Translanguaging: from a little acorn a mighty oak grows

26 May 2017

This month we published New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Jenny Rosén, Boglárka Straszer and Åsa Wedin. In this post the editors explain how the book came about and introduce us to the metaphor of the “translanguaging tree”.

Research on translanguaging has often been centred in superdiverse cities and urban spaces. Thus, Dalarna University in Falun, Sweden, may not have come to mind first when exploring new research in the dynamic field of translanguaging as theory and pedagogy ‒ until now! Dalarna University has proven to be the springboard for a collection of innovative international research on translanguaging. How did this happen?

Let us back up a bit! The four of us editors have all been teaching and researching language in education in the Swedish context for many years, focusing on both policy and practice. With approximately 20% of Sweden’s population comprised of immigrants and at least 140 languages spoken by pupils in the compulsory school system, language use in and out of educational contexts is a stimulating field. Our research led us naturally to the concept of translanguaging.

The Translanguaging conference at Dalarna University

Translanguaging offered a new way to explore language ideologies, policies, and processes. After a study visit by Åsa to Canada, where she spent time with Jim Cummins and Thornwood Primary School in Mississauga, the idea of a small workshop on translanguaging grew. While we first imagined that perhaps a dozen or so Swedish researchers would join us in Falun, we soon realized that the thirst for discussing translanguaging as a theoretical and pedagogical concept was great. That informal workshop developed into an international conference, “Translanguaging – practices, skills and pedagogy”, with more than 150 researchers from around 20 countries as well as numerous in-service teachers. Bryn Jones, in his presentation at the conference, aptly described the spread of translanguaging as a useful concept in education research with the metaphor “from a little acorn a mighty oak grows”.

The editors at a writing workshop

The metaphor of the acorn even describes the momentum which followed the conference in Falun. Inspired by the amazing research taking place in different contexts, we knew that a volume was needed to share this surge in the field. With a fantastic group of scholars from seven countries, the volume took shape in record time. For us editors, the period of time from April, 2015, to the present will always be remembered as a blur of texts to read, long editor meetings, contact with fantastic authors spread across the world, and appreciation of the great efforts made by everyone involved in the book. A highlight was a two-day writing workshop in the wintry countryside outside of Stockholm, where all the authors gathered for two days of peer-reviewing and mingling.

Many branches of the ever-growing ‘translanguaging tree’ are represented in our volume. Here are just a few:

  • agency
  • language ideology
  • language policy
  • social justice
  • translanguaging space
  • transliteracy
  • critical views on translanguaging
  • young learners to young adults
  • sign languages
  • national minority languages

Organizing a conference on translanguaging in the small town of Falun in Sweden highlights the fact that linguistic and cultural diversity is part of everyday lives in most places in the world. With the publication of this timely collection, we have made one contribution to tending the flourishing ‘translanguaging tree.’ We hope that the field will continue to thrive, and that future research will benefit from this first volume dedicated to new perspectives of translanguaging in education.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Translanguaging in Higher Education edited by Catherine M. Mazak and Kevin S. Carroll.


Multi-sited Language Policies in Finland, Sweden and Everywhere Else

27 November 2014

Earlier this month we published Language Policies in Finland and Sweden edited by Mia Halonen, Pasi Ihalainen and Taina Saarinen. Here, the editors of the book explain how the book came about.

“Calls for Latinization of Ukrainian alphabet on ‘civilizational grounds’ anger Russians”
“Are drugs the answer to language learning?”
“MPs divided on compulsory Swedish language education”

Recent news headlines from around the world show how we are constantly surrounded by language politics and policies. Often the news items in question have historical and spatial links to policy issues and discourses elsewhere or in another time – or to both.

Language Policies in Finland and SwedenOur observations on multi-sitedly linked language policies led us to work on the book Language policies in Finland and Sweden: Interdisciplinary and Multi-sited Comparisons. While our empirical cases are located in Finland and Sweden, similar debates are going on everywhere in the world. We saw examples of (potentially nationalistic) policy discourses in which concepts like “minority”, “official”, “main”, “domestic” and “foreign” were used to construct the political field and became sources for ideological constructions. “Language” turned out to be an even heavier political argument than we initially thought.

The comparisons between Finland and Sweden show for example that in spite of the shared long history of the two countries, the language political climate has developed in very different ways. In Finland, the present policy discourses still highlight a historically strong consensual ideal of state bilingualism, visible in the equal legislative status of Finnish and Swedish. At the same time, looking at educational settings, the Swedish language gets “defamiliarised”, i.e. constructed as a foreign, not a domestic, language.

In Sweden, in turn, the arguments advocating Swedish as the “main” language of the country are based on the ideal of the Swedish language enabling democratic participation in society. However, the support for Swedish has often also entailed losing possibilities to sustain heritage languages.

These kinds of frictions in language policies directed our focus to the apparent clashes between language “policies” and “practices” at different levels. These are often studied separately by either researchers interested in macro level politics and policy making, or researchers studying micro level use of language in interaction. We soon realised that observing the levels separately would not help us to understand their intertwined nature. Instead, we wanted not just to combine micro and macro analysis of the historical and the contemporary, but to see them as dialogical, feeding and construing each other.

This theoretical idea comes alive in the analyses of parliamentary discourses as a nexus of interrelated discourses, constructions of standard language ideals, embodied immigrant experiences of a lack of language, ethnic activism, and media discourses, among others. For us, the chapters opened a whole new world of a constantly changing sociolinguistic space, where just a minor change in a description of a status of a language or change in the amount (and status!) of a migrant group affects the whole field and the related political discourses. The separate cases emerged as stills of a film or details of a painting where everything has a crucial part in the entirety.

We hope the book helps you, too, in understanding language policies as historically and contemporarily intertwined, in other words, as multi-sited. We also strongly believe that the same strategy is applicable to any field of political discourse.

For further information about the book please see our website or contact the authors:
Mia Halonen, Researcher (language ideologies) mia.halonen@jyu.fi
Pasi Ihalainen, Professor of Comparative European History pasi.t.ihalainen@jyu.fi
Taina Saarinen, Senior Researcher (language education policies) taina.m.saarinen@jyu.fi


Update from the Language Cafés Project

18 December 2012
The Christmas Language Cafe

The Christmas Language Café

Although we’ve just announced the winner of our 2013 Multilingualism in the Community Award we haven’t forgotten our previous winners. We’ve just had an update from Mandy Bengts the organiser of the Language Cafés project (2012 winners) and she’s filled us in on what they’ve achieved this past year.

I have continued as organizer of the university’s cafés since our winning of the prize, for which I once again thank Multilingual Matters. Just last week, we held an event at the local library where we brought together international students, Swedish people and new arrivals to Sweden from countries as far apart as Nigeria and China, Iran and the USA. It was a Christmas café, where traditions and languages were shared, as well as some Swedish glögg (mulled wine) and saffransbullar (saffron buns), typical to a Swedish “jul” or Christmas, all financed by the prize money.

We have decided to add a “new” language to our language café menu each term, financed once again by the winning money. Last term and the one prior, we had cafés in Persian, hosted by a lady from Iran and attended by mainly Swedish people, which was very much our aim. Next term, I hope to add Thai as there are many people from Thailand in the local community, and what is more, Thailand as a holiday destination is extremely popular among Swedes. We have also added a few more items to our stock of café paraphernalia, such as flags and games.

So the idea is to use the money slowly and wisely and allow the café concept to grow alongside the concept of Multiculturalism in the Community.

For more information on the Language Cafés please see their website.


Winner of the 2012 Multilingualism in the Community Award

13 January 2012

We are delighted to announce that the winner of our 2012 Multilingualism in the Community Award is the Language Cafés project based in Dalarna, Sweden. Here, Mandy Bengts, coordinator of the Language Cafés, tells us a bit more about the project and how the prize money will help them to develop their scheme further.

Language Cafés in Action

Located in the heart of Sweden, Dalarna University (Högskolan Dalarna) may be quite small, but it also happens to be home to one of Sweden’s largest language faculties with 11 bustling and busy language departments, and an online Language Centre to its name.

With so much diversity, it is only natural that the university’s Language Cafés have come to be as popular as they are today. Every second Monday, anybody who wishes can come to these free cafés, where “How are yous?” and “Who are yous?” and “How do you say thats?” are shared in a number of languages, with a native-speaker host there to assist when conversation gets stuck and grammar bars the way.

Language Café outdoors

What we, the delighted winners of this year’s Multilingualism in the Community Award, noticed, however, is that although our cafés draw people from diverse backgrounds (and certainly not always just students),  there were still members of the community that were conspicuous by their absence: where were our Thai, our Somalian, our Turkish, our Iranian (among others) community members? These are cultural groups that are integral to contemporary Swedish society and that are as welcome to our language cafés as our current (predominantly Swedish) participants are. Our mission has now become to find a means of involving them too!

Our ideas didn’t stop there either…

We also wondered about Sign Language: it too should have a place at our language cafés… and what about pupils with special needs who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn a second language?

Now that we have won the wonderful amount of some 20 000 SEK, the doors of possibility have swung generously open.

Swedish Table

We want to use the money to be even more inclusive. All those kronor will allow us to organise more cafés at times and places that suit more people. We will visit organisations that work with newcomers to Sweden to learn about how we can provide them with this opportunity to share “Coffee with a Multicultural Flavour”. We want to give them the chance to get to know their Swedish neighbours in informal but planned language café get-togethers – a chance that will allow the “Swedish neighbours” to get to know them too. We would like to enrol student ambassadors (Education Students), who can spread the ethos of our language cafés to pupils with special needs. And of course multicultural events can only enrich these ideas, so why not organize events that are as meaningful to these many groups as “The Crayfish Party” is to Swedes?!

So yes, lots of ideas and lots of planning and lots of worthwhile work ahead. We at Dalarna University’s Language Centre would like to thank Multilingual Matters for providing us with this opportunity to develop and grow: tack så hemskt mycket!

Mandy Bengts, Coordinator of the Language Cafés at Dalarna University
Language Centre: http://du.se/languagecentre
Dalarna University: http://du.se


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