• Chris Sowton

Field Research: Language learning - attitude, ability, teaching and materials in Jordan

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

Focusing on refugee and host community youth (18-35) in Jordan, this piece of British Council research took place over three weeks in February 2019. The final draft report can be downloaded here.


This report had two main purposes. The first was to better understand these groups’ perceptions, abilities and usage of language, and the relationship of language to accessing pathways and psychosocial support. The second is to better understand how language learning takes place in these communities. The research was qualitative in nature, and based predominantly around focus groups, individual interviews and lesson observations. The research participants were from the Jordanian host community and refugees, of both Syrian and non-Syrian background. The fieldwork for data collection took place mainly in Amman and urban / peri-urban areas of northern Jordan.




Key findings

1 Language attitudes and perceptions

  • People have complex language histories;

  • English dominates, despite some interest in other languages;

  • The primary value of language for refugees is that it offers a pathway to a third country;

  • Language is perceived as a means of becoming more employable;

  • Language can be a barrier to higher education, but it is seldom presented as an opportunity at the institutional level;

  • Language competency is measured by certification;

  • Using additional languages can be perceived negatively by the wider community;

  • Language is used to broaden social and cultural understanding;

  • Language learning has significant psychosocial value.

2 Language Use and Ability

  • Second languages (L2) are seldom used outside the classroom;

  • Knowledge about language is commonly valued more than ability to use language;

  • The language of instruction tends to be the target language;

  • English language teachers’ competency in English varies hugely.

3 Language learning teaching and provision

  • The only English provision is general English;

  • Language teaching pedagogy tends towards the formal, even in informal settings;

  • The use of volunteers for teaching poses challenges;

  • Current teacher education is inadequate;

  • Teacher education is individual, not institutional or systematic;

  • Language acquisition and retention is generally poor;

  • Teachers lack support within their institutions and from their peers.

4 Language learning materials

  • Most language providers use textbooks, many of which are not fit for purpose;

  • Materials (as well as processes) can yield a psychosocial dividend;

  • Institutions work within their own silos, and do not share language learning materials;

  • Teachers and learners access online materials, but their use is sub-optimal.


Main Recommendations

  1. Create a relevant, manageable and recognised certification system for language competence, which would recognise the importance of multilingualism as well as the difficulties which displaced people face in providing verifiable evidence of their linguistic competence

  2. Create language learning materials which are relevant and appropriate for those using them, such that they are high-quality, contextually relevant, and offer ‘value added’ in terms of delivering light-touch psychosocial support.

  3. Harmonise and shape teacher education programmes across all implementing actors wherein they empower and give teachers agency, are decentralised and iterative, and focus on crucial multilingual practices such as translanguaging.

  4. Support peer-led language and pedagogical enhancement, especially in organisations and institutions where individuals may have the content knowledge but not necessarily the skill or resources to support and train others.

  5. Widen IELTS participation given its importance but high-cost, which places it out of reach of many

  6. .Investigate the viability of alternative language delivery mechanisms, for example upskilling young people with language skills to deliver programmes at a community level.

  7. Ensure that any language / pedagogy programme which has an online component uses e-moderators, who add huge value-added support, especially in terms of motivation and retention.

  8. Initiate quantitative data collection for language competency to support and provide a solid empirical basis for future initiatives in this field.

©2019 by Chris Sowton