolingualising ? respond to the multilingualism associated with globalisation and superdiversity. Third, he considers where the tension between a monolingualist ideology and the reality ?on the ground? leaves practice, at a critical juncture in the history of Adult ESOL in England.

Whiteside identifies similar problems in the US, where there is also a disconnect between monolinguist ideology and the policies that promote it on the one hand, and the day to day realities of immigrants? lives, on the other. She argues that it is time to move the field of language teaching beyond the modernist paradigms that have shaped it, but recognises the challenges presented by a climate of fiscal austerity and program fragmentation. In terms of theory, the sociolinguistics of superdiversity offers a good starting point, but the political economy of migration offers important additions.