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Multilingual Education in Sweden and beyond - A discussion on policy and practice with examples from an ethnographic study

Conference contribution
Authors Marie Carlson
Kerstin von Brömssen
Published in JustEd International Research Conference Promoting Justice through Education Helsinki 22-23 May 2018
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Language en
Keywords multilingual education, Sweden, policy, practice, ethnographic study
Subject categories Educational Sciences, Sociology, International Migration and Ethnic Relations


In contemporary Sweden and since the nineties, beside Swedish as the main language, about 200 languages are spoken, most of these migrant languages. There are also five official minority languages. This contribution will provide a short overview of the new multilingual Sweden and present some definitions from the linguistic landscape. Likewise, some examples from the current language policy will be presented as well as some general results from the educational context. Despite good intentions, in practice various “gaps” occur. Some theoretical reflections of this discrepancy will be discussed; among other things: “linguicism”, deficit ideologies and policy as a process of interpretation. Several methods – e.g. discourse analysis, interviews, policy analysis, ethnographic studies – can be used to study these discrepancies. The linguistic landscape in the Swedish context has been even more visible and challenged after the 2015 migration wave. In this contribution, also some empirical examples from a research project, “Mapping of the Newcomers' Reception and Educational Situation and their transition in the School system in Sweden” will be presented and discussed. The project, an ethnographic study, focusing newly arrived migrant students’ learning in secondary school in eight different schools and about 15 classes. A specific focus is on models of teaching Swedish as a second language. Five researchers are involved and the empirical data contains of observations and interviews with teachers, language support tutors, headmasters and administrative directors at the municipality level. The theoretical framework is grounded in an ecological system theory and philosophies of culturally responsive teaching. The analysis from the project shows various models of teaching Swedish as a second language and diverse models of inclusion for newly arrived students in ordinary classes. Some models use direct inclusion or indirect inclusion in ordinary classes. Other models are more flexible with various forms of language support. The schools are very differently organized with multifaceted practices of interpretation of language policies and teaching. The various organizational models are highly dependent of the interpretations of language policies by the leadership in the local municipality as well as at the local school. This in turn means that newly arrived students will meet different possibilities in being successful in learning the new language in school. Furthermore, the research area of multilingualism is often very absent in the educational practice, which is also related to what kind of teacher education the teachers once attended. Has for example multilingualism as a perspective been present in their teacher education? All together the research project and our general presentation underlines the need for further education for teachers in multilingualism in the new multilingual Sweden – and this goes also for all subjects as all teachers have to deal with language education.

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