English as Social Capital among Immigrants and Refugees in Australian Communities

Document Type



Presented at the Language as a Social Justice Issue Conference. Held on the 26th November, 2014 at Edith Cowan University, Joondalup Campus, Perth, Western Australia.


Learning the dominant language in a new country can be a key factor in successful settlement and adaptation for immigrants and refugees. This is in part because it is a form of social capital, particularly in bridging and linking to people from other linguistic communities and enabling access to resources such as employment, housing and healthcare. In this paper we examine the role of English-language proficiency in immigrants’ and refugees’ sense of belonging, inclusion and participation in the broader Australian community. The data, from 54 interviews and focus groups with 138 people conducted in communities in Perth, Sydney and Murray Bridge, are drawn from a larger study using Jenson’s multidimensional framework of social cohesion. We found that perceived and genuine difficulties in communicating in English impacted on participation and the capacity to develop meaningful relationships with others in the community, and was associated with reduced opportunities and access to resources for immigrant and refugee groups. We discuss the findings in relation to linguistic social capital and its role in access and equity in multicultural Australia.

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