“The teachers were just annoyed because I couldn’t say anything”: English language experiences of Polish migrants in UK schools

Sara Young


Poland’s accession to the European Union in 2004 resulted in an exponential increase in Polish migration to the UK, and a subsequent rise in the number of Polish children in UK schools. As part of my doctoral study investigating ethnic and linguistic identity construction amongst Polish-born adolescents (aged 11-16) living in the UK, I explored the participants’ accounts of their experiences of attending mainstream state schools. This paper sets out findings of the study which suggest that the adolescents’ initial lack of English was often viewed as problematic, with participants recounting accounts of overt hostility from some teachers. The adolescents’ experiences of language learning and language use within school appear to adhere to the monolingual ideology found in UK schools, and to reflect the idea of ‘deficiency’, whereby a lack of English language skills positions the individual as deficient, and a knowledge of other languages is seen as a hindrance to the acquisition of English. The paper also suggests that however a school may endeavour to embrace students’ multilingual identities, it nonetheless appears confined by the wider ideology of monolingualism.


Multilingualism, identity construction, Polish adolescents

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ISSN 2049-9558
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