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Language testing in the ‘hostile environment’: The discursive construction of ‘secure English language testing’ in the United Kingdom

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/10/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>Applied Linguistics
Issue number5
Number of pages26
Pages (from-to)662–687
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date11/05/19
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In parallel with an increased focus on border security in immigration and citizenship policy in the United Kingdom (the so-called ‘hostile environment’ policy), Government-approved English language tests for visa and immigration purposes were officially labelled ‘Secure English Language Tests’ (SELTs) in 2010. The proximity of security concerns in language testing with broader national immigration policy objectives suggests a complex role for language tests as gatekeeping devices. This paper draws on critical discourse studies to explore this issue. Documents provided in the 2014 tender round for selecting Secure English Language Tests (acquired through a Freedom of Information request) were analysed through a discourse-historical lens (Reisigl & Wodak 2016) to map salient topics and identify discursive strategies used to construct ‘secure English language testing’. Findings show that security is a prominent topic in the tender; prospective bidders are required to meet detailed security requirements and to police sub-contractors, and social actors, spaces, objects, policies and procedures are routinely described in securitized terms. Implications are drawn for understanding the role of language tests within broader securitization processes.