"We Live and Learn": English and Ambivalence in a New Capitalist State

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This article reports on data drawn from a larger critical ethnographic study of English language use and instruction in Slovakia at the moment of capitalist integration. Slovaks who sought to learn English at the turn of the millennium were driven by the brand new anxiety of job insecurity. English lessons at this time sold themselves as the pathway to upward mobility, teaching Slovaks not only phrases of speech, but also the rudiments of capitalism: how to shop, how to drive, and especially, how to learn ever more English to keep your job. Although domestically produced textbooks taught these lessons with subtle notes of ambivalence, those textbooks imported from Anglophone countries modeled an unabashed embrace of capitalism. It was most often ambivalence that was echoed by the Slovaks interviewed for this study, however, who were mindful that their pursuit of English thrust them into a race against peers both at home and abroad. These years reveal this paradox of English in the new capitalist world: offering the path to betterment it had become the idiom for the anxiety of falling behind. (Contains 1 figure and 7 notes.)
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-100
Number of pages12
JournalGlobalisation, Societies and Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008


  • Foreign Countries
  • Free Enterprise System
  • Social Systems
  • Ethnography
  • Job Security
  • English (Second Language)
  • English for Special Purposes
  • Anxiety
  • Textbooks
  • Political Socialization


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