Barriers to Bangladeshis learning or improving English

This study aimed to identify the main motivations for learning English amongst minority ethnic groups, in this case Bangladeshis in London. 

Dr Ferhana Hashem investigated the levels of English attained pre-migration and explores the learning pathways of Bangladeshis in acquiring English after arrival in the UK. She also examined whether ESOL services are adequately meeting the needs of this group. 

Research methods included analysis of government and general purpose surveys and interviews with 30 Bangladeshi respondents. 

Main findings

  • Bangladeshi women had ‘below average’ or ‘poor’ levels of English premigration which was due in part to the low levels of participation rates in education back home.
  • The higher participation rates of men in education in Bangladesh increased their opportunity to learn English before migrating.
  • Both men and women accepted and recognised learning English was important for practical and functional reasons.
  • Bangladeshi men’s motivations were for gaining employment and improving their employability prospects, whereas Bangladeshi women’s motivations were primarily for accessing statutory services, healthcare provision and for supporting their children’s educational progress.
  • The men and women cited similar factors that prevented them from regularly attending ESOL classes; the barriers cited by the women included constraints on their time, childcare and family responsibilities, and the domestic duties of running a household; and the barriers cited by the men included overstretched time commitments, family responsibilities and work duties.
  • The introduction of the citizenship test did not impact significantly on the motivations for learning English.
  • Bangladeshi women were fearful of becoming isolated and dependent, and becoming increasing distant from their children due to a potential cultural gap between themselves and their offspring.
  • The women said ESOL classes provided them with an opportunity to meet and socialise withstudents from a diverse range of backgrounds.
  • Provision and access to ESOL varied greatly across all four boroughs.
  • Some boroughs reported having fewer provisions available locally, classes had shut down due to the lack of funding or a change in funding arrangements had drastically impacted upon participation levels.
  • It was important to the women that ESOL classes were held close to their homes or within their local neighbourhood.
  • The men and women did not state a preference for an ethnically-matched teacher or peer-group; in fact some of the participants preferred a non- Bengali/Sylheti speaking teacher and peers from a diverse range of backgrounds. 
Project details



Dr Ferhana Hashem, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent 

Grant amount and duration


February 2008 - November 2009



What kind of language services should public authorities provide to minority ethnic groups: the case of Bangladeshis in London, Hashem, F and Aspinall, P.J, Centre for Health Service Studies 2010. 

Download report (PDF)