Investigating multilingualism in educational transitions

Presenters: Anja Maria Pesch; Hilde Sollid; Florian Hiss; Åse Mette Johansen; Ragni Vik Johnsen

Affiliation: Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway

Chosen format: Presentation


The itineraries of young multilinguals through the education system involve points of transition at which children, students or their parents choose to learn a new language, continue or discontinue learning it. Such transitions bring about changes in the lives of individuals as they encounter new linguistic environments affecting linguistic social identities, relations and roles of being a speaker. For many, they are pivotal points in the process of being, becoming or staying multilingual. Our presentation builds on the RCN-funded project Multilingualism in Transitions (2021-2025), which aims at investigating language choices in educational transitions — from early childhood education to entering working life —in a North Norwegian context, which involves both historical and new, transnational diversity.
As a point of departure, we present and scrutinize statistical data from Norwegian educational authorities identifying points at which students choose historical minority languages (Sámi and Kven) or transnational heritage languages as a school subject — or drop these subjects. In the case of the historical minority languages, educational institutions have a central function in language reclamation and revitalization. For young transnational migrants, the mandate of the educational system is to provide solid competence in the national majority language — and thereby access to working life as adults —
while at the same time valuing heritage languages. Both may encounter each other in the same classrooms. The overall statistical data reveals a trend towards Norwegian, where both the number of students choosing to continue formal education in Sámi and Kven and the number of students with transnational migrant background receiving tuition in their heritage language decrease. In our presentation we scrutinize the statistical data with respect to what numbers tell about language choices and the implementation of plurilingual education policies. We also take a critical perspective towards using numbers as measurement of language policies and choices. To address these questions, we apply theoretical concepts from critical sociolinguistics and nexus analysis as methodological approach. Viewing the statistical data as discourses in place on a macro scale, we identify traces of ideology on languages as countable entities.
Based on our findings, we argue for the need of qualitative approaches that provide a better understanding of the interplay between macro-level policies and individual, micro-level choices, including the interplay of different dimensions such as: individual experiences; expectations concerning one’s own future as a multilingual member of society; peer and family relations; interests; identities; and emotions.