They Forget That I’m There: Migrant Students Traversing Language Barriers at School

Joanne Cassar and Michelle Attard Tonna, University of Malta, Malta
Published: April 27, 2019

Citation: Cassar, J., & Attard Tonna, M. (2018). They Forget That I’m There: Migrant Students Traversing Language Barriers at School. IAFOR Journal of Language Learning, 4(1).


The positioning of migrant students within schools of the host country is considerably determined by issues related to the language of instruction adopted in these schools. This article presents a qualitative study conducted in two Maltese girls’ secondary schools and examines how teachers and migrant students dealt with language issues. Data were collected through focus groups to find out power dynamics that emerged as a result of the negotiations surrounding issues related to language. The authors draw on Foucault’s works on power relations to demonstrate that learning experiences of migrant girls are situated in language and shaped by joint construction of meanings, which students and teachers create. The findings indicate that migrant students’ use of language functioned as a source of power, which seemed instrumental in developing a sense of belonging at school. Although the study is located within a specific Maltese context, it may be considered relevant to debates about the experiences of English language learners in other geographical and socio-cultural settings involving migrant students.


power relations, migrant students, language proficiency, school peer relations, language barriers