Language investments among young adults in transition from school to working life in Sweden

Charlotte Haglund

Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

WS161: Bilingual education recast in the wake of globalisation: researching the second/foreign language interface

Young adults come across a number of post-educational institutions and sites of activity, including employment agencies, preparation programs and potential employers, on their way into the labour market. In the transition process the individuals are subjected to processes of categorization, classification and selection (with respect for instance to ethnicity, social class and gender) and exclusionary boundaries are constructed and pressure towards homogeneity is exerted as part of these efforts (Gunnarsson et al 2006). A discourse advocating dialogue, tolerance and understanding of ‘the other’ conceals this disciplinary practice and social control.

These institutional practices and individual experiences are intimately connected to language, on the one hand, because the implicit claim on homogeneity also concerns language learning and language use and, on the other hand, because of the performative aspect of language; its crucial role in establishing, reproducing and diffusing particular legitimate perspectives among individuals and on the level of social organization and social structure.

The present paper introduces an on-going study that aims to investigate in which ways experiences in the transition process from school/higher education to working life influence multilinguals’ individual choices related to language. The ethnographic research is conducted among young adults (age 23-25) in different socio-geographical (rural/urban/suburban) spaces in Sweden. Different ethnic backgrounds and languages are represented with Syrian/Assyrian background and the Syrian/Assyrian language predominating.

In order to understand the role of language and multilingualism in transitional processes (which are neither linear nor coherent), the impact from socio-cultural, political and ideological changes of the post-industrial era and the increasing social and geographical mobility of individuals needs to be investigated (Coupland 2003). The study links language learners’ objectives to invest (or not invest) in specific languages to the value of these languages on a global market and thereby aims at investigating individuals’ struggle over access to specific languages and over the legitimacy of their access (Heller 2002, 2007).

The focus on transition and integration puts different institutions at the core of analysis. An attempt is made in the paper to illustrate how individual choices related to language learning and language use should be related not only to ethnicity, gender, social class, first and second languages, social geography and ambitions and stances towards the process of globalization, but also to perpetual tensions on the levels of institutions and individuals between traditional and modern interests and local and global influences.

Coupland, N. (2003). Introduction: Sociolinguistics and globalisation. Journal of

Sociolinguistics, 4 (7), 465-472.

Gunnarsson, E., Neergaard, A. & Nilsson, A. (2006) (eds.). Kors och tvärs: Intersektionalitet och makt i storstadens arbetsliv. Stockholm: Normal.

Heller, M. (2002). Globalization and the commodification of bilingualism in Canada. In: D. Block & D. Cameron (eds.). Globalization and language teaching_. London: Routledge.

Heller, M. (2007) (ed.). Bilingualism: a social approach_. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Session: Themed Panel (part 2)
Bilingual education recast in the wake of globalisation: researching the second/foreign language interface
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 02