The cost of remaining silent

Dmitri, Kristiina, and Hanna blog about the ReCLaS Seminar and Spring Party on May 8, 2017

There was some occasional snow falling from the sky when around thirty people of the ReCLaS research community got together at Ruusupuisto lobby to work upon current language-related topics of migration and asylum seekers/migrants, hate speech, new language learning applications, and multilingualism at schools - and celebrate spring.

Under the premise that academic silence in these current debates can be problematic and even harmful, researchers were encouraged to react to these issues and think about the shape their reactions could take to reach and impact the intended audience. As organizers, our rationale was to make the research that we, ReCLaS people, conduct more visible to the society and be proactive in our work rather than merely reacting to societal changes and issues.

After reading the provided materials, the seminar participants formed groups based on the topics and discussed them with the goal of finding a common, publishable stance. Below are the summaries of the four presentations that were the fruits of this cooperation:

Hate speech The group reminded us of the impact our language use can have on our environment and proposed a campaign that promotes responsible talking. This campaign would include a sticker and a website (lovespeech.com) and offer advice for how to practice responsible language use. In the ensuing discussion, questions that were posed included: How can we support responsible speech? How do others hear our talk, how do we take them into consideration? The importance of challenging hate speech online was emphasised.

Language learning apps The group focused on two commercial language learning apps, Duolingo and Babble, and, based on a quick look at both of the apps, found that they offered rather limited approaches to language teaching/learning. The group members also read some studies published on the Duolingo Website (https://www.duolingo.com/research) and found the evidence for the validity of the programme inconclusive. In the discussion, the importance of helping learners and teachers to understand how they can use language learning apps was emphasised. The group further proposed compiling a set of research-based criteria for assessing apps and their suitability for learning and teaching. A possibility to start a forum where researchers and teachers could come together to share experiences of using language learning apps.

Asylum seekers/refugees The group reminded us of the importance of making refugees/asylum seekers visible, humanising them and resisting ideologies that view them as a homogeneous group, as threat, as stereotypical, or as numbers. Issues of the access to services and support, particularly due to the role of language in the process of seeking asylum, were discussed. The group proposed starting / joining / being active in anti-racist networks (e.g. ETMU http://etmu.fi/ and RASTER http://raster.fi) and producing blogs, tweets, and using other channels to raise awareness of these issues with the special emphasis on increasing empathy and changing attitudes.      

Multilingual society, monolingual schools The core topics of the group were necessary changes in teacher education and recruitment, specifically modifications of required qualifications to meet the changing demands of multilingualism at schools. Protecting traditional understandings of “good teachers” and one-language policies were found to be problematic. Specifically, teacher education standards that privilege teachers who graduated from Finnish schools and speak Finnish as L1 or at a B2 level were called into question. Instead, the importance of recruiting teacher candidates with migrant backgrounds was emphasised. The participants suggested talking to local policy makers, headmasters, and parents about multilingualism and language policies at school. A blog or an article in Helsingin Sanomat would give more visibility to this issue.

The event culminated in an informal get-together with tasty food and multilingual live music from the ‘Seljanka’ band. Thank you everyone for coming, engaging in important discussions, and joining us for our (snowy) spring celebration!

Let's continue working on these topics! Welcome everyone who is interested in joining a group. Please email us for more information.


Kristiina Skinnari (kristiina.skinnari@jyu.fi), Johanna Ennser-Kananen (johanna.f.ennser-kananen@jyu.fi), & Dmitri Leontjev (dmitri.leontjev@jyu.fi)