Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Multilingual Policies and Multilingual Education in the Nordic Countries

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Multilingual Policies and Multilingual Education in the Nordic Countries

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article presents some aspects of multilingualism and multilingual education in the Nordic countries, drawing upon experiences from the project Network for Researchers of Multilingualism and Multilingual Education, RoMME (2011-2013), where Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden are represented. The aim is to briefly present and discuss some similar and differing trends within the field of multilingualism and multilingual education in the Nordic countries, taking into account both outside and inside perspectives. On the basis of the RoMME-experiences a tentative holistic cross-professional framework of reference for understanding and researching multilingual education policies and individual language learning paths is suggested and discussed.

Keywords: Multilingualism, Multilingual education, Holistic framework of reference, Nordic countries, Minority languages

Background

The article draws upon experiences from the project Network for Researchers of Multilingualism and Multilingual Education, RoMME (2011-2013), where Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden are represented. Both documentary studies within the network and the network workshops are used as points of departure for the presentation and discussed in the light of previously published studies in relevant research fields. The object of the study, multilingualism and in particular, multilingual education, is mainly viewed through two differing perspectives, representing an outside (The Nordic countries as a homogenous entity) and an inside (differentiating patterns within the Nordic countries) perspective.

Defined in numbers of living languages, Europe, including the Nordic countries, fall short of being truly multilingual, since statistics report less than 300 living languages in Europe in comparison with a range of 1,060-2,300 languages in the other four continents (Ethnologue, 2013). Multilingualism as a common global phenomenon is also pointed out by e.g. Gorter (2006), who states that the number of languages spoken around the world amounts to 5,000-7,000 depending on the definition of language, whereas there are only about 200 independent states. In other words, a large number of other languages are spoken in most countries in addition to those officially recognised. Finland, with two official languages, belongs to those few (fewer than 25 %, see Tucker 1999) nations, recognizing two official languages. There are, however, reasons for considering the Nordic countries to be relatively multilingual and multicultural, at least within a European context. As a societal and individual phenomenon, multilingualism and multiculturalism in the Nordic countries are by no means a recent development, but today we encounter a qualitatively different version of multilingualism. The numbers of immigrants are increasing, the languages and cultures present are no longer only indigenous and finally the new minority languages are not found in geographically limited enclaves. Hence, the awareness of the importance of well-planned linguistic and cultural enrichment strategies has increased. Though the trends are similar in all countries, language and integration policies, language learning practices and research on multilingualism and multilingual education have come to differ in focus to some extent in Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

It seems that some of the key notions in the field of multilingualism and multilingual communities, such as linguistic minorities and even the central concept of immigrant have received slightly different definitions in the Nordic countries. Therefore, we have applied a sociolinguistic view and define linguistic minorities and minority languages rather in terms of numbers of individuals at the local or national level irrespective of how recently they have become part of the national community. In the case of Norway, 0zerk (in this issue) has, however, made a distinction between national minorities, i.e. "groups with long-standing attachment to the country" and linguistic minorities that are representing all other linguistic individuals, i. …

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