Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



Published in Language Matters, 51:2 (2020), 106-128



Copyright © 2020 Unisa Press; published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Used by permission


Increased multilingualism and mobility have witnessed an increased focus on multilingual immigrant learners. This study aims to help educators understand experiences of immigrant students in South Africa that relate to language and identity by comparing such experiences across three different school settings: an urban school with a high (Black) immigrant and indigenous population, a former Indian school, and a former White school. Drawing on semi-structured interviews from a larger case study, this study makes visible the immigrant learner experience in multilingual settings in which xenophobic conditions arise. The findings reveal similarities as well as differences in individual identity construction and negotiation and its vital connection to language. Furthermore, they illustrate ways in which these learners must navigate xenophobic trends, exclusive language pedagogies, and language loss. The implications of this study point to a call for policy, practice, and research to take into account multilingual immigrant learners as well as a need to attend to the social construction of identities.