If you can read this …

I was hoping the heading would catch your attention. Writing captivating headings for the web just happens to a part of my daily job. Now if you are unable to read this blog post, then I highly suggest that you consider finding another place of employment.

This may seem rather blunt and heavy-handed, but I want to make a strong case for the bilingual university. And with bilingual I mean Swedish and English. Perhaps you can recall the time when you applied for your job at Umeå University. If the job posting was written in Swedish then it most likely had this under Competency Requirements (Komptenskrav):

Arbetet kräver även god förmåga att uttrycka sig i tal och skrift såväl i svenska som engelska.

The line above is directly cited from a current open position at Umeå University. A rough translation of the requirement above is ”the work also requires good written and verbal capacity in Swedish as well as English.” I should point out that this is an example of a typical job within administration at Umeå University. There are many variations of this bilingualism requirement in a majority of job descriptions at our esteemed university.

But there are exceptions to the rule. Many job descriptions completely omit the ability to have strong skills in a second language. So you’re thinking my argument for the bilingual university just folded like a house of cards. Not so fast my friends. A growing number of positions are written entirely in English with no requirement whatsoever for any knowledge of the Swedish language. Stop the presses! We recruit talented researchers, PhD students and lecturers on a regular basis with no expectation that they understand what the word förankringsprocess means. (Please don’t ask me to explain this wonderful phenomenon.)

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I speak for the not-so-silent minority at Umeå University. I hear from them on a regular basis with constructive criticism about the need for more information in English. This includes research communication, relevant news for employees, promotional material and brochures, and so much more.  Not to mention the hundreds of international students that come here to study courses and programmes taught entirely in English. Quite simply, they are not satisfied with the second-class status of being non-Swedish speaking. It’s like being left completely out of the conversation.

We can be much better. We can dare to write more often in English instead of sending texts to translation services. We can be inclusive rather that exclusive. We can be supportive and encouraging. We can begin to think of our university as being a truly bilingual workplace. We can become a role model for being a university with a real international perspective. I recently read a new language policy at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands which sets an ideal precedence by stating: “we intend to be a bilingual university, fostering multilingualism, and enhancing linguistic and cultural diversity and awareness.”

English and Swedish already exist together as peaceful companions in this country. Sweden has been ranked as having the highest proficiency in English in the world and we gladly cite this in our information for prospective international students. In my opinion, the ultimate goal should be for both languages to be interchangeable in nearly every aspect at this university. When that day comes, Umeå University will be on its way to being one of the elite higher education institutions in the world.

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For those who react with the rallying cry that we have a duty to protect the Swedish language, I welcome your comments and a healthy debate. There’s only one request on my part. Please have the courtesy of writing in English, for the sake of inclusiveness.

3 kommentarer till If you can read this …

  1. madeleine.ramstedt@chem.umu.se' Madeleine Ramstedt says:

    Thank you!!

    I fully agree! If the university wants to follow the vision of being an international university we must work harder to include all employees also those that do not speak Swedish (yet).

    I am Swedish and I keep seeing colleagues being excluded from important information, that would help them navigate in the Swedish academic life, because this information is only given in Swedish.

    Very often the argument is that Swedes would not feel comfortable enough speaking English at these occasions. I do not agree with that argument and your graph beautifully shows why. We could also ask ourselves if our comfort is more important than including newly recruited highly skilled colleagues that haven’t learned Swedish (yet).

    Do we truly want to be an international university that can attract skilled staff and students from abroad?

  2. janet.enever@sprak.umu.se' a Brit says:

    Hmm…I declare myself one of the not-so-silent minority at Umeå University, but I tread warily as I am aware of the sensitivities related to language, identity, power, etc. I limit my comments therefore to a thank you and a plea.
    As an academic here at Umea, my sincere thanks go to those who have so generously run committee meetings entirely in English, to allow me to fully contribute and feel included -this action has impressed me tremendously. My plea is for consideration to be given for department staff meetings to be run – just partly – in English, where non-Swedish speakers are department members. It would be wonderful not to feel entirely excluded by the department.

  3. erik.so.johansson@umu.se' David Meyers says:

    Thank you for your comments and I appreciate the positive feedback. My hope is to avoid an ”Us vs. Them” mentality at Umeå University. This isn’t about replacing Swedish with English.

    I believe the two languages can coexist together in a healthy manner that makes the university stronger. Should we strive for a 50-50 balance? Probably not, but we can produce more content in English than we do today.

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