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.

Multilingualism – An Asset or A Threat?

We recently published Multilingualism, (Im)mobilities and Spaces of Belonging edited by Kristine Horner and Jennifer Dailey-O’Cain. In this post the editors explain the themes covered in the book.

Like many others in our profession, the two of us are highly mobile people. Each of us changed countries in order to take up our current academic positions – Kristine commutes between the small European country of Luxembourg and the UK, and Jennie relocated from the United States to Canada – and of course our work as linguists is full of regular trips both of the “long-haul” and “short hop” variety.

Even as much of the world we live in considers this kind of mobility of privileged white professional academics as unremarkable, though, the mobility of other kinds of people – such as those from the global South – is often considered far more problematic. While some of us can claim the right to call ourselves “skilled worker immigrants” or even “expats” (a term that conjures up a sort of glamorous yet highly temporary “just passing through” lifestyle), others are dismissed by the societies we live in as “foreign workers” or “migrants”.

It is not all that different with multilingualism. Some forms of it are regarded as an asset or even as an essential skill (such as learning English or French in school and making use of those languages in an eventual work setting), while others can often be deemed problematic or even threatening to national unity. In the end, whether language is a resource, a barrier, or even a site of struggle will tend to come down to who you are, which languages you speak, and especially which contexts you are trying to use those languages in.

Our new book is about what mobility means in different circumstances, some of the different ways that language plays a role in those situations, and how complex social processes play a role in how these occasions and uses of language in those instances are perceived. In addition to our introduction, it includes nine previously unpublished research papers based on fieldwork in Africa, Asia, Australasia and Europe, and three insightful commentaries from experienced researchers that help tie the different papers together. Before publication, many of the contributing authors had the opportunity to discuss work in progress at workshops in Sheffield, England and Cape Town, South Africa. These meetings led to thought-provoking discussions that led us to reflect further on our positionality as scholars. This process was pivotal to the development of the book.

Divided into three thematic sections, the book explores the contestation of spaces and the notion of borders, examines the ways that heritage and authenticity are linked or challenged, and interrogates the intersections between mobility and hierarchies as well as the ways that language can be linked to issues of belonging. We believe that future research will benefit from connecting scholarship in sociolinguistics more closely to scholarship in migration studies and globalization studies. This book is a step along this pathway.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Migration Control edited by Markus Rheindorf and Ruth Wodak.

How Can We Represent Social Life in Ethnographic Writing?

This month we published Voices of a City Market: An Ethnography by Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese. In this post the authors explain how they put the book together.

Which differences are salient to people when they interact in contexts of social and linguistic diversity? How are these differences made resourceful in communication as people draw on their biographies, histories, education, language backgrounds, and economic capital? We examined these questions by conducting ethnographic observations in the Bull Ring market in Birmingham, as part of a four-year AHRC-funded research project, ‘Translation and Translanguaging. Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities’.

In the market we observed interactions between butchers and their customers as they haggled, bartered, argued, and joked. We wrote field notes, audio-recorded service interactions, interviewed market traders, took photographs, video-recorded, and collected messages on WeChat and WhatsApp. Communication in the market was characterized by translanguaging, an orientation to difference in which people were willing to make use of whatever resources were available to make themselves understood. Not that everything in the market hall was convivial – everyday sexism and casual racism also raised their heads.

The material we collected was carefully analysed. Transcripts and translations were pored over and annotated, audio-recordings listened to, video-recordings repeatedly watched, online and digital messages scrutinized, photographs examined, discussions held. Reports were authored, academic articles published. However, content is only half of the story. We were concerned that conventional academic writing may not adequately represent the complexity and richness of the discourse of the superdiverse market. So we stripped away analysis, explanation, and exegesis, leaving the voices of traders, shoppers, and researchers to speak for themselves. Rather than structure the ethnography around big ideas and grand theories, we represented the world of the market as an assemblage of ethnographic material, a polyphonic collage of everyday voices and social practices.

In the book the life of the market is framed by a discussion in which a cast of nine characters debates the representation of social life. Two butchers, a photographer, a professor, a dramaturg, an entrepreneur, a researcher, a documentary novelist, and a poet rehearse many of the debates that surfaced in our research team over more than four years. Referring to the artistic production of the world of the market, their voices are thoughtful, opinionated, generous, biased, indignant, and collaborative. The same characters return at the end of the book to reflect on the text.

The assemblage of ethnographic material creates a polyphony of beliefs, commitments, and ideologies. The form of the text, at once poetic and scientific, represents the fragmented yet orderly cacophony of the market. Artistic form, argues Bakhtin (1984: 43), does not shape already prepared and found content, “but rather permits content to be found and seen for the first time”. In the terms of photographer Dorothea Lange (1965), calling attention to the mundane, the everyday, the familiar, enables people to see, as if for the first time, what they have passed by a thousand times. We hope to achieve something of this sort in Voices of a City Market: An Ethnography.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Edited and translated by C. Emerson). Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Lange, D. (1965) Under the Trees. KQED for National Educational Television (NET).

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps.

Academia and Academic Writing Need Liberating

This month we published Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps, the first book in our new series Writing Without Borders. In this post Alison explains how the idea for the book came about.

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

― Lilla Watson

‘You have to write a book about this.’ ‘When are you writing the book about this?’ If I had a penny for every time someone said this I’d be a very rich woman.

The last 15 years of my life have been spent gradually shifting a life lived predominantly with those in the metaphorical global north, to being predominantly surrounded by those in the global south. My family is a family of refugees, not everyone, but a large number these days. My work as an academic, advocate, activist and artist all revolves around themes of refuge, and the stories of what it means to live as a refugee or to have had your homeland destroyed or taken away or threatened by violent or powerful, oppressive forces. This means there are people in my office and conversations in my phone and email and social media everyday, asking me for accompaniment, advice, support. Every hour there is an interruption, a need to react, regroup, pause, and precious little time to think.

But writing, of course, is thinking, and it can be freedom. And the more the pressure to write a book about my worklife/lifework has grown, the clearer it became to me that this could not and would not be within the usual genre of an academic monograph or journal articles. Raymond Williams says that ‘Form always has an active material base.’ It’s no accident that the long novel was born with the creation of the bourgeois and the first really partially leisured, educated class, with the time, and therefore means, to read. The new forms in this age of social media are the tweet, the blog, the image, the Facebook post. These ways of micro-journaling and sharing have stood in for me, for a while, as a proxy for carving out the time and energy to write that ‘academic monograph’. As the 2015 crisis of hospitality hit Europe and people from Syria, especially, began crossing the Mediterranean, the pressure to write grew considerably, and I found myself developing the form of the essay, the newspaper article, and poetry, out of the social journaling.

‘You should write a book.’

For a while I’ve been referring to these present times as structurally similar to times of war. My poetry anthology, published last year with Tawona Sitholé, The Warriors Who Do Not Fight, contains the refrain ‘It is war time’, over and over as a way of prompting the poet and reader to remember that things are not as they were. That whilst the bodies may not be piling up in our own country, they are piling up where people are seeking sanctuary, and on those journeys of flight. And if you live your life with people who have suffered war and oppression and have sought refuge in other lands, then the aftermath and enduring consequences bring the consequences of war and the necessities of peace-making actions very much to your own shore. And in war time the forms which have emerged in the past are essays, pamphlets, poetry, play scripts. I have found myself defending my lack of a monograph by saying ‘There are not times for the luxury of the long book. Those are for peace time work, when we can think without a gun to our heads.’

I eventually plucked up the courage to speak to Anna Roderick at Multilingual Matters about this feeling and the suggestion that a short book series might be formed. She was open, willing and pointed to many early career researchers wanting more subjective, autoethnographic and creative ways of writing which would reflect their subjective, autoethnographic and increasingly creative ways of undertaking research. To this I added the work I’d been doing, before it became the trend in academic discourse, on decolonising research. It’s hard to be serious about any form of indigenous studies without being serious about decolonising research.

What would decolonial forms look like, which also reflected the urgencies of the times and the material and affective realities of the relationships from which ‘fieldwork’ is born? Anna invited me to answer my own question and this short book is my answer.

Alison reading from her book at the SOLAS festival

The experience has been liberating. Liberating from the metricised yet utterly outdated forms of assessment which represent the Research Excellence Framework; liberating as it gives me something I know I can share with participants without it being so necessarily long winded and academic that only someone with a doctoral training can access the text; liberating as I could bring my creative writing and essay and journalistic modes to bear; liberating because I could still work theoretically and think with the page; liberating because I could cite beyond the frameworks of my training; liberating because I could walk right over borders set for me when I first began becoming a researcher.

The quotation from Lilla Watson is one I return to regularly to check in with myself and those I am working with, to guard against the assumptions of ‘helping’ and ‘needing to save’. And to guard against the perpetuation of too many colonial habits, though these cannot be entirely erased from a life lived under colonial, imperial assumptions. But in writing this piece for Multilingual Matters, who have graciously published my work for nearly 20 years, I realise that this is something they have done for me. Academia and academic writing needs liberating. And there are some very exciting manuscripts forthcoming on their list. Writing Without Borders as a series is a way, perhaps small and not the on the global scale we might expect, of mutually liberating work, by working together on something a bit different, but of its time.

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

 

Here’s an extract from the book, read by Alison:

For more information about this book please see our website. Alison will be donating all royalties earned from the book to the Scottish Refugee Council and Forest Peoples Programmes

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.

Building Bridges as We Go: Connecting Schools with Multilingual Families

This month we are publishing Connecting School and the Multilingual Home by Maria R. Coady. In this post the author explains how her own experiences provided the inspiration for the book.

I grew up navigating various ethnic and linguistic enclaves north of Boston, Massachusetts, where I was born. My grandparents’ families had emigrated from parts of Italy, and I fondly recall my great uncles and aunts speaking their local language and mixing English and Italian. I imagined what they thought while sitting under the cool shade of the apple trees while younger generations of American kids ran through the yard and played bocci. Family was central to our identity, and our identity was our culture, our history, and our language.

My sense of both family and language permeated every aspect of my own educational experience up through college: what I thought I could do, how I could do it, what I would study, and who I could become. One thing for sure was the message that I received from my family: being successful in school was paramount. I was the first generation to navigate access to college, so I learned the hard way (alone) to unravel the complexities surrounding educational programs, relationships, and even financial aid.

As my career matured from an early start in business into bilingual education, the same lens of access to education illuminated the barriers that other families—children, parents, and caregivers—faced. I could envision the bridges between the school and immigrant, multilingual families but remained dismayed by how infrequently I actually saw them built. What remained obvious to me was how many multilinguals have a similar experience—valuing education without having the knowledge of how to access it fully.

Rural multilingual family working in the horse farming industry, southeast United States

The inspiration for this book stems from my own experiences and 25 years of working with multilingual families in the northeast US, Colorado, and rural north central Florida. I have also had the experiences of working with international rural communities. I find that rural, multilingual families’ strengths go largely unnoticed, and are definitely not tapped into as a resource. Their many languages and literacy practices differ from those assumed by educators, leaving families positioned as disinterested in their child’s education.

The Gómez family is one telling example. A family of five children, I recall the second youngest daughter wanting to participate in a 4 day, overnight field trip to Washington, DC—a very long distance from Florida. This annual 5th grade trip, organized by the school, required students to have cameras (back then, disposable cameras), a suitcase, spending money, and good walking shoes. Although the parents understood the importance of the trip to their daughter, they did not understand the process of completing the extensive field trip paperwork, which was provided in only English, nor the details and items needed for the trip. The father and mother worked overtime and sold personal items in order to pay for some of the trip itself. My students and I fundraised to ensure that the daughter had the shoes, camera, and suitcase needed, and while advocating for one family at a time is important, we need the tools to make more systemic changes in schools on behalf of multilingual families.

Our job is to build relational trust (Bryk & Schneider, 2002) with families, and as Michal Domínguez (2017) notes, hacer puentes al andar – building bridges as we go.  That is the spirit of this book, which is filled with concrete ways to support reflection, action, and to humanize our work as educators by connecting schools with multilingual families.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Narratives of Adult English Learners and Teachers by Clarena Larrotta.

Taiwan’s Gendered Language Learning Ideologies

This month we published Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital by Mark Fifer Seilhamer. In this post the author talks about the research that informed the book.

The title of my new book just out this month is Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital: Taiwanese Narratives of Struggle and Strategy, with ‘Gender’ prominently foregrounded as the first element of this title. But while ‘Neoliberalism’ and ‘Distinction through Linguistic Capital’ had been dominant themes since the very beginning of the manuscript’s preparation, the extent to which my focal participants’ (female) gender impacted their experiences is an issue that was addressed only fleetingly in the manuscript I originally submitted to Multilingual Matters back in 2016. This early version featured a fairly straightforward class-focused Bourdieusian analysis of my participants’ narrated experiences, seemingly (in retrospect) oblivious to the fact that gender does indeed play an outsized role in my participants’ stories, as well as in the dynamics of multilingualism in Taiwan more generally.

The centrality of gender to my participants’ experiences as language learners was pointed out by a reviewer, who asked what I made “of the fact that some students are quite successful at making friends with foreigners, getting free language practice, lining up Skype partners, having boyfriends to talk English with and to pay for trips abroad”. This reviewer went on to pose other questions that served to guide my radical overhaul of the manuscript: “Are young women considered ideal candidates for the sorts of international marketing/public relations/sales jobs many of the women get? How are ideologies of language acquisition gendered in Taiwan, and are these women seen as compromised in terms of their relationships and friendships with foreigners?”

Ideologies of language acquisition are indeed highly gendered in Taiwan, with the idea that males are simply no good at learning languages regarded by many as a commonsensical notion. This common belief results, of course, in language study beyond minimum requirements being almost exclusively the preserve of females. At the start of this research, I did not set out to include only female participants. In the junior college program specializing in languages that I was recruiting participants from, male students were, however, very much in the minority and my pool of possible participants consisted almost entirely of female students. Because it is commonly believed that female brains are specifically wired for learning languages, young women are encouraged to study foreign languages and pursue careers in international marketing, public relations, and interpreting – the sorts of occupations that my participants did, in fact, wind up in. My participants, in their interviews, had indeed addressed Taiwan’s gendered language learning ideologies and the notion of gendered language work, as well as positioning by others due to their relationships with foreigners. In my revisions, the focus on gender and the intersectional questioning that this focus necessitated really did change the fundamental character of the book.

In what now seems to be a glaring omission, I neglected to include an ‘Acknowledgements’ page for this book. This can be attributed to the extreme sense of relief I felt when the editors allowed me to go over the stipulated word limit with my final revised manuscript. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure they would have had no problem with my adding an ‘Acknowledgements’ page, but at the time, I was reluctant to request any more words for anything. I will take this opportunity now then to acknowledge the assistance and contributions of numerous individuals: my study’s participants, without whom the research and book would not have been at all possible; my doctoral thesis supervisors, Lionel Wee, Joseph Sung-Yul Park, and Mie Hiramoto; and everyone at Multilingual Matters, who were all incredibly patient with me, granting me extension after extension as I struggled to address reviewer concerns. And I am also immensely grateful to the anonymous reviewer who alerted me to the inadequacies of the earlier version of my manuscript – before gender was prominently brought to the fore.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language, Education and Neoliberalism edited by Mi-Cha Flubacher and Alfonso Del Percio.

Multilingualism As Lived Through Visual Means

This month we published Visualising Multilingual Lives edited by Paula Kalaja and Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer. In this post the editors explain how they used visual methodologies to examine multilinguals’ emotions and their expression of those emotions.

It is only gradually being acknowledged that multilinguals, or people who use more than one language, form the majority of people in the world, not monolinguals. However, multilinguals find themselves in different contexts and for different reasons, and their knowledge of the languages varies. In addition, becoming and being multilingual are quite heterogeneous and individual achievements are experienced very differently by subjects, depending on their contexts and life trajectories.

There are two approaches to multilinguals. The objective approach attempts to figure out the mechanisms inside a multilingual’s mind and trace developments in his or her knowledge of any language (and possible stages in the process) in terms of mastery of a linguistic system or in terms of an ability to communicate or interact with others in the language. In contrast, the subjective approach attempts to find out how a multilingual feels about becoming or being multilingual, or what the different languages and their use mean to him or her personally. In other words, the second approach focuses on multilinguals and their lives as subjectively experienced or as lived, including positive and negative emotions, attitudes, beliefs, visions and identities.

Traditional methodologies (such as questionnaires, interviews and observation) may not be the most suitable options when tackling issues like this, as they may suffer from a “linguistic bias” in their attempts to describe or explain emotions, which are not always easy to put into words. So, to address these sensitive issues, we decided to make use of visual methodologies of various kinds, including drawings and photographs, as mediators between emotions and their expression by multilinguals. However, as a rule, visual data were complemented with other types of data, and the starting points and ways of analysing the pools of data for form and/or content vary from one study to another. But even if visual materials are not always used as the only pool of data, they bring to the foreground aspects that individuals choose to visually represent and comment on. So, using visual methodologies may also be about what is not visible, not represented or not valued by the multilingual subject.

As editors of Visualising Multilingual Lives, we invite the readers to learn about visual narratives accounted by multilinguals in different parts of the world, printed in full color. The different chapters of the book offer coherent, original and individualized insights into multilingualism as experienced in three domains: the multilingual self, the multilingual learner and multilingual teacher education. With a preface by Claire Kramsch, the volume acknowledges the potential of arts-based methodologies in grasping the singularities of multilinguals and their linguistic biographies.

Paula Kalaja paula.kalaja@jyu.fi
Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer silvia.melo-pfeifer@uni-hamburg.de

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.

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

What’s It Like Growing Up With Three Languages?

Last month we had a work experience student with us from Germany. Loïc grew up speaking three languages (his father is one of our authors and you can read about his multilingual journey in our book Raising Multilingual Children), so we wanted to ask him about his experience of being multilingual.

How many languages do you speak?

Loïc (left) and Laura on a tour of our distributor’s warehouse with our account manager, Matt

I would say that I fluently speak three languages: German, Dutch and English.

Did you grow up learning all those or did you learn any later in life?

The first language I learnt was Dutch, as my mom is a Dutch native speaker. Shortly after that, through my father speaking English with me, I became proficient in English as well. Then lastly by living in a German environment, going to German kindergarten and having mostly German friends, German was the third language I learnt.

Do you think of any one language as your ‘mother tongue’ or do you count them all?

I would count all of them as my ‘mother tongue’ even though I speak some better than others and also feel more comfortable depending on the language I speak.

Do you feel your personality changes depending on the language you’re speaking?

I personally can only refer to me feeling most comfortable whilst speaking English. From my friends and family I have heard that I get annoyed a lot faster, and on account of that, curse a lot more, when I speak German.

Which language do you find most difficult and why?

It is most difficult for me to speak Dutch, because I don’t often have the opportunity to speak it. My mom and I stopped speaking Dutch to each other about five years ago as I usually just responded in German. The reason for that I still haven`t figured out (ultimate act of teenage defiance?) I must say that I do regret that, but if I stay with my Dutch family for more than 3 days I usually get the hang of it again.

Which is your favourite language to speak and why?

Loïc on a visit to Sarah’s new house in Dawlish with Tommi and Laura

My favourite language to speak depends a lot on who I’m talking to – with my friends I feel the best speaking German, with my family English or Dutch (depending on what they would rather speak). Overall I must say though that English is my favourite language and usually that is the language I go with when I am emotional.

You live in Germany – how do you maintain your other languages?

I do live in Germany, yes. Maintaining my German is understandably easy and my English also mainly easy, as I practice in school, with foreign friends, online, with media and with my father most of all. My Dutch on the other hand is somewhat more difficult to maintain, but I recently starting speaking more Dutch with my mom and some of my Dutch friends. Mainly I practice my Dutch though when I am in the Netherlands or in Belgium.

What are the advantages of being multilingual?

The range of people I can speak to is a lot bigger. In general, all the benefits you gain from speaking other languages, just that I didn’t have to undergo the time-consuming process of learning a different language… which is supremely helpful. I think every person who has tried to learn a language knows the frustration of not being able to express yourself correctly in that language, because of a lack of proficiency. So I am very happy and lucky that my parents brought me up to be trilingual.

There are also some disadvantages of being multilingual. These disadvantages for me would be that I often switch words in languages or sometimes forget to address a person in the correct language. Generally speaking though I think the cons are strongly outweighed by the pros.

 

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