In the UK, being unable to communicate in English is a significant barrier to social inclusion. Each ESOL student brings a wealth of cultural experience and diversity to the country, but without sufficient proficiency in English to interact outside the home, migrants, refugees and settled communities struggle to integrate, can feel socially isolated and struggle to find employment.This is even more so for women, many of whom have childcare responsibilities. Arab women form a large proportion of the ESOL population, and often come from diverse backgrounds; some with high-level academic qualifications from their home countries and others who never attended school. Despite these stark differences, what commonly brings the ESOL class together is a genuine motivation to learn a language that is vital to living a more inclusive life in the UK.

Over the past few decades, numerous studies have investigated contrastive linguistics and the transfer errors of Arab students learning English (Scott and Tucker, 1974; Hanania and Gradman, 1977; Altakhaineh, 2010). Recent research, however, has hardly addressed the complex social, cultural and interactional influences on their learning processes. With a focus on ESOL students in South Yorkshire, the present study employs ethnographic methods, including questionnaires, lesson observations and focus groups, with ten female Arab learners of English, to shed light on the role of educational background and identity on language development. The findings reveal an interesting intersection of educational background and self-efficacy beliefs and highlight the significance of perceived identity in language learning. The study concludes with recommendations for practitioners to employ in the ESOL classroom and draws particular attention to the need for more one-to-one sessions between student and teacher at the start of courses and greater opportunities to work on practical individual learning plans. This is to allow teachers to thoroughly get to know their learners and ask the necessary questions that will enable them to prepare effective lessons, conduct beneficial formative assessments and support their students to become more productive learners of English, in turn unlocking their potential to converse more confidently and apply the acquired skills in wider society.

Author Biography

Sundus Alzouebi, Sundus Alzouebi, certTESOL, BA (Hons), PGCE, QTS, MA (s.alzouebi@warwick.ac.ae) Warwick University, UK. Sundus Alzouebi graduated with a master’s from Sheffield Hallam University and is currently undertaking a PhD in intercultural communication and second language teaching at the University of Warwick. Sundus’ research interests include the theory and practice of intercultural learning within second language education. She has taught English as a Second Language in the UK and the Middle East, and much of her research has focused on Arab learners of English in particular.

Dr. Diana Ridley, BA, RSA Cert TEFL, PGCE, MA, PhD (d.m.ridley@shu.ac.uk) Sheffield Hallam University, UK. Diana is a Senior Lecturer in TESOL at Sheffield Hallam University. She teaches on both the distance learning and full-time campus-based masters courses in TESOL and has substantial experience of both masters and PhD research supervision. She acts as an External Examiner for masters in ELT and TESOL programmes at other universities. Diana is particularly interested in the way student writers develop their own voice and persuasive argument in their writing through an effective integration of source material. More generally, her research interests are in academic literacies, e-learning and genre and disciplinarity.

Dr. Khadeegha Alzouebi, BA (Hons), QTS, MA, MEd, PhD, Hamadan Bin Mohammed Smart University, Program Chair. Dr. Khadeegha has a PhD in education from the University of Sheffield, England. She also has an MEd and an MA in Education from the University of Sheffield, England. Dr. Khadeegha has worked extensively on educational policy, school reform, school effectiveness and innovation change management both in the UK and in the United Arab Emirates. She has over 23 years of experience in the education field in many capacities from working on educational policy, working with government, higher learning and private think-tank organisations.