Will learning the language of the country one inhabits lead to seamless integration?

Blog-entry by Tania Nathan

The effects of our globalising world has been that of gain, and loss. There is no denying the gains some have seen from our shrinking borders, but that too has not been without costs. With increased migration, comes the intermingling of cultures, and a certain amount of conflict. Some parties insist on assimilation while others root for integration – both are in itself problematic concepts. At the forefront of this discussion, is language. Will learning the language of the country one inhabits lead to seamless integration?

In my work with young migrants, asylum seekers and refugees I have seen a strong desire that drives them to learn the lingua franca of Finland. This motivation comes from a series of reasons – the need to fit in, to be understood, and to find a place in this new society that they now call home. Yet, there is a need to preserve the diversity of languages that make up their own mother tongues, especially as they learn a new language. Why is this?

We have seen the mistakes made in the past when minorities have had their mother tongues actively suppressed, along with their expressions of culture – be it through shared celebrations, religions, histories, and clothing. The death of cultural diversity is a loss for us all, and is something that must be struggled against actively. A homogenous world is a boring one, lacking in nuance and variety. We should encourage people to practice their cultures, so that they flourish and can have healthy participation in a society that accepts them as they are. How can this be done? In one simple and effective way, the mother tongues of minorities, indigenous groups and migrants must be protected and given room, especially as they work towards learning a new language and identity in the society they have chosen to call home. That way, a mutual respect can be fostered between both parties, and both parties stand to benefit.

In order for languages to stand the test of time, they must adapt to the changing times, and also changing situations. The struggle and adaptation of languages and cultures to new times, environments, and norms is what will allow it to endure. A diversity of cultures and languages will not result in the ‘watering down’ of any one culture in the society it inhabits, because no culture exists in a vacuum, and we are all prone to change and growth. This, is a good thing. Also, in order for ‘integration’ to work, it must provide opportunities for equality and participation.

Another endeavour to encourage more representation has been undertaken by Ruskeat Tytöt, a non-profit media organisation in Finland with its motto ‘For brown people, by brown people’. RT has created creative writing courses for 14-29 year old persons of color who are girls (and all other genders beyond the normative ‘male’) through workshops and courses. This way, the normative voices and ideas in the media can be diversified, and the experiences of all kinds of people can be normalized in a society where everyone can and should have an active participation. The young adults studying Finnish at Vantaa’s Institute of Adult Education for one, are motivated to learn because they want to participate in this society. They want to have an active role in study and work life and have the same opportunities as everyone else. Naturally, they sometimes find the nuances of the new language they are trying to learn difficult. It is useful to remind them then, that they have already successfully grasped the intricacies of their own mother tongue which they do speak fluently. This is crucial to remember, that those struggling to learn Finnish may already be experts in two or three other languages, some with complex writing systems completely different to the Latin alphabet and with thousands of years of history backing them up. To give that credit and respect, will help new learners realize that their own languages are valuable and important, and that knowledge can be used to help them learn this new language. That way, the cultural differences we so cherish in our world can be preserved and given room to grow.

The more visibility and room we make for migrants, persons of color, and the indigenous in Finland, the more we benefit, because only when we understand each other, and hear the stories and songs of those around us, can we recognize that there is more to unite us, than divide us. When it becomes normal for representation of people of color by people of color (as well as all other groups), and for all languages to have a place in our society, only then can we turn the idea of integration on its head and talk about a society that is really united.


Tania Nathan is a writer, educator and poet who lives and works in the Uusimaa region.

Móðurmál – the Association on Bilingualism promotes identity of plurilingual children

Renata Emilsson Peskova, modurmal@modurmal.com

Móðurmál helps educate a new generation of plurilingual children who will be able to draw on their cultural and linguistic resources in the future in various positions, as future teachers, interpreters, entrepreneurs, and leaders.

Móðurmál – the Association on Bilingualism is an umbrella organisation whose main goal is to teach mother tongues, or heritage languages, to plurilingual children. Móðurmál is based in Reykjavík, Iceland and it has over twenty years of history in engaging parents and volunteers in mother tongue instruction.

Móðurmál´s motto is “diversity, identity, respect”. Mother tongue teachers agreed at the annual conference in 2014 that these words express best what the organisation stands for. It supports and celebrates the diversity in the Icelandic society, it strengthens and promotes identity of plurilingual children as well as their parents, and it highlights that mutual respect is alfa and omega of peaceful and constructive relationships.

Móðurmál is an umbrella organisation of more than twenty language groups and schools that work independently as they develop and implement their own teaching and programs. Most of the classes are held on Saturdays or Sundays and in the school year 2017-2018 about 750 children attend mother tongue classes. The groups also meet and collaborate within Móðurmál. Each community has different needs and various resources, but the desire of parents to teach their mother tongues to their children is so strong that they join forces and together overcome time, cost, and organisational barriers. Móðurmál assists the groups and group coordinators, the mother tongue teachers, and the parents in their endeavour to sustain mother tongue teaching. Móðurmál also collaborates with many local and international organisations towards its goals.

Some of Móðurmál´s important connections are the International and Heritage Languages Association in Edmonton, Alberta, Modersmålscentrum in Lund, Sweden, the School and Leisure Department of the City of Reykjavík, the Alliance of Parent´s Associations and Parent´s Councils of Elementary Schools in Reykjavík, the City Library of Reykjavík, the Cultural Centre Gerðuberg, and the Art Gallery of Reykjavík. Individual mother tongue groups collaborate among themselves and oftentimes develop connections with embassies and consulates of their countries, as well as mother tongue schools in their respective languages around the world.

Móðurmál is important to many. It serves several functions, one of which is to help create a multicultural society, mutual understanding of various language groups who share the passion for maintaining and developing mother tongue skills of children. Móðurmál is a precious part of the Icelandic society, because it helps build bridges among languages and cultures. It creates and deepens mutual understanding of various groups and institutions. It gives power to immigrant parents. It enriches the Icelandic multicultural society and helps educate a new generation of plurilingual children who will be able to draw on their cultural and linguistic resources in the future in various positions, as future teachers, interpreters, entrepreneurs, and leaders.

Móðurmál is proud of national awards it has received in the past, namely, a certificate of recognition from the Intercultural Center in 2008, the Society Award of Fréttablaðið (newspaper) in 2014, the Parent Award of Home and School (National Parents Association in 2016) but at the same time, it is searching for more official recognition of its work. It appraises the models in Scandinavian countries and Canada as it continues to work towards sustainable, successful mother tongue education in Iceland.

Renata Emilsson Peskova is a PhD candidate at the School of Education at the University of Iceland. Her research interest lies with plurilingual children and heritage language education. She is the chair of Móðurmál – the Association on Bilingualism.

What happens in Multilingual Month 2018?

Happy mother language day 21.2! Multilingual Month is about to begin! This month will offer a lot to follow for people interested in increasing their skills and knowledge about multilingualism in the Nordic countries. Our blogs focus on the other hand on issues of the Sámi languages alterning with a blog series that moves in a widely multilingual context from poets, language learning and dictionaries to creative communities. Events organized in Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Norway give ideas of the multiple ways of approaching, sharing and celebrating the lingual diversity in our actual societies. Welcome to follow,  join and contribute!

Blog posts in 2018 offer multilingual visions from Sápmi, Iceland, Norway and Finland

Our blog of Multilingual Month 2018 includes two parts. Altering with the texts about the widely multilingual Nordic region, we have a blog series curated by Helga West, reporter of YLE Sápmi, focusing on current issues related to Sámi languages. In the first blog text in this series West presented shortly themes of the blog and her ideas behind the blog series.

The other blog articles come this year from Iceland, Finland and Norway.

From Iceland’s very active field of multilingualism we have two posts. Renata Peskova’s post talks about the Móðurmál association that has over twenty years of history in finding different ways to teach mother tongues to plurilingual children in Iceland. A different story is the one of ÓsPressan, a multilingual and inclusive writing community that promotes new authors and offers platforms for creative people in Reykjavik. Anna Valdís will tell us more in her post. In regards to Iceland´s multilingual fields, we also want to thank Kristin Vilhjalmsdóttir, who has contacted us with many of the Icelandic organizations.

From Norway, Giti Nassouri from Oslo’s multilingual library gives an insight to multilingual contents from the point of view of a librarian in charge of Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi, Dutch, Greek, Dari, Pashto, Persian and Urdu book collections. In her post she will write about Indian, Iranian and Pakistani poets.

The texts from Finland come from Husein Muhammed and Ahmed Hassan with Konsta Savolainen. Husein Muhammed’s blog post presents the case of constructing a Kurdish-Finnish dictionary at Kotus, Institute for the languages of Finland, as part of a dictionary series for speakers of migrant languages. Muhammed’s work with words will continue in a report about Nordic-Kurdish literature. Konsta Savolainen and Ahmed Hassan from NordicSom organization write about the work of motivating migrant youth to become plurilingual by encouraging them to learn Swedish in Finland as the Swedish skills often offer more opportunities in Finland. A video will illustrate their post.

Events related to multilingualism in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland

Every Nordic country has different creative ideas in the interdisciplinary fields of multilingualism. In Iceland several organizations including Reykjavik City LIbrary, Óspressan, Modurmal and Vigdís International Centre for Multilingualism and Intercultural Understanding will host language related events during Multilingual Month. In Sweden, Litteraturcentrum Uppsala continues with their yearly tradition of Mother language poetry festival (Modersmålpoesifestival, Feb 28th). In Finland Helsinki cultural centres offer a series of events including a multimedia poetry night (March 17th), a fair of educational methods in multilingual contexts (Leikin sata kieltä ja tarinaa March 1st), film screening of a new documentary What language do you speak? with a discussion with the director of the film (March 6th) and a children´s exhibition about multilingual families with a rich side programme (Mennään jo naapuriin!). Libraries offer storytelling in different languages. In Norway, the multilingual library of Oslo has been active for years in creating materials for the celebration of Mother Language Day and thus contributed in making visible and easily organizable the celebration of languages.

In the context of Multilingual Month, our idea is to share different forms of working in multilingual contexts, seeing multilingualism as a richness. We will be happy to share language related events during Multilingual month as a form of making other people aware of the kind of work that is being done in other Nordic countries in this field. Feel free to post your event link to us or tell us about your ongoing projects!

During Multilingual Month 21.2.-21.3. we will share at www.multilingualmonth.org and in facebook information about different organizations that work with multilingualism. At the same time, the website will increase its link archive of Nordic organizations and projects that can offer new insights to linguistic diversity. Our aim is to contribute to the flourishing of our region as one where the freedom of expression includes also a wider choice of languages of expression. Multilingual Month is part of the project Multilingualism and Diversity as a Resource in the Cultural Field coordinated by Culture for All Service in the frame of  Norden2020.

Somali Nordic Culture promotes reading and writing in Somali

Somali Nordic Culture is an association located in Sweden. It works to increase interest towards Somali Culture organizing events and festivals, activities for children, film and theater presentations and promotes reading and writing in Somali language. Nordic Somali Culture publishes a children’s magazine Carruurterna (Our children) in Somali language that is distributed to more than 100 libraries in Sweden.

The members are reading promoters, students, writers, storytellers, librarians, journalists and artists.


In Swedish

Somali Nordic Culture är en kulturell  och ideell förening som är partipolitiskt och religiöst obunden. Föreningen består av läsfrämjare, studenter, författare, sagoberättare, bibliotekarier, journalister och konstnärer. Somali Nordic Culture grundades 2011 och föreningens verksamhet riktar sig till barn, ungdomar och vuxna och till både kvinnor och män.

Somali Nordic Culture har som syfte:

  • Att öka intresset för den Somaliska kulturen genom att hålla kulturföreställningar, barn aktiviteter, kulturfestivaler och film och teateruppvisningar.
  • Att väcka intresse för det skrivna ordet. Att hålla seminarier om ny utgivna litteratur där man träffar och diskuterar med författarna. Målet är att öka intresset för läsning av böcker på olika språk samt re-censera och diskutera kring dem.
  •  Att utveckla elevers kunskap och förståelse av utbildningen. Vi ordnar läxhjälp för grundskola och gymnasieskola elever. Målet är Att den svensk-somaliska gruppens utbildningsnivå höjs avsevärt för att förbättra förutsättningarna för dem att lyckas i  samhället.
  • Att integrera nyanlända somalier genom samhällsinformation och stöd i tidigt skede för att motverka utanförskap.

Café Lingua – Living Languages – Lifandi tungumál

A worldful of languages!

Café Lingua is a platform for those who want to enhance their language skills, Icelandic or other languages, a place to communicate in and about various languages as well as a gateway into different cultures. The goal is to “unveil” the linguistic treasures that have found their way to Iceland, enriching life and culture, as well as giving world citizens the option to express themselves in Icelandic and to introduce their mother tongues to others. The Café Lingua events are held in the culture houses of Reykjavik City Library, “Veröld” – the Vigdís World Language Centre and in “Stúdentakjallarinn” at the University of Iceland.

Everybody interested in languages and in contributing to the linguistic landscape of Reykjavik is welcome. Free admission.

The project is run by the to Reykjavik City Library and the Vigdís World Language Centre.

Photo: Kristinn Ingvarsson

Follow Café Lingua on Facebook.

Reykjavik City Library runs several  intercultural projects where the goal is to promote awareness of the positive values of cultural diversity in our society. The library puts an emphasis on co-operating with social service centres, schools, organizations and individuals from all over the world living in Reykjavík. The IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto is used as a guideline in this work.

Kristín R. Vilhjálmsdóttir is the manager of multicultural projects at Reykjavík City Library. She is a language teacher and intercultural project manager, who has coordinated several award-winning projects related to interculturalism and multilingualism.




Photo: Pálína Magnúsdóttir

Learning for Integration: multilingual language cafés, language-specific playgroups for kids, language expert services etc.

Learning for Integration ry promotes the learning of languages and cultural sensitivity of migrant, immigrant and refugee children and youth in Finland and other Nordic countries. It aims to facilitate the new members’ integration into the new culture and the development of a multicultural society. It also supports Swedish learning in Finland.

Learning for integration organizes activities such as the popular language cafés in more than 10 languages, Story time circles, playgroups for kids in different languages and craft and theatre groups. It also offers expert services including workshops for teachers, specific learning materials and affordable but high quality editing, proofreading and translations to NGOs and other organizations working mainly for public good in Finnish, English, French, Russian, Swedish and other languages according to demand.

The multilingual work team of Learning for integration is presented at their website.

Litteraturcentrum Uppsala

Litteraturcentrum Uppsala  is a collaboration of Studiefrämjandet, Kultur i länet, Kulturrådet, Uppsala city, Uppsala regional library and Svenska Pen. Its aim is to support local reading and writing and the regional literary field including a multilingual context. The centre is based in Uppsala, and it is a part of the culture plan of the Uppsala region.

The people involved in the activities of Litteraturcentrum Uppsala use at least the following languages: Swedish, Sami, Arabic, Bengali, Dari, French, German, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Wolof, Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian, Spanish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Estonian, Kokborok, Beluch, English, Tamil, Georgian, Turkish etc.


Anisur Rahman, the project leader for LItteraturcentrum Uppsala describes the work:

“We are interested in both the artistic and social effects of literature. We work locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and have established productive partnerships with several organizations, including literary organizations, local theatres and schools. Our centre is now a platform for both professional and amateur writers in diverse mother languages. It is a meeting point for native, foreign, immigrant and exiled writers. We publish more than a hundred writers a year in our literary anthology from our creative writing workshops every year. We host more than a hundred literary events a year.

Our centre in Uppsala together with Litteraturcentrum in Tranås, Litteratur resurscentrum in Norbotten and similar project in Jämtland-Harjedalen is now Sweden’s international literary checkpoint where we have growing network and exchange with different continents. All are welcome on board to read and write in diverse languages in defense of free word and free thought.”

Anisur RahmanAnisur Rahman is Uppsala’s guest writer 2009–2011 in the ICORN system and currently project leader for Litteraturcentrum Uppsala, Studiefräjandet Uppsalaregion, http://www.litteraturcentrum.se/

Móðurmál – the Association on Bilingualism

Móðurmál (Mother Tongue) is an NGO founded in Reykjavik in 1994 as The Parents of Bilingual Children Association (Samtök foreldra tvítyngdra barna). It supports multilingualism by teaching languages to bi- or plurilingual children and develops structured language programs with clearly defined curricula and goals. It has offered instruction in over twenty languages for plurilingual children since 1994.

Móðurmál offers of has offered teaching in Albanian, in Arabic, in Czech, in Chinese, in English, in Filipino, in French, in German, in Ghanaian Languages Ewe & Twi, in Indonesian, in Italian, in Japanese, in Korean, in Latvian, in Lithuanian, in Nepalese, in Polish, in Portuguese, in Russian, in Serbian, in Slovakian, in Spanish, in Swedish, in Thai, in Turkish, in Ukrainian, and in Víetnamese

Móðurmál has received the following awards:

2008: “Vel að verki staðið” (“For A Job Well Done”) certificate of recognition from the Intercultural Centre for Mother Tongue’s active work on immigrantion issues in Iceland. The award was presented by the President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

2014: Samfélagsverðlaun Fréttablaðsins (The Society Award of Frettabladid) in category From Generation to Generation. The award was presented by the President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

2016: “Foreldraverðlaun Heimilis og skóla” (Parents’ award from the National Parents’ Association) for mother tongue teaching of bilingual children


Story Sharing Universum

Story Sharing Universum is a project which helps immigrants, asylum seekers and Finns to meet and share stories together in several languages. The project has two parts: Story Sharing Cafés, which are open to the public, and storytelling workshops for asylum seekers at reception centres. Story sharing cafés have developed work formats that permit to communicate in a multilingual way with guides who speak different mother languages. The group speaks at least Arabic, English, Finnish, Swedish, Russian, French, Dari, Pashto and Farsi (/Persian).

Story sharing café is a part of City of Helsinki’s official integration programme for year 2017.

Ós Pressan

Ós Pressan is a non-profit initiative designed to think of literature in an updated way, to bring out and promote new authors, to create an inclusive, multilingual writing community and to challenge the reality of the publishing industry in Iceland.

From Ós Pressan’s website you can find the newest collective publications of the community and presentations of the authors and other artists or journalists linked to this community that includes a wider range of writers, languages and visions.

The writers connected to Ós Pressan write in Icelandic, English, Spanish and Polish.

Sivuvalo – Is This Finnish Literature?

Sivuvalo project is a creative platform for writers who write in other than the two national languages in Finland. It offers information about transnational writers, edits publications and organizes multimedia poetry readings, workshops and other artistic collaborations.

The coordinator of the project is Peruvian poet Roxana Crisólogo and the producer of “Mutant Language” multimedia poetry evenings  is Mexican poet and designer Daniel Malpica.

Sivuvalo´s website also includes a wide link list of writers who write in different languages in Finland.
Among them there are writers who write in Arabic, Burmese, English, Icelandic, Kurdish, Persian, Russian, Northern Sámi, Somali and Spanish.


NolitchX, Nordic Literatures in Change and Exchange

Nolitch XNordic Literatures in Change and Exchange, is a literature project (2017) with the objective of creating networks of immigrant language writers in the Nordic region. This initiative is a Nordic collaboration between associations, groups and individual writers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden. NolitchX has support from Nordic Culture FundNordic Culture Point and Malmö Stad.

Danish Library Centre for Integration, Copenhagen, Denmark

Danish Library Centre for Integration, Copenhagen, Denmark
The Danish Library Centre for Integration (SBCI) lends books, music, and films to Danish public libraries. Most of the collections are in Arabic, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu. They also host Verdensbibliotek, a digital library with online access to music, films and e-books from all over the world.

Reading by listening – a Nordic collaboration produces talking books in Arabic and Sámi

In the Nordic countries, the need for talking books in other languages than European languages has increased during the last few years. Due to the amount of refugees coming to the Nordic countries, a cooperation concerning the production of talking books in Arabic and Sámi languages started in 2015. The involved libraries are Celia in Finland, Nota in Denmark, NLB in Norway, Hljodbokasafn in Iceland and MTM in Sweden. They are all focused in accesible literature and publishing. 25 talking books in Arabic and 6 in Sámi will be produced in this project by spring 2017. 

According to Statistics for the Northern Countries, we anticipate that up to 20% of the population in each country have a foreign background.  Approx. 6-8 % of the total population in the Nordic countries have some kind of reading impairment. This indicates that a large group of the population with a foreign background need accessible media. Many refugees  coming to the Nordic Countries have Arabic as their native language.

These facts made it clear that we would have to find ways to increase the production of talking books in other languages than the national languages and English. The idea to cooperate with the other Nordic libraries was discussed among the libraries and was soon decided upon.

After analysing the demand for foreign language we decided that the project should focus on producing Arabic titles. This resulted in an agreement to produce a total of 25 talking books in Arabic, both for adults and children, by spring 2017. The great advantage of this project, besides satisfying the users´ needs of these titles, is that the libraries share the cost of production. Each library will produce 5 titles and will gain 25 titles. 

In addition to the Arabic titles we will also produce 6 new titles in the Northern Sámi Language. Sámi is a minority language and it is important that we contribute in making Sámi titles available for persons with print disabilities.

Our experience is that it is both nice and intellectually stimulating to be able to read the same book in different languages.  

MTM (Swedish Agency for Accessible Media), Nota (the Danish Library and Expertise Center for people with print disabilities) and NLB (Norsk lyd- og blindeskriftbibliotek) are also part of the TIGAR-service. The TIGAR service (Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources),  makes it easier for participating institutions to search internationally for books in accessible formats, and to exchange them across national borders. It currently contains titles in accessible formats in some 55 languages. Participation in TIGAR is free of charge; there is no membership fee or financial contribution required from a participating institution or end-user.

TIGAR is a part of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC). The ABC aims to increase the number of books worldwide in accessible formats – such as braille and audio – and to make them available to people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. The ABC is a multi-stakeholder partnership, comprising World Intellectual Property Organization WIPO; organizations that serve people with print disabilities; and publishers and authors.

Written by Junko Söderman and Kristina Passad from MTM, Swedish Agency for Accessible Media and Kari Kummeneje from NLB, Norsk lyd- og blindeskriftbibliotek. Other participants in the project have been Eeva Paunonen,  Eva Hellén, Tove Elisabeth Berg, and Hafthor Ragnarsson.