Multilingual Life Stories: Humak Interpreting Students as Interviewers – Multilingual Monday Blog Series, Part 5

Neljä piirrettyä kättä heiluu eri suuntiin. Taustalla puhekuplia.

This blog series focuses on discussing multilingualism and multiculturalism specifically from four different perspectives: linguistic and cultural repertoire, linguistic and cultural landscape, the connection between language and culture, and the identity of a multilingual person. Blogs will be published once a week on Mondays until May 9, 2022.

Blog 1: Multilingualism and Multiculturalism as a Phenomenon

Blog 2: Linguistic Repertoire From the Perspective of a Multilingual Person

Blog 3: Thoughts on Language and Multilingualism

Blog 4: Connection Between Language, Nonverbal Communication and Culture

Blog 5: “Multilingual Life Stories”

The interpreting studies at Humak University of Applied Sciences include a course on multilingualism and multiculturalism. The course introduces the concepts of language awareness, language diversity and linguistic repertoires, among other things. The studies also address, for instance, how the concepts of language skills and multilingualism have changed over time. In addition to theoretical considerations, students will be able to interview people living in Finland whose mother tongue is not Finnish, Swedish or Finnish sign language. These interviews take place already in the early stages of studies. As the studies progress, more interviews will be conducted in sign language.

Monolingualism, bilingualism and multilingualism

When it comes to monolingualism, bilingualism or multilingualism, these terms can be used to describe the language skills or language use of both an individual and a community. Monolingual communities are very rare in the world. Broadly speaking, bilingualism can mean the use of two languages, regardless of the level of proficiency or how the languages have been acquired and at what age.

Society always depends on language, so language is central to the existence of individuals, communities and the state as a whole. There are several dozen countries in the world with more than one official language. There do not seem to be any monolingual countries, as the language reserve of states always includes minority languages in addition to the official ones. The language reserve of a country also has an impact on the formation of the cultural identity of the people and communities living there.

Our perception of multilingualism is changing. The expansion of the concepts of bilingualism and multilingualism now involves the idea of recognizing the situational and sectoral nature of language and the fact that language skills are seen as situational, variable and dynamic (Honko & Mustonen 2018). With this new approach, it is conceivable that in a way, every community and community member is multilingual.

Varpunen peeks from the edge of a wooden terrace.
Monolingualism may form a threshold between different cultures. Photo: Pixabay.

Multilingualism as Part of Cultural Diversity

On the website of the Finnish National Agency for Education, multilingualism is defined as one of the manifestations of cultural diversity. Multilingualism can be examined in different language use situations and from different perspectives. These perspectives may include, for example, language awareness, linguistic memory and vocabulary, comprehension, language production skills, language reception skills, discourse knowledge, language etiquette, language use skills, and interaction skills (Finnish National Agency for Education 2022).

In the past, language skills and language learning processes have been studied specifically from the perspective of an individual, says Mari Honko (2021, 185). Today, alongside this, the formation of collective language skills within different language communities or groups is also examined. Consensus is being built by creating meanings through negotiation.

Two sparrows are sitting on wood and looking in different directions.
Bilingualism is, in fact, multilingualism. Photo: Pixabay.

Interpreting students at Humak reflect on their own language paths and linguistic landscapes early in their studies with the help of an extensive set of tasks. Later, the focus turns to other language users and society’s language resources, as well as to the diversity of language use. Second- and third-year students get to interview different types of language users – ones that are able to hear and ones that are not. Through the interviews, the understanding of multilingualism and linguistic repertoires is deepened and refined.

Four sparrows are negotiating while sitting on a tree.
Cultural identity is built by working together in everyday life. Photo: Pixabay.

Linguistic Landscapes and Cultural Wandering

Through the interview assignments, interpreting students reflect on the key concepts related to linguistic diversity, among other things. The aim of the interviews is to get an idea of what the Finnish language reserve is like and how different interviewees use the possibilities of their own linguistic repertoires in different environments. By comparing the interviewees’ personal descriptions of their own language use and linguistic and cultural identity, a map is drawn of how multilingualism is reflected in the interviewees’ daily lives. What is the multilingual language awareness of the interviewees like and how does it manifest itself? What kind of language communities do they feel they belong to and what roles do they play in these communities?

Students have found conducting the interviews – and especially reflecting on them together – rewarding and eye-opening. They state that they have found that encounters with people representing a wide range of linguistic and cultural identities also shape their own perceptions of multilingualism and its manifestations. Thus, the interview material can be useful for a wide range of discussions in the future, especially in terms of the interpeting field.


Honko, Mari (2021). Tutkimuksen kohteena vuorovaikutuksen käytänteet ja keinot. Puhe ja kieli, 41(2), 185–188. Accessed 20.3.2022. (in Finnish)

Honko, Mari & Mustonen, Sanna (2018). Kieliä rinnakkain – koulun monikielisyys näkyviin kieliä vertailemalla. Kieli, koulutus ja yhteiskunta, 9(5). Accessed 22.3.2022. (in Finnish)

Opetushallitus 2022. Kulttuurinen moninaisuus ja kielitietoisuus. Accessed 20.3.2022. (in Finnish)

Text: Zita Kóbor-Laitinen, Lecturer, FM, KM (M.A.), Sign Language Interpreter (UAS)

Translation: Mari Ervasti