Communicative practices of domestic migrant workers

The communicative practices of domestic migrant workers will be discussed using examples from semi-structured interviews that were carried out2 with 18 Portuguese and Spanish-speaking domestic workers (residents of the Ironbound neighbourhood), 21 English-speaking visitors to the area, as well as three bilingual Portuguese/English visitors. The interviews3 raised the following questions related to language practices and language teaching:

  • 1. What language(s) are used within domestics' home, community and workplace networks?
  • 2. How do domestics perceive and assess their own ELF abilities within their workplace contexts?
  • 3. What are the pedagogical implications for language teaching within the context of domestic migrant workers?

Table 8.1 Cleaning company - language combinations (domestic and non-domestic workers)

Languages

N.speakers

Domestic workers

Bilingual

European Portuguese & English

3

Luso-Brazilian Portuguese & English

2

Spanish & English

2

Monolingual

European Portuguese

7

Luso-Brazilian Portuguese

2

Spanish

2

Total

18

Non-domestic workers

Trilingual

Luso-Brazilian Portuguese, English, Spanish

1

Monolingual

English

1

Total

2

domestic workers were modest about their communicative abilities in English and often undervalued and even belittled their skills, which were often compared to NS speakers of English.

As regards to the non-domestic workers, the trilingual company owner, Magda, serves as the main language broker (Del Torto 2008) between the domestic workers, the driver, and the clients, while the driver, Jill, is a monolingual English speaker who claims that she understands certain Spanish and Portuguese lexical items, but is by no means proficient in any other language besides English.

As regards to the language skills of the clients, the majority were monolingual English speakers, three claimed to be competent bilinguals in English and Spanish, English and Arabic, and English and French.

 
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