Foundations and Frustrations in Adolescent Newcomer Programming

This month we are publishing Educating Adolescent Newcomers in the Superdiverse Midwest by Brian David Seilstad. In this post the author explains how the idea for the book came about.

Schooling is often represented in dichotomous terms as either a liberator or an oppressor. Reading about various student experiences across diverse histories and contexts reflects and refracts this reality and underscores the equity and social justice goals inherent in education. Adolescent newcomers globally and in the US Midwest, the focus of this book, are particularly relevant to this theme in that they arrive in new locations, often as refugees or other transnational migrants, buoyed with an array of skills, experiences, and dreams that can support their, it is hoped, adaptation and creation of lives of dignity. However, the research on adolescent newcomers points out that this is neither an easy nor straightforward task and that schools often struggle to support and retain students, leading to disparate and sometimes troubling outcomes for both individuals and society (Fry, 2005; Short & Boyson, 2012; Suárez-Orozco et al, 2010).

This project was born from several personal experiences and convictions. First is my own history of living and learning in other cultures and facing the intense challenges of languacultural learning, particularly as an adolescent or adult.  Second is a conviction that schools, among all social institutions, can be positive transformative agents for learners if the institution and educational actors are highly attuned and responsive to the lives of the learners. Largely as a result of my White, American male background, a majority of my own schooling and learning experiences have been affirming and engaging, but I recognize that this is not the case for many learners throughout the world, a situation that remains a deep need for redress.

These aspects led me to explore in this book the languacultural practices of an adolescent newcomer program community in the US Midwest. The inquiry includes descriptions of the program’s history and policies while following and recording the daily class activities of one cohort of first-year high school students across their academic year. The students collectively spoke varieties of Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Kibembe, French, Somali, Nepali, and Arabic in a program with many staff and teachers of similar linguistic backgrounds and proficiencies.  This approach provides a broad and relevant context while maintaining a focus on daily communicative interactions as the core of the learning experience – indeed, what is education other than one extended experience in language development?

The chapters of the book ultimately center the disparate experiences and outcomes of the students and underline that, while the program supports many learners well, the program’s English-centric ideologies, policies, and practices create obstacles to many students that, in some cases, are insurmountable and lead to intense frustration and even dropping out. This leads to a recommendation that the program reorient its priorities to understanding the students’ languacultural backgrounds, specifically their home language literacy, and designing learning experiences to fully embrace and support the students’ emergent or experienced bilingualism.

Taken as a whole, the book strives to present a vision for humanity and schools –  one that is positive and affirming of all peoples and reflective of the beauty that emerges from the diversity and complexity of the human experience. While this may remain unrealized in many contexts, it must remain, particularly for educators, our global aspiration and driving purpose. I am deeply thankful to the program’s many administrators, teachers, bilingual assistants, and students for allowing me to share a year in their lives and discuss their own perspectives about these issues. I hope that readers of the book will find meaning here, and any comments or questions can be communicated to:

Brian Seilstad (American College Casablanca, Morocco) bseilstad@aac.ac.ma or website.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Researching Language in Superdiverse Urban Contexts edited by Clare Mar-Molinero.

Family Language Plans: Why and How?

This month we published Bilingual Families: A Practical Language Planning Guide by Eowyn Crisfield. In this post the author explains what Family Language Planning is and how to go about it. 

When I first set out to write this book, many years ago, I wanted to share knowledge with parents about the key ingredients for successful bilingualism. My idea was to communicate the research base in order to support families’ decisions to raise their children as bi/multilinguals. Over the years of procrastinating instead of writing, I came to realise that most families already understand the why, what they need support with is the how.

Over the 15 years I’ve been working with families, I’ve had to do very little to support their conviction that bi/multilingualism is the right choice, and a lot more to help them design how bilingualism will happen for their children. This process is called Family Language Planning. Many, many bilingual families do not need a plan. People living in multilingual parts of the world may find that bilingualism happens naturally for their children, as it did for them. This is the case in India, and in many African countries, for example, where multilingualism is a way of life, and monolingualism is rare.

When parents are faced with raising their child with two or more languages without the support of community for each of those languages, things become trickier. We know that input – hearing a language spoken directly to them – is the key to child language development. This is true if you have one language or if you have four. If you have one language, you can be fairly sure that your child will hear enough of it to develop properly. The more languages you have in your family language ecology, the more you need to think about and plan to ensure that your child will have adequate input in each of those languages.

The process of Family Language Planning starts with goal-setting. Parents need to agree on the languages that will be a part of your plan. This will include languages spoken by the parents, the language of school, community, and any other languages that a child will need to communicate in their environment. Once goal-setting is done, then you can move on to planning. For each language you need to consider who will be using it with the child, in what contexts, and for what purposes. Thinking forward to schooling, there are decisions to be made about school choice, developing literacy, and future prospects. The final plan is a dynamic document, and can be changed as needed, when you move house, have a new family member, or need to change schools, for example.

My new vision of my book, seven years on from the first, is that it needs to help parents understand the research base on bilingualism in development first, but then also needs to provide support in the many decisions that parents will need to make on their bilingual journey with their children. I hope that you find it useful whether you are on the beginning of your journey, or further along.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this blog post interesting, you might also like Raising Multilingual Children by Julia Festman, Gregory J. Poarch and Jean-Marc Dewaele.

Is Dual Language Education Fulfilling its Purpose?

We recently published Bilingualism for All? edited by Nelson Flores, Amelia Tseng and Nicholas Subtirelu. In this post the editors explain the current issues surrounding dual language education in the US.

Bilingualism is many things to many people. In US schools, some students’ bilingualism is taken as a sign of achievement and an investment in a cosmopolitan future, while other students’ bilingualism is treated as unbridled potential but is more readily seen as a barrier. For example, in an essay titled “How to dismantle elite bilingualism”, Nelson Flores argues that a variety of policy decisions and other factors coalesce to create “classrooms where elite bilinguals are framed as gifted and racialized bilinguals are framed as in need of remediation”. In particular, white students from affluent backgrounds are often celebrated for studying languages like Spanish in school, while bilingual BIPOC students are framed as having “gaps” in their achievement and language abilities.

Both of these ways of seeing students’ bilingualism have contributed to the current boom of dual language programs being offered in elementary and middle schools in the United States. Dual language programs grew by a factor of 10 between 2001 and 2015. Proponents of dual language immersion paint a picture of a classroom environment where everyone wins: students classified as English language learners strengthen their English, and other students get the opportunity to develop proficiency in an additional language, such as Spanish, all while building a multicultural community. This vision of inclusive and progressive education offered by dual language immersion programs is tantalizing. But is it being fulfilled?

The question of whether dual language education is fulfilling its purpose in serving vulnerable populations to the betterment of all is a critical topic. As an example, the city where we live, Washington, D.C., is on the cutting edge of dual language education, with many historic and more recent public and charter schools following a dual-language model. However, schools tend to be overwhelmingly white, leading the Washington Post to ask in 2018, “Are dual-language programs in urban schools a sign of gentrification?” This article highlights the popularity of elite bilingualism and a neoliberal perspective of “language as resource” where bilingual education is a hot commodity for white, middle-class Americans, whose needs and norms then dominate the schools, while racialized bilingual students remain marginalized within the same schools, and they and other racialized children are not able to access the schools and benefit from the programs.

Our new book, Bilingualism for All?, brings together the most recent research on these topics and more, from scholars who use a range of approaches to address educational equity. Their work takes a raciolinguistic perspective to examine the reproduction of racial inequities in classrooms, at the school and community level, and at the level of policy. They examine topics ranging from peer interactions, teaching, parent relationships, and school and district policies. Languages covered include Spanish, Korean, Hebrew, and English; research sites range from California and Utah to New York City and beyond. The book raises new questions, such as bilingual education and equity for disabled students, and engages directly with issues of racism and privilege. With the help of an outstanding group of scholars, our aim is for the book to put its finger on the question of whether dual language education is currently for the betterment of all, or increasingly for a select population that already enjoys many social privileges. It is our hope that the book will resonate not only with scholars, but with educators who may see these themes in their own schools and classrooms, and with future teachers. We believe in bilingual education as a critical support for educational equity and achievement, and in dual language immersion as a powerful and potentially transformative model. However, in order to achieve its potential, dual language education must confront the same structural inequities that permeate our institutions and are at the forefront of national debate.

Amelia Tseng, American University
tseng@american.edu

Nicholas Subtirelu, Georgetown University
Nicholas.Subtirelu@georgetown.edu

For more information about this book please see our website.

The Perks and Perils of Peer Interaction: Creating a Classroom Where Linguistic and Social Aims Align

This month we published (Re)defining Success in Language Learning by Katie A. Bernstein. In this post the author explains the “double obligations” of peer interaction at school and how they can be turned into double opportunities.

Interaction is a critical part of learning a new language. It provides input in the new language, as well as chances to practice producing that language. For young language learners (emergent bilinguals), peer interaction is particularly important to this learning.

Peer interaction is also where young children construct their social worlds, navigating friendships and identities as students and playmates. For emergent bilingual students, peer interaction is therefore what Shoshana Blum-Kulka and colleagues (2004) called a “double opportunity space”: a place to learn language and a place to create social relationships.

But, as I explore in my new book, (Re)Defining Success in Language Learning, those double opportunities also mean double obligations. For young emergent bilinguals, it is impossible to only use peer interaction for language learning without simultaneously having to attend to the social consequences of those interactions.

The story of four-year-old Kritika, one of the students at the center of the book, illustrates the tensions this double obligation can produce. Kritika was a Nepali speaker learning English in a US prekindergarten. At the start of school, she quickly earned a classroom identity as a competent and authoritative playmate and student. (To find out exactly how she used all her communicative resources to do this, you’ll have to check out the book!) However, across the school year, Kritika made many fewer gains in vocabulary and syntax than some of her less socially and academically successful peers. I found that, for Kritika, the double obligation of peer interaction produced a double bind: Maintaining a social identity as a competent student and playmate was, as Philp and Duchesne (2008) put it, “at cross purposes” with taking the kinds of linguistic risks in interaction that support language learning.

Other researchers have also noticed this double-obligation at work. Rymes and Pash (2001) noted it for a first grader in their study, Rene, who was from Costa Rica and learning English in a US school. When Rene arrived in the school, he carefully mimicked his peers’ actions to establish a social identity as a competent student. But Rene then avoided wrestling productively with content or tricky language, so as not to “blow his cover”. Cekaite (2017) noticed a similar pattern with seven-year-old, Nok, a Thai speaker learning Swedish in school in Sweden. Nok was willing to take language risks with teachers but tried to stick to language she was confident using when talking with classmates. This strategy helped her look competent, but it also meant missing out on language learning.

What role do teachers play in creating this double bind? While teachers aren’t the only socializing force in classrooms, they are powerful shapers of the status quo. In Kritika’s classroom, her teachers often made comments connecting English to other social skills. For instance, one day, when a young emergent bilingual student named Maiya grabbed a toy from an English speaker, the teacher explained to the toy-snatching victim: ‘Maiya doesn’t speak English too good yet, so we’re gonna help her. Say, “Here, let’s share.”’ While the teacher likely meant to help the English speaker build patience and empathy for his peer, her comment also served to equate language learning with struggling socially.

So, how can teachers create classrooms where struggling with language learning doesn’t equal social and academic struggle, but is considered productive and positive?

Two ways to start:

1) Elevate the status of language learning and multilingualism: Talk about how special it is that emergent bilingual students are on their way to knowing two (or more) languages. Ask them to teach some of their languages to the class. Validate and praise students for taking linguistic risks – both emergent bilingual students and students who try out what their emergent bilingual peers are teaching the class.

2) Model productive language struggle: Work on learning the languages of the students in your class. If you already know the home language of most of your students (say, Spanish), work on learning other languages (Maya, Mam, Arabic, Somali). Model legitimate not-knowing. Model being OK with discomfort. Ask students for help. Make public mistakes and be publicly proud when those mistakes lead to learning.

It is within teachers’ power to create a classroom where peer interaction is truly a double opportunity and linguistic and social aims aren’t “at cross purposes.” Creating such a space is one key piece of supporting emergent bilingual students’ learning.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice by Roma Chumak-Horbatsch.

How to Teach Adult Second Language Learners with Limited Literacy

This month we published Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education edited by Joy Kreeft Peyton and Martha Young-Scholten.

Adult education for learners of a new language has always been an extremely diverse sector, with classes taught in different contexts, from universities and community/further education colleges to community and faith-based organizations. Adults also have many different life situations along with varying goals, aspirations, and needs. Most diverse are adult immigrants with respect to their home language as well as educational background and literacy skills. Their diversity presents challenges for teacher training and professional development, challenges which are greatest for full-time teachers as well as part-time teachers and volunteer tutors who work with adults with limited formal education and literacy.

A practitioner survey was conducted by the 2010-2018 EU-Speak Project. Results revealed that limited opportunities exist in most countries for dedicated training or professional development to impart the knowledge and develop the skills needed for effective work with these learners, and it was on this basis that EU-Speak designed six online modules in five languages. These modules continue to be offered by a post-EU-Speak project team and are self-standing and independent of the volume emerging from the project, Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education, which provides readers with more in-depth coverage of module topics, particularly in terms of relevant research. Readers of the volume will discover that there is a dearth of research on these immigrant adults’ language acquisition and, to a somewhat lesser extent, their literacy development. An expectation of the editors and chapter authors is that the volume will inspire readers to contribute to this research base. Accordingly, the online modules facilitate contact with chapter authors, who are also module designers and lead modules when they are delivered.

When all six modules were offered twice from 2015 to 2018, feedback from practitioners was as the EU-Speak team had hoped. Module participants reported that they felt “compelled to explore and research each of the topics” and “happy with the possibility of sharing the resources I found and that some people liked”. They found the content that addresses “the phonological components of language and the books for pleasure reading” especially useful. And they noted they feel much better prepared for their work and have more confidence and more tools.

The project ended in August 2018 and, since then, the EU-Speak team has continued to deliver modules. Most recently (winter 2019), the team delivered ‘Acquisition and Assessment of Morphosyntax,’ adding a sixth language, Italian. Egle Mocciaro, who recently completed her PhD on the Italian morphosyntax of immigrants with limited literacy, helped lead the module with chapter authors and module designers Martha Young-Scholten and Rola Naeb. From May to July 2020, ‘Reading in a LESLLA Context’ is being delivered, led by chapter author and module designer Marcin Sosinski, assisted by Enas Filimban (whose recent PhD addresses immigrant adults’ early reading development in English) and Martha Young-Scholten. Fall 2020 will see ‘Bilingualism and Multilingualism,’ led by chapter author and module designer Belma Haznedar; and in winter 2021, ‘Vocabulary Acquisition’ will be offered, led by chapter author and designer Andreas Rohde with his team in Cologne.

Larry Condelli says about the book, “While there is voluminous research on how children learn to read in their native language, [research on] the learning process for adult second language learners with limited literacy is sparse. [… ] Those who work with adult migrants, to improve their literacy and language skills and integrate them in their new countries, need research-based knowledge to understand how to teach these learners and help them improve their lives. The chapters of this book provide current and insightful research on the reading development process for adult migrants with limited literacy. Each chapter brings to light new research and unique insights into the reading process and fills a void in previously unexamined areas for migrant adults with unique characteristics.”

Martha Young-Scholten, Newcastle University, martha.young-scholten@newcastle.ac.uk

Joy Kreeft Peyton, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC, joy@peytons.us

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Educating Refugee-background Students edited by Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly and Mary Jane Curry.

“Where a Second Language is Practiced, Bilingualism Soars”

We recently published An Anthology of Bilingual Child Phonology edited by Elena Babatsouli and Martin J. Ball. In this post the editors explain the background to the book.

In 2003, David Crystal reported that ‘the new millennium would see over 1,000 million people learning English’. Such an increasing trend is still corroborated today by findings of the British Council (2020) showing that the ratio of second (L2) to first language (L1) speakers of English is 4:1. Though these numbers only involve English as one of the languages in bilingualism, one could venture to interpret them to also represent a ‘bilinguals-to-monolinguals ratio’. Given that there are about 7,000 living languages in today’s world (Babatsouli, 2019), several of them spoken as L2s, we would like to encourage the reader to do the arbitrary math and surmise the number of bilinguals in the world.

To our knowledge, there are no conclusive statistics on the number of bilingual speakers in the world, let alone the number of children exposed to more languages than one. The main reason for this is that bilinguals are like chameleons, i.e. as different as the linguistic and cultural contexts in which they may be found; this makes a scientifically reliable measurement of their sum complicated. The point one needs to take home is: “where an L2 is practiced, bilingualism soars”.

Though still a neonate in the history of linguistic research, there has been in the past forty years an ongoing increase in the study of bilingualism, which is currently experiencing an unprecedented boom. This is evident in the multitude of research publications and the continuing establishment of new journals that publish such research, like the Journal of Monolingual and Bilingual Speech.

With such background as its milieu, we are proud to be introducing An Anthology of Bilingual Child Phonology that itself radiates with youth, research, and bilingualism. Our edited volume is a compilation of original research articles that focus on bilingual child phonological development during normal or impaired practice; the developmental path of language in childhood has also been referred to as protolanguage (Babatsouli & Ingram, 2018). An anthology of this type was actually missing in the published book literature, in spite of the plethora of individual studies published in the field.

Like the two-colour flower (anthos in Greek) arrangements (-logy) of its front cover, this manuscript is on the acquisition of phonology in two languages during childhood. The book has achieved its aim to enhance research in less represented languages/dialect combinations and contexts of use in child bilingualism, and we hope that this project will constitute a first step towards more publications of this type.

This collaboration has sprung from the realization of the need for such a volume, the editors’ shared study and research interests, the love for book projects, and as a way to extend previous collaboration. We are grateful to all: participating children and parents, authors, reviewers, commentators, the book series editors, and Multilingual Matters, who contributed their efforts, expertise and goodwill, and have enthusiastically supported this endeavour.

Elena Babatsouli, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

elena.babatsouli@louisiana.edu

Martin J. Ball, Bangor University

m.j.ball@bangor.ac.uk

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like On Under-reported Monolingual Child Phonology edited by Elena Babatsouli.

Exciting New Multilingual Matters Titles for 2020

We can’t believe the first month of 2020 is almost over! It seems like only yesterday we were decorating the office and singing along to our Christmas playlist. However, if January has seemed like a very long month to you, we have plenty of exciting new titles coming up to fend off the winter blues. Here’s a selection of what we’ve got in store for you this spring…

Global TESOL for the 21st Century by Heath Rose, Mona Syrbe, Anuchaya Montakantiwong and Natsuno Funada

This book explores the impact of the spread of English on language teaching and learning. It provides a framework for change in the way English is taught to better reflect global realities and to embrace current research. The book is essential reading for postgraduate researchers, teachers and teacher trainers in TESOL.

Speaking Spanish in the US by Janet M. Fuller and Jennifer Leeman

This book introduces readers to basic concepts of sociolinguistics with a focus on Spanish in the US. The coverage goes beyond linguistics to examine the history and politics of Spanish in the US, the relationship of language to Latinx identities, and how language ideologies and policies reflect and shape societal views of Spanish and its speakers.

Teaching Adult Immigrants with Limited Formal Education edited by Joy Kreeft Peyton and Martha Young-Scholten

This book aims to empower teachers working with adult migrants who have had little or no prior formal schooling, and give them the information and skills that they need to reach the highest possible levels of literacy in their new languages.

Essays on Conference Interpreting by James Nolan

This book, drawing on the author’s 30-year career, seeks to define what constitutes good interpreting and how to develop the skills and abilities that are conducive to it. It places interpretation in its historical context and examines the uses and limitations of modern technology for interpreting.

 

The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education edited by Joel Austin Windle, Dánie de Jesus and Lesley Bartlett

This book contributes new perspectives from the Global South on the ways in which linguistic and discursive boundaries shape inequalities in educational contexts, ranging from Amazonian missions to Mongolian universities, using critical ethnographic and sociolinguistic analyses.

The Emotional Rollercoaster of Language Teaching edited by Christina Gkonou, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Jim King

This book focuses on the emotional complexity of language teaching and how the diverse emotions that teachers experience are shaped and function. The book covers a range of emotion-related topics on both positive and negative emotions, including emotional labour, burnout, emotion regulation, resilience, emotional intelligence and wellbeing.

 

Seen something you like? All these titles are available to pre-order on our website and you can get 50% off this month when you enter the code JANSALE at the checkout!

The 1963 Coral Way Bilingual Program: Looking to the Past and Moving into the Future

This month we published The Coral Way Bilingual Program by Maria R. Coady. In this post the author explains how the book came together.

Among bilingual educators in the US, the name “Coral Way” is a virtual household word. Whenever scholars think about the start of dual language programs, they accurately cite the Coral Way School and its contributions to the field. Yet few know the real stories, people, and energy that went into opening the country’s first publicly funded dual language program – referred to in 1963 simply as “the bilingual program.” This book changes that.

In 2017, I began to read and revisit the early work by Dr. Richard Ruiz and Bess de Farber at the University of Arizona, who collected archival data and oral histories from former teachers, students, and “Cuban Aides” at Coral Way Elementary. An under-examined archive was housed there, but few in our field knew about it.

Coral Way School in 1963

Next I dug deep into archives that hadn’t yet been examined. I unearthed the sole dissertation on Coral Way students from 1968 by Dr. Mabel Richardson. I examined memos, notes, reports and grant applications archived in New York at the Rockefeller Dimes Archive Center on the Ford Foundation. I collected new oral histories from Coral Way teachers and students who participated in the program between 1961 and 1968. The story of Coral Way came more clearly into focus.

The journey I undertook led me across the US and Europe, to newspapers and obituaries, and to academic journals from the 1960s to today. I was astonished that the voices of our antecedents – our bilingual educator roots – remained virtually absent from current conversations, accomplishments, and challenges in bilingual education.

My goal in writing The Coral Way Bilingual Program was not only to document a legacy but, more importantly, to carry the stories of our past into the present and future. I hope this book is a start to connecting these places in time and to advancing our knowledge on behalf of bilingual and multilingual students and families.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Profiles of Dual Language Education in the 21st Century edited by M. Beatriz Arias and Molly Fee.

Language Management in European Education Systems

We recently published Multilingualism in European Language Education edited by Cecilio Lapresta-Rey and Ángel Huguet. In this post Cecilio reflects on the inspiration behind the book.

I remember very clearly the day I met professor Ángel Huguet in a small town near Lleida (Catalonia – Spain). After coffee and an intense conversation, I joined his research group, venturing in the study of bilingual education models and multilingual management in different Spanish territories.

That coffee talk was followed by many others, but also led to an ongoing process of branching out to other contexts, thanks to research stays abroad, and hosting researchers from many regions of Europe and the rest of the world.

This was the background that pushed us to conduct a symposium titled “Managing Multilingualism in European Schools”, which brought up some questions that may seem basic yet are so important and complex to answer, such as ‘What are the differences and similarities in language management in Andorra, Asturias, the Basque Country, Catalonia, England, Finland, France, Latvia, The Netherlands and Romania?’ and ‘What are the historical, political, sociolinguistic and legislative reasons behind them?

The success of this meeting gave us the encouragement to continue further, aware that this topic was relevant enough to extend the information to many more people.

Therefore, we have put together this volume Multilingualism in European Language Education. In its chapters, renowned experts tackle language management in the educational systems of several European regions. Furthermore, historical, political, sociolinguistic and legislative factors are included for a comprehensive understanding.

Consequently, this book combines an in-depth analysis of each territory with a broader general overview of the whole, resulting in an excellent resource for anyone interested in the topic, and highly useful for professionals in the scientific, educational and linguistic domains.

That, at least, is my wish.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Bilingual and Multilingual Education in the 21st Century edited by Christian Abello-Contesse, Paul M. Chandler, María Dolores López-Jiménez and Rubén Chacón-Beltrán.

Mother Tongue – The Most Beautiful Gift We Have

Today is International Mother Language Day. To celebrate it, we have a blog post from one of the editors of our book, New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education, Boglárka Straszer. In this post she reflects on the importance of our mother tongues.

Many years ago, I took the bus every morning to my office at the university in my home town Uppsala. One sunny spring morning I noticed unusual graffiti on the ground in front of my feet at the bus stop. It was a mysterious statement in Swedish: “Jag gav den orden” – “I gave words to it”. I was mesmerized. After that day, I found myself studying this graffiti on the concrete every morning for a long time, enormously fascinated. My thoughts always seemed to roam wildly when I stood there at the bus stop waiting for my bus. What did the scribbler mean? What was he/she thinking? What were the words? A linguistic act was suggested; and it was something that made me reflect on the power of words and language, the strength of this short sentence in front of my feet in this public space. A little graffiti that we can interpret in many ways. Words we give to each other, words we get and take from each other, and words we use are significant. They transform people into thinking and communicating beings.

Language deserves attention and especially today on International Mother Language Day.

30 years ago I got the opportunity to learn Finnish. In this picture I am with my host and good friend Ilpo in Riihimäki, Finland, in July 1992 at the end of my year as Rotary Exchange Student.

Many writers have tried to describe mother tongue with beautiful words and emotional expressions. Therefore, there is no point for me to try to describe mother tongue more exquisitely. Instead, I will simply allow myself to state that for me, the mother tongue is intimate – one of the most beautiful gifts an individual can have, and also the most important tool for communication and the way to the soul. Our mother tongues and languages are our treasures that no one can take away from us, as long as we care about and use them. But, is the mother tongue really the most important tool for communication and the most important key to the soul for everyone and in every circumstance?

I think that there is no one truth about languages and there is no single way to define mother tongue, although in my own case it is quite simple to argue that I have Hungarian as my mother tongue. Hungarian was the only language that my family used during my childhood and it was the only language that everybody used in my surroundings. It was also the majority language in Hungary, even though some other languages were visible in various contexts in Hungarian society.

Today, however, I can and want to add that happily enough I have two other named languages with me in my everyday life as well as in my heart. These two languages, my first second language Finnish and my second second language Swedish, which I learned later on in my life, are as equally close to my mind and heart as my Hungarian. I love them each just as much and they are equally important for me for to be able to express all my thoughts and all my feelings. In some situations it can be easier to choose and use one of my languages. Sometimes I benefit more from using one, while in other situations I benefit more from another one. And this is the joy with multilingualism! Also, these three languages – Hungarian, Finnish and Swedish – are my children’s first languages, which they have been socialized in since birth. I hope with all my heart that they feel that all three languages are their own mother tongue.

Most of the people around the world use more than one named language in their everyday life and many of them have more than one mother tongue, making them all the richer. In my research, I have met, among others, many second generation Hungarians in Finland and Sweden, people who were born and grew up in another country and in another linguistic environment than their parents did. I also have friends with Sámi origin, who speak or have connections with South, North or another Sámi language. All these people have varied attitudes towards languages, defining mother tongue not only as a language they know best in all kinds of situations and not either as the language of their childhood. Instead, many of them argue that Sámi is their mother tongue, regardless if only their parents or grandparents used it and they themselves do not have skills in the language at all. They do so because of strong emotional ties to the language and the associated culture. Their relationships to their parents, relatives and roots play an important role.

Today Boglárka has a multilingual repertoire and is Assistant Professor in Swedish as a Second Language at Dalarna University in Sweden

Roots, however, are not always the most crucial aspect when you define mother tongue, as every individual who has some kind of connection to one or more languages has the right to determine what to call that language or these languages. For example, some years ago I carried out a study where I interviewed elderly Hungarians who had moved to Finland or Sweden as young adults more than 40 years ago. Some of them have a purist view of language and have clear opinions on mother tongue, such as “the mother tongue is the language you are born with” or “the language you use without any obstacles in all domains”. However, these people could also contradict themselves and say that Finnish or Swedish was already or “almost” like their mother tongue – despite the fact that they had not learned these languages since birth nor did they use these languages in every situation. Many of these people do not draw boundaries between their languages. Rather, their languages are natural parts of their life and they use them unhindered in different situations and in different contexts. All of their languages are integrated in their repertoire.

I share the same feelings with them. I want to emphasise that it is wonderful to celebrate mother tongues and every mother tongue today, delighting in the fact that we all have right to determine which languages we want to celebrate as our own mother tongues. I personally do not want to only celebrate my Hungarian, but also my Finnish and my Swedish, too.

Finally, these words are for my beloved, old, and always wise close friend in Finland, who unfortunately does not have much time left to share with us in this life. This is for you who opened a way for me to find new linguistic and cultural spaces and gave me many wonderful years to speak about languages and enjoy the bilingual and, nowadays, multilingual lifestyle. With you, I started to understand the meaning with my mother tongue. And with you, I learned to love both Hungarian and Finnish deep in my heart. With more languages than one mother tongue, I am stronger and have more self-confidence than ever before. This happiness with languages is the most valuable thing individuals can give to each other. Your work, my friend, to give me a new language gives pleasure and joy forever. Mitä lämpimimmät kiitokseni siitä! / Thank you with all my love!

Boglárka Straszer, Uppsala, Sweden