Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Linguistics, Applied

First Advisor

Panayota Gounari

Second Advisor

Corinne Etienne

Third Advisor

Kristina Beckman


This thesis presents findings from an ethnographic study of adult English Language Learners (ELLs) who are support staff employees in a large metropolitan hospital and are taking integrated English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at their work site. This research is rooted in a theoretical framework that intersects studies on discourse (Fairclough, 1995; Gee, 2008), language socialization (Burdelski & Cook, 2012; Flowerdew, 2013; Vickers, 2007), and agency and identity development (Norton, 1997, 2006, 2010; van Lier, 2008) to discuss the experience of adult ELLs who enter an English-dominant healthcare workplace. The teacher-researcher used ethnographic methods to examine: (a) the support staff employee discourse as determined by language and behaviors; (b) the impact of the workplace ESL classes on socializing employees into this discourse; (c) how support staff employees develop agency and second-language identities in their work environment. Data included field notes from work observations of six support staff employees from three departments—Housekeeping, Food Service, and Patient Care Services—all of whom participate in the ESL classes, and audio-recorded interviews with these six employees and three support staff supervisors. Relevant literature in the fields of workplace education and language socialization at work is reviewed and discussed. A description of the hospital’s support staff discourse is described in the findings, along with areas of language socialization that are developed by participating in workplace ESL classes and how this leads to increased agency and identity development at work. Data analysis exhibits that learning English through an integrated workplace education program provides employees a community of practice in which to develop the language skills and confidence they need to advocate for themselves and others at work. By qualitatively examining how healthcare support staff can be better incorporated into the workplace and develop professionally, this study has implications for training and education programs for a growing immigrant healthcare worker population.