09.05.2011

Sanna Voipio-Huovinen


Junior researcher, MEd.
+358 50 5720878
sanna.voipio[at]helsinki.fi

Contact information:
Helsingin yliopisto / University of Helsinki
Teollisuuskatu 23 A 319
00014 Helsingin yliopisto


I am a postgraduate student in Finnish in the Department of Languages, University of Jyväskylä. I got my Master’s degree in Education from the Department of Applied Sciences of Education, University of Helsinki. I began my studies as a postgraduate student at Langnet, the Finnish Graduate School in Language Studies in 2003–2006.

Currently I am working as a postgraduate student in a project called Multilingualism as a problematic resource (FiDiPro) in Jyväskylä funded by the Academy of Finland. I am also a member of the project ToLP, Towards Future Literacy Pedagogies at the Centre for Applied Language Studies, University of Jyväskylä.

My multidisciplinary (Finnish and Education) doctoral thesis focuses on bilingualism and the support for bilingualism and bi-literacy in Finnish schools among Russian and Somali-speaking immigrant pupils. Finnish as a Second Language (F2) is taught in order to support the proper integration of students into Finnish society. The Mother Tongue (L1) teaching of immigrant students should support the mother tongue use and cognitive and personal development of each immigrant student.

Both F2 and L1 are taught to immigrant students according to local resources, but separate lessons are not offered everywhere, and the importance of knowing both languages well is not always acknowledged. The official objective of functional bilingualism given in the curriculum guidelines is too unfamiliar in schools.

The aim of my study is to explore how bilingualism is realised in the pupils’ lives and what kind of support school, family members and friends give them in achieving bilingualism and bi-literacy. The main research questions are:

  • How is bilingualism realized in the lives of Russian and Somali speaking immigrant students living in Helsinki?
  • What kind of support from school, family members, relatives and friends will help immigrant students in becoming bilingual?
  • How can language shift be predicted in individual students’ bilingual life?


The data consist of ethnographic interviews of the participating teenager students (N=14) as well as proficiency assessments of the pupils in Finnish as a second language and their mother tongue. The assessments are done using the Finnish application of the Common European Framework of Reference for language learning, teaching and assessment.

The major interview themes include language choice in different domains and contexts, perceptions of proficiency in Finnish and mother tongue, attitudes to languages, perceptions of bilingualism, and support for bilingualism and bi-literacy. Additionally, different power relations in schools and society are discussed in order to analyse further possibilities for promoting bilingualism and bi-literacy.

I began my doctoral studies in 2002. From summer 2006 until the end of year 2007 I was on maternity leave.