South African Journal of African Languages

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‘Push’ and ‘pull’ factors influencing the learning of destination languages by immigrants

Rosemary Wildsmith-Cromarty, Aloysius N. Conduah


This article argues that social, cultural, economic and personal factors affect immigrants’ choices to learn a new language in a ‘push’ and ‘pull’ manner. Conditions in the origin country and the immigrants’ personal lives are referred to as ‘push’ factors. Conditions in the host community and the attitudes of established members are the ‘pull’ factors. The research forms part of a study that explored the relationship between language and employment among Ghanaian immigrants in Johannesburg and their access to the South African economy. Data was collected through a survey and interviews involving 115 participants. Biographical narratives were constructed for nine participants, three of whom learnt indigenous languages. The biographies of these three participants have been selected for the purposes of this article in order to probe more deeply the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors involved in learning new indigenous African languages. The study confirmed findings reported in the literature that immigrants are mostly motivated to learn the languages of their host countries for economic imperatives. However, the study revealed further that the need for acceptance in the host communities and a sense of belonging and appreciation are equally important motivations.
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