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Multilingual Theories and Practices – International conference in Corfu

Vastaantulo's doctoral students Tatsiana Shestunova and Salla-Maaria Suuriniemi attended an international conference in Corfu in May 2019.

The second international conference on multilingual theories and practices was held at Ionian University in Corfu, Greece. The speakers discussed differentaspects of the linguistic and sociolinguistic competences and practices of bi-/multilingual speakers and translanguaging. The invited key speakers were Professor Elizabeth Lanza (University of Oslo, Norway), Associate Professor Nicos Sifakis (Hellenic Open University, Greece) & Professor Li Wei (University College London, United Kingdom).

The first plenary presentation was held by Elizabeth Lanza. The focus of her presentation titled “Transnationalism and multilingualism: identity” was on bilingual and multilingual families and problems they came across. Her key message was that parents should talk to their kids in their native language. Besides she introduced some resources which could be helpful for parents raising multilingual children.

The second plenary presentation was held by Nicos Sifakis. During his presentation, he discussed the challenges and opportunities for multilingual education offered by English as a global lingua franca (ELF). The term ELF refers to the function of English as a contact language in communications involving mainly non-native users from various multilingual settings, to which each user brings a variety of English that he or she is most familiar with and uses various strategies in order to communicate efficiently. The point of Sifakis’ presentation was to underline the fact that English should be taught at schools as a global lingua franca, not as a foreign language.

The third plenary presentation was held by Li Wei on translanguaging. His presentation was especially interesting in the light of debates on translanguaging vs. code switching. However, according to Li Wei, these concepts do not exclude each other. They rather represent alternative approaches, and translanguaging never intended to replace code switching. While translanguaging explains what it means (codes, named languages, languages vs. other semiotic cues), code switching justifies what it means. Translanguaging represents an analytic approach through which we can understand communicative practices of people with multiple named languages. It refers to the speaker’s use of resources across the boundaries of languages. Besides, translanguaging is not about the use of the first language in teaching the second language or a foreign language.

During the conference, several interesting conference papers and posters were presented by researchers from all over the world; Poland, Israel, Canada, Russia, Algeria, India, Japan, South Africa etc.

Preparatory teacher's experiences and language awareness

The focus of Shestunova’s presentation was on the preliminary results of the study of the challenges faced by preparatory education teachers in Finland. She presented the issues related to teachers’ attitudes to multilingualism, their students’ first languages and the use of languages in the classroom. The key points concluded that in general Finnish teachers from preparatory education held a positive attitude to multilingualism. They understand the importance of their students’ first languages and their meaning in developing, for example, abstract concepts. However, when it comes to practice, teachers have numerous restrictions towards the use of students’ first languages in the classroom and in some cases do not understand how to use L1 as a valuable resource to support the development of the second language (Finnish in this case).

The topic of Suuriniemi’s presentation was language awareness and language ideologies in the school-specific curriculum texts of comprehensive schools in Helsinki. In her presentation, she discussed the theory of critical discourse analysis and the study of language ideologies and presented the results of her analysis. The conclusion was that although the school curricula have been designed at the process of reforming the Finnish national core curriculum for basic education and should be aligned with it, they do not always support multilingual ideologies, but instead reflect monolingual outlook. Moreover, the analysis of the school-specific curricula shows that students’ multilingualism is often seen as weakness, not as an asset.