Language diversity in Norwegian pre-schools: what languages should pre-school practitioners speak in their work and what command of majority language is required?


Thursday 7 November, 11.00-11.30, B1005

Norwegian pre-schools are challenged by the growing heteroginieity in the population, and have to meet the needs of linguistically and culturally diverse children, as well as meet the challenges with more linguistically and culturally diverse employees. Whereas multicultural perspectives in early childhood education have got a prominent focus in the major regularative documents for early childhood education, this cannot not guarantee that the good intentions are implemented as they are thought in local practices. Attitudes to linguistic and cultural diversity in society are influenced by political priorities and the media discourse. In the last years the media discourse and political priorities promote the importance of speaking the majority language, Norwegian. Mastering the majority language is of course important for immigrants, both with respect to achieving success in the society, getting access to education and jobs and being integrated. However, as I will discuss in my presentation, this discourse may have some negative consequences for attitudes to linguistic diversity.

Lately there have been expressed concerns about the Norwegian language skills among immigrant employees in kindergartens in Oslo. Aftenposten Aften (from 02.15.2012) writes for example that up to 17% of employees in kindergartens in Oslo do not speak Norwegian fluently. It has been proposed to introduce a language requirement (Språkrpøve 3) for pre-school employees with minority background. In the presentation I will discuss this issue from the perspective of second language research, language policies and the empirical data. 

First, I will discuss the media debate on this issue, pointing out imprecise terms used to describe language proficiency. It is often referred to as “fluency”, but it is not a clearly defined concept in L2 research. Whether an L2 speaker is fluent in Norwegian may be influenced by subjective perceptions and often evaluated based on the accent, pronunciation and talking without unnecessary pauses. 

I have interviewed kindergarten assistants with a mother tongue other than Norwegian, and conducted focus group interviews with kindergarten leaders in the kindergartens in Oslo with high percentage of immigrant employees. Interview results show that despite the concerns expressed in the media, the multilingual assistants themselves do not perceive their linguistic challenges as a problem in their work. They emphasize that working in the kindergarten has contributed enormously to the development of their command of Norwegian. The minority employees often speak several languages in addition to Norwegian, however, the interviews reveal that this linguistic expertise is used very little in their work. The data from the focus group interview with kindergarten leaders show that challenges associated with poor Norwegian skills / poor comprehension have more to do with communication strategies between native speakers and L2 users. The data reveal also some issues with regard to the kindergartens’ language ideologies, and the hierarcical relations between different languages.