VIRSU workshop in Joensuu, at the Nordic Conference on Bilingualism, August 11, 2006

VIRSU-työpaja Joensuussa 9. pohjoismaisen kaksikielisyyskonferenssin yhteydessä 11.8.2006

Finnish and Estonian are lately being taught to an ever-increasing extent. The aim of the VIRSU project is to compare the particular features involved in the acquisition of these two closely-related languages. An important starting-point will be to discover the impact of the source language on the acquisition of Finnish or Estonian. On the basis of earlier research results, it is hypothesised that the affinity of the source and target languages may facilitate acquisition and accelerate transfer to areas of the languages requiring more advanced language skills. Research in second-language acquisition is a rapidly expanding international research field to which research in Fenno-Ugric languages will contribute an important new dimension. Most of the previous research has been concerned with the acquisition of Indo-European languages, and thus research into typologically different languages will either support or challenge earlier findings. Bilingualism is one important subfield of current VIRSU research.


Sirje Hassinen
Omnia, Education in Espoo Region, Adult education – department

Finland is a new immigration country. There are about 150 different mother tongues spoken currently in Finland. Many children are born into bilingual families or grow up in a bilingual context. These children operate on a very different level: her/his mother tongue and Finnish. In fact, “being bilingual” does not imply complete mastery of two languages (Myers-Scotton 2006). Often a “bilingual” child starting in day care does not understand Finnish very well. It is like “a swimming pool”, or submersion education idea (Colin Baker 2001). The question is how to support the acquisition of both languages by a bilingual child or a child becoming bilingual? Who is bilingual and what are the criteria? How does a child become bilingual? What effect does the home and the neighbourhood play in developing bilingualism? What means the aim of becoming to functionary bilingual in day care centre? What role can a day care play in a bilingual education and a more multicultural society? How to facilitate the Finnish language competence when starting school? This paper addresses the situation of bilingual language acquisition and learning in Finland . Bilingualism is not black and white. I focus on the frequently used terms: the use and practice in day care centres in the capital area of Finland . Keywords: bilingual child, language acquisition and learning, functionary bilingual


Sirkku Latomaa
University of Tampere

For several centuries, the “other” languages of Europe – such as regional, migrant, traveller and sign languages – were neglected or even suppressed. In many cases, the maintenance of these languages can be explained merely by the persistence and determination of the speakers themselves to pass on the language to the next generation. During the past decades, however, interest in these “other” languages has grown significantly. Instead of being considered a threat, they are now increasingly regarded as a resource. Signs of this change in position can be seen in various European documents. For example, the Guide to Language Education Policies published in 2003 by the The Council of Europe presents these languages as part of the wide range of languages which school students are advised to learn. Despite this change in thinking and the efforts made to create the common definitions of policies, the provision for learning these “other” languages varies considerably in Europe . This is particularly true of migrant languages. There is relatively little support available for migrant languages either in terms of legal provision or in terms of support structures. In 2004, the Information Network on Education in Europe , Eurydice, published a report entitled Integrating Immigrant Children into Schools in Europe . In this paper, I will examine the overview given in the Eurydice report about the status of, and the provision for, migrant languages in European schools. I will then compare the data collected by Eurydice with the data collected in 2006 in an on-going European project called VALEUR (Valuing All Languages in Europe ) and discuss the difficulties in defining migrant languages and collecting data about them.
Keywords: migrant languages, language education, plurilingualism


Maisa Martin
University of Jyväskylä

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scales describe what language learners can do in a foreign language at different levels ranging from beginning to advanced learners. The CEFR is currently being adopted throughout Europe as the international yardstick for curricula, examinations, materials and courses. Finland has pioneered in using the CEFR: it has been adapted for the new National Core Curricula for schools and for the National Certificates language examination. The CEF is based on careful and partly empirical work of many scholars who study the assessment of language skills. Nevertheless, it is uncertain to what extent it reflects actual stages of language learning as it has not been examined in light of second language acquisition theories.

This paper reports the results of a pilot project which aims at starting such a process by comparing the actual linguistic properties of learner performances in Finnish as a second language with the CEF levels the of the learners, determined by independent raters. The main research questions is whether it is possible to define combinations of linguistic features which are characteristic of a given level. The data consist of samples of performances produced by adults taking the National Certificates of Language Proficiency writing test. The linguistic analysis of the data will be carried out without prior knowledge of the CEF level of the test taker. The hypothesis is that the levels A1 and A2 will be characterized by morphophonological inaccuracy while at the levels B1 and B2 lexical and syntactical deviations are more common. At the levels C1 and C2 only problems of object marking and word order will remain. The results on the order of structural acquisition will be compared, where applicable, with claims made by SLA theories, particularly the Processability Theory (Pienemann 1998).

Pienemann, M. 1998. Language processing and second language development. Processability theory. Studies in bilingualism 15. Amsterdam : John Benjamins.


Marjo Mela
University of Helsinki

In Latvia is 2500 Estonians and approximately half of them use it as they native language, mostly võru dialect. The older generation have quite good knowledge of Estonian, but the younger generation have not. Nowadays children go to the Estonian school in Riga where they learn Estonian. But is that learning enough to keep their language at a bilingual level and that means bilingualism for them and their families? For example the grandparents speak to southern Estonian dialect and grandchildren standard Estonian.


Pirkko Muikku-Werner
University of Joensuu

Increasingly prevalent immigration into Finland has attracted the interest of many linguists to the teaching of Finnish as a second language and to the quality of the attained bilingualism. While Finland \’s original bilingual population, the Swedish-speaking minority, are able to learn Finnish from childhood in formal and informal contexts, most newcomers need to learn the new language fast as adolescents or adults for educational or professional purposes. Since their acquisition of Finnish may be complicated by their varied educational backgrounds, all information concerning the achievement of the required linguistic proficiency is valuable. Discovering the development process of adult bilingualism will help to improve teaching methodology.

The case study presented in this paper concerns an adult German who in the course of twenty years has achieved near-native proficiency in Finnish despite the typological distance between the source and target languages. A test based on his production reveals that his most common errors are morpho-syntactic i origin, a feature shared by Swedish-speaking Finns. In interview the test subject was questioned on his potential automatization of certain processes, his use of first-language strategies in inferring correct answers, his awareness of his cognitive operations, and the meaning of the markedness as a possible source of errors. The development of adult bilingualism can provide both practical information and important insights into language processing in general, suggesting that the performance of mature bilinguals deserves more attention than it has hitherto received.


Sanna Voipio-Huovinen
University of Jyväskylä and University of Helsinki

My ongoing doctoral thesis in Applied Linguistics (Finnish as a Second Language, F2, and Education) focuses on bilingualism and the support for bilingualism and bi-literacy in Finnish schools among Russian and Somali-speaking immigrant pupils. I explore how bilingualism is realized in pupils\’ lives, and what kind of support school, extended family members and friends give them in achieving bilingualism and bi-literacy. The main data consist of phenomenographic, ethnographically influenced qualitative interviews of the participating students, parents and teachers of F2 and mother tongue. Skutnabb-Kangas (1982, 18) has used four different criteria of definition for one\’s mother tongue: a) origin: the language one learnt first; b) competence: the language one knows best; c) function: the language one uses most; and d) attitudes: the language one identifies with (internal identification) or the language one is identified as a native speaker of by other people (external identification). In my presentation in the workshop I will discuss the interviewed immigrant students\’ conceptions on their mother tongue(s) based on criteria used by Skutnabb-Kangas and their own descriptions. I will finish by comparing students\’ conceptions with their teachers\’ and parents\’ conceptions on the same theme.

Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove 1982. Bilingualism or Not: The Education of Minorities . Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.