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«Abstract T his reflective paper presents a new course concept for multilingual interaction, which was piloted at the University of Jyväskylä ...»

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14 Use your languages! From monolingual

to multilingual interaction in a language class

Anna Kyppö, Teija Natri,

Margarita Pietarinen and Pekka Saaristo1


T his reflective paper presents a new course concept for multilingual

interaction, which was piloted at the University of Jyväskylä Language

Centre in the spring of 2014. The course, implemented as part of the

centre’s action research, is the result of a development process aimed at

enhancing students’ multilingual and multicultural academic communication competences along with promoting use of their entire linguistic repertoire.

The course concept was inspired by the EU project Modularising Multilingual and Multicultural Academic Communication Competence (MAGICC), whose main intent is “to integrate multilingual and multicultural academic communication competences as graduate learning outcomes at [the] BA and MA level” (http://www.unil.ch/magicc/home/menuinst/objectifs.html). The main focus of the pilot course was on teachers’ approach to multilingual teaching, teachers’ interaction with each other and with students as well as students’ approach to communication in a simulated multilingual and multicultural environment. Students’ employment of their entire linguistic repertoire resulted in an evident increase of their intercultural awareness, enhancement of their intercultural communication competences and of their skills in mediating information in multilingual and multicultural contexts.

Keywords: multilingual interaction, multicultural communication, multilingual multicultural academic communication competence, intercultural awareness.

1. Language Centre, University of Jyväskylä, Finland; anna.kyppo@jyu.fi; teija.natri@jyu.fi; margarita.pietarinen@jyu.fi;

pekka.c.saaristo@jyu.fi How to cite this chapter: Kyppö, A., Natri, T., Pietarinen, M., & Saaristo, P. (2015). Use your languages! From monolingual to multilingual interaction in a language class. In J. Jalkanen, E. Jokinen, & P. Taalas (Eds), Voices of pedagogical development - Expanding, enhancing and exploring higher education language learning (pp. 319-335). Dublin: Research-publishing.net.

doi:10.14705/rpnet.2015.000297 319 Chapter 14

1. Introduction This study introduces a pilot course aimed at the enhancement of students’ skills in multilingual and multicultural communication. The course Multilingual Interaction: Use Your Languages was offered by the University of Jyväskylä Language Centre in the spring of 2014. Teachers’ interest in multilingual and multicultural issues and a concern for the increase of multilingualism and multiculturalism in workplace communication were important motivations for implementing such a course. However, the project Modularising Multilingual and Multicultural Academic Communication Competence for BA and MA levels (MAGICC 2011–2014; see Natri & Räsänen in this volume) served as a major source of inspiration. The project is part of the European Union Lifelong Learning Programme and aims to conceptualise multilingual and multicultural communication competences for higher education and thus to complement the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

The MAGICC project emphasises the role of languages and communication as part of academic expertise. The project, in the underlying principles and concepts of its conceptual framework, says that multilingual and multicultural academic communication competence “is an individual’s communicative and interactive repertoire, made up of several languages and language varieties including first language(s) at different levels of proficiency, and various types of competence, which are all interrelated. The repertoire in its entirety represents a resource enabling action in diverse use situations. It evolves across time and experience throughout life, and includes growth in intercultural awareness and ability to cope with, and participate in, multicultural contexts of academic study and working life” (Räsänen, Natri & Foster Vosicki 2013: 5).

The pilot course was implemented as part of the Language Centre’s institutional action research. The main focus was on the development of multilingual and multicultural competences, which involve not only a good command of an individual’s L1 and L2, but also efficient use of one’s overall language repertoire, that is, one’s partial competences in various languages. When competences are

320 Anna Kyppö, Teija Natri, Margarita Pietarinen and Pekka Saaristo

perceived in this way, successful multilingual communication means, first of all, the abilities to switch and mediate from one language to another as well as to use one or more languages for the purpose of retrieving, managing, conceptualising and communicating the information in another language. Furthermore, multicultural communication and interaction foregrounds negotiations of meanings, attitudes towards otherness, tolerance of ambiguity and an awareness of multicultural settings.

2. Context of the study

This section introduces the concepts that supported the development and implementation of the course. A brief introduction of translanguaging and

transculturation is followed by a presentation of the course’s main objectives:

raising the awareness of multilingual and multicultural communication and the development of multilingual competence. Culture, competence and communication, which form the main conceptual threads of the course, are in focus.

In the field of applied linguistics, the concepts of translanguaging and transculturation (Garcia 2009; Garcia & Sylvan 2011; Lewis, Jones & Baker 2012a, 2012b) are known as dynamic processes that involve meaning-making and knowledge-shaping through language and thus learning the language (Swain & Watanabe 2012). When two or more languages are systematically combined within the same learning activity, translanguaging may contribute to using one’s linguistic repertoire more freely and flexibly, as well as to creating a social space for speakers through their personal histories and experiences, so that they can benefit from mediating and meaning-making across languages (Park 2013).

From this perspective, multilingualism is perceived as a complex of specific semiotic resources and a repertoire of varying language abilities rather than as collections of separate languages (see Blommaert 2010).

One of the main objectives of the pilot course was to help students become aware of the factors that may affect multilingual and multicultural communication, and

–  –  –

through that to develop their skills and competences for successful participation in such contexts. This involves the readiness to make use of one’s own linguistic repertoire by, for example, switching fluently from one language to another or by mediating messages between the interactants who are otherwise unable to understand each other. In order to encourage the students to reflect on various contextual and attitudinal factors which affect different communicative events and circumstances, the concepts of language, culture and communication as well as some specific features influencing multicultural communication were introduced at the beginning of the course. Moreover, some fundamental views from sociolinguistics and the sociology of language, intercultural pragmatics, communication studies and different social sciences were also presented.

The concept of culture given in the course was in line with Spencer-Oatey’s (2009: 3) definition, which views culture as “a fuzzy set of basic assumptions and values, orientations to life, beliefs, policies, procedures and behavioural conventions […] shared by a group of people, [which] influence (but do not determine) each member’s behaviour and his/her interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of other people’s behaviour”. The concept of communicative competence was based on Figueroa’s (1994: 65) idea that an individual’s competence means being able “to judge the consequences of actions, to plan strategies, to have expectations as to what is supposed to happen or what might happen or what is expected, in short, to make sense of the situation and act accordingly”. Finally, the concept of communication was viewed as a cooperative and interactive process where the meanings are constructed and negotiated within different sociohistorical and cultural circumstances. It is more than transforming the propositional information concerning the state of affairs of external objects.

As Mey (2001: 10) claims, “messages are not just ‘signals’, relayed through impersonal channels; the human expression functions as an appeal to other users and as means of social togetherness”.

Among other issues related to the functions and implementation of communication, the inevitability of communication was also discussed. As Watzlawick, Beavin Bavelas & Jackson (1967) point out, making an effort to avoid communication is also a form of communication. Practical issues 322 Anna Kyppö, Teija Natri, Margarita Pietarinen and Pekka Saaristo arising from this aspect are related to such modalities as clothing, nonlinguistic gestures or silence as a resource for the construction of meaning or as a communicative practice.

Students were also briefly introduced to some traditional and frequently discussed issues present in the intercultural communication studies, such as the concept of politeness and face, addressivity, self-presentation, conflict management practices, directness/indirectness, stylistic aspects and the use and tolerance of silence in interaction (for more on these issues, see Brown & Levinson 1978, 1987; Goffman 1972; Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey 1988; Nakane 2007; Sajavaara & Lehtonen 1997; Ting-Toomey 1988; Ting-Toomey & Kurogi 1998; Ting-Toomey & Oetzel 2003).

Finally, the spectrum of communicative competences was explored as semiotic wholes or aggregates which may facilitate communication in multilingual situations when one or more languages are used. From the viewpoint of pragmatics, specific and individual competences referring to the dynamic capacity to carry out different kinds of communicative acts in different circumstances were introduced. An individual’s overall linguistic competence is to be perceived as a facilitator rather than as a barrier to interpersonal communication (e.g. fear of imperfectness, shortcomings in languages).

–  –  –

This section provides basic demographics and information about the content, modes and expected outcomes of the course.

3.1. Course demographics Out of 19 students, 14 were Finnish including one Swedish-Finnish bilingual.

Russia, Kazakhstan, Greece, the Czech Republic and Macedonia were represented by one student each. Most of the participants were degree students in the humanities, mainly in linguistics, journalism, communication, history

–  –  –

and art education. The disciplines of special education, IT, business and economics were also represented.

In addition to a participant’s mother tongue, partial competence in at least two languages was expected, but no language pre-tests were required. The students’ levels of language proficiency were instead based on self-assessments. All students spoke at least two languages in addition to their mother tongue;

in the case of the Finnish students, even three additional languages were spoken. Interestingly, English was not the strongest language for all the Finnish students, with some assessing their English competence as poor. The group’s linguistic repertoire (receptive skills) was as follows: English (17), Finnish (15), Swedish (10), Spanish (10), German (9), French (8), Russian (8), Slovak (4), Italian (4), Danish (2), Norwegian (2), Finnish sign language (2), Portuguese (2), Chinese (2) and furthermore, Czech, Greek, Japanese, Kazakh, Macedonian, Polish, Serbian, Cantonese and Swiss German (one speaker per language).

3.2. Expected learning outcomes

Students were expected to participate in multilingual communication, that is, to effectively employ their own linguistic repertoire. As could be expected, most of them showed genuine interest in languages and cultures and welcomed the opportunity to practice their multilingual agility2.

Apart from the opportunity to use multiple languages, the focus was also on the development of their cultural awareness, in other words, on understanding the impact of culture on overall communication and interaction, including the interpretation and mediation of information and analysing one’s own communication from a cultural perspective. Students were also expected to specify their personal learning needs.

2. Teachers and students shared a positive view and ideology towards multilingualism and multiculturalism, which is not uncommon among sociolinguists and language teachers. Regarding negative effects, ineffectiveness has been mentioned as one example. However, multilingualism is not viewed as positive in all political-institutional contexts (cf. Blommaert, Leppänen. & Spotti 2012; Lo Bianco 2004).

324 Anna Kyppö, Teija Natri, Margarita Pietarinen and Pekka Saaristo

3.3. Course curriculum and schedule The course was offered in four- to six-hour weekly contact sessions. In addition, the web-based learning platform Optima was used for various out-of-class activities and course interaction as well as for sharing course resources such as students’ personal folders and learner logs, the course schedule and programme.

The focus of every session was on different aspects of multilingual and multicultural communication. After getting familiar with the course content, course participants introduced themselves in various languages. To get familiar with the basic concepts of multilingualism and multiculturalism, a lecture on the fundamental insights into language use, culture and communication was offered.

The purpose of the introductory theoretical background and key concepts was to establish some grounds and tools for reflection and further discussions. The purpose was not only to raise students’ awareness of these issues during the course, but also to be able to link them with their personal communication experiences, recognising some of the factors as dominant.

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