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On the Margins: Slovak Roma Children Negotiating Language and Education in Sheffield

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Lucian Stephenson.

In this talk I will present my on-going research with the Slovak Roma community in Page Hall, Sheffield. In both the pre- and post-Brexit context this community has often been the subject of a negative local and national media frenzy and highlighted as a case of all that is wrong about EU enlargement and migration. However, a sustained ethnographic longitudinal study with Roma families and children in both Sheffield and Slovakia uncovers a quite remarkable world of an economically impoverished yet resilient marginalized community of bi-and multilinguals seeking to establish better lives for themselves here in the UK. Findings from the research shed light on the complex social lives of the Roma, the related language issues in terms of L1 Romani (an essentially non-standard oral variety), L2 Slovak and now L3 English, and the educational challenges faced by schools attempting to assimilate the learners whilst, at the same time, the Roma pupils forge their own multilingual identities within this essentially English-only context.

This research sits at the locus of studies into language, education and migration and attempts to understand a complex and dynamic picture. Theoretically, I draw on the work of researchers in language and society, globalization and migration and Romani studies (e.g. Angela Creese, Stephen May, Jan Blommaert and Yaron Matras). There are two key supporting frameworks for the study: the Roma Language and Education Tool (RoLET), a developing framework designed to support practitioners in thinking about how to support Roma learners in educational contexts and, more broadly, Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) work provides inspiration in terms of understanding Roma migration, arrival and settlement as an integrated ecology with the individual Roma child sitting centrally in a dynamic reciprocal ecological system.

Recent publications

Payne, M. (2016). The inclusion of Slovak Roma pupils in secondary school: contexts of language policy and planning. Current Issues in Language Planning, pp.1-20.

Prieler, T. & Payne, M. (2015) Supporting the educational development of Slovak Roma pupils in Sheffield: The Roma Language and Education Tool (RoLET). Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies 151, Tilburg: Babylon.

Payne, M., Prieler, T., Edge, H. & Perin, B. (2015) The Educational, Linguistic and Social Integration of Slovakian Roma Children at Firth Park Academy, Sheffield. London: Academies Enterprise Trust.


Mark Payne taught Modern Foreign Languages, principally German and Spanish, in schools in Harlow and Cambridge before studying for his PhD at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. His thesis ‘Researching foreign language planning within the context of the multilingual school and community’ was supervised by Dr Michael Evans. After his PhD, Mark moved to the University of Sheffield where he directed the PGCE in MFL for 10 years before designing a new MA in Language and Education. During this time, Mark focused primarily on researching language, education and language policy and planning. Latterly, he has obtained three tranches of funding to research with the Roma community in Sheffield which has also seen him undertake high-impact fieldwork trips to Eastern Slovakia to work amongst some of our most marginalized and impoverished Roma communities.

This talk is part of the Second Language Education Group series.

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