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Recently hired tenure-track faculty and Swedish
KTH, School of Education and Communication in Engineering Science (ECE), Learning, Language and communication.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1351-636X
2019 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

 

Background and purpose  

The academic job market is becoming increasingly globalized. At KTH, English has become the working language in many environments, and transnationals can no longer rely on natural exposure to Swedish to help their learning process. Furthermore, for many possible reasons, some faculty may make conscious decisions not to spend time and effort learning the language. We have reached a point where departments are finding it difficult to staff courses that should be given in Swedish. Other challenges include a shrinking pool of faculty who can take on leadership positions, and emerging communication barriers between the university’s administration and faculty. Nor can non-Swedish speaking transnational faculty perform their vital mission of outreach to the community without translation services.

It has been perceived by some as a solution to set a time period within which the transnational should be able to perform functions, for example teach, in the local language. Often that time period is two years. From a language teacher’s perspective, this seems like an unreasonably high expectation, especially given that new tenure-track faculty are likely to be in the phase of life where they are building both their research careers and their families. They have in fact little or no free time, and yet it is in their free time that they are to find the hundreds of hours necessary to develop their Swedish to an advanced level.

The purpose of the work reported here was to find out how widespread the two-year expectation is in Northern Europe and at KTH. I was also interested in assessing what kind of progress KTH tenure-track faculty were making towards becoming proficient in Swedish, and what kind of institutional support they were receiving. 

Work done

In spring 2018 I conducted a brief review of job advertisements at top northern European universities for evidence that other employers also had these expectations. I also collected responses from 75 KTH colleagues who had been hired to tenure-track positions in the last five years, asking them about their knowledge of Swedish and what institutional expectations and support they were experiencing regarding learning the language if they were not already fluent. 

Results/Lessons learned

In brief, I found that across the Nordic region there is a widespread expectation that newly hired faculty should be able to teach in the local language after two years. About one third of new tenure-track faculty at KTH speak Swedish when hired.  Most transnational KTH hires were not hired with expectations that they learn Swedish in a short period of time, but at present, a quarter of them are expected to learn Swedish to a high level. They are largely expected to do their learning in their free time and are not making much progress.

Take-home message

Across the Nordic region there is concern about the implications of the fact that an increasing share of university employees are not proficient in the local language (Gregersen et al. 2018). However, placing demands on faculty and then not giving them a reasonable chance of meeting them is not a reasonable way forward. Best practice for adult language learning would indicate that at least a thousand hours of study are required for most adults to reach the skills necessary for professional purposes. If departments seriously expect transnational faculty to teach in Swedish within two years, they should allow the individual the equivalent of six months of full-time study of the language. A more reasonable time frame for learning high-proficiency Swedish would be five or six years. Language-learning plans should be written for all new hires to tenure-track positions, and followed up at regular intervals.

Reference 

Frans Gregersen et al., 2018. More parallel, please! Best practice of parallel language use at Nordic Universities: 11 recommendations. Nordic Council of Ministers.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019.
National Category
Languages and Literature
Research subject
Education and Communication in the Technological Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-263810OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-263810DiVA, id: diva2:1370279
Conference
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Note

QCR 20191115

Available from: 2019-11-14 Created: 2019-11-14 Last updated: 2020-02-17Bibliographically approved

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No full text in DiVA

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Hincks, Rebecca

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