Valuing the competence of immigrants

Competence Norway ImmigrationAmanuensis Marte Monsen at the Innlandet High School. (Photo: Helena Sæter, Competence Norway).

Valuing the competence of immigrants

Increasing attention is being paid to those who don’t know , read or write  the Norwegian language. This applies to both media, politics and research. But what can we do to motivate immigrants to learn this as well as possible?


That was the question Ammunsiensis at the University Innlandet, Merte Monsen, asked in her introduction of «Basic literacy development: About knowledge, resources and time». The speech was held at Competence Norway’s professional seminar in Sandefjord 14th-16th. November. Training for immigrants with little or no schooling was the theme of the gathering.

Strict requirements do not contribute to language learning

Both internal and external motivation is important for being good at reading and writing. Many people have a strong inner motivation to learn a language, for example, if they have many new friends whom they want to communicate with, in another country. On the other hand, income requirements for family reunification should be a strong external motivation.

– We may think that to get a job and make enough money so that one in time could bring the family to Norway, could motivate many to learn Norwegian. In practice, we see that this is not the case. To succeed in Norwegian language learning, reading and writing, one must not only look at the motivation of an individual, Monsen says.

There has been a lot of litteracy teaching in the Nordic countries that have not always been a success over the last 20 years. The research shows that people here have had too little time to learn how to read and write. Immigrants often also have too little oral knowledge to break the reading codes. They also need enough time to practice their reading. Monsen indicates that teachers are good at using visual materials in teaching, but emphasises that this must happen in such a way that the participants don’t feel infantile or stupid.

Investment, Identity and Language Training

Motivation and investment are two concepts that are closely linked to explaining what challenges immigrants can face when they learn to read Norwegian. Motivation does not capture the complex relationship between identity, cultural background and language education.

– Languages are identity, and we are related to the languages we know. If a person comes to a new country where, for example, their native language cannot be used for anything, not even learning a new language, that person will feel worthless. Immigrants often experience that different languages have a different value in our society. Immigrant minority languages often have low status, while English and Western languages have high value, Monsen explains.

Valuation of competence is an investment

Knowledge, social norms and cultural background determine your opportunities to succeed in the world.

– If one finds that what you bring along is not worth anything, that will lead to feeling left out and perhaps even scepticism to the new culture. In order for participants to want to invest in and spend time learning a new language, they must know that the capital they bring along, ie their own background, are suitable for investing in the new language.

Better yield with mapping

Immigrants who learn Norwegian is a very complex group, with very different experiences in their backpack. It is therefore very useful for both teachers and students of Norwegian that their skills are mapped in advance.

– For those who teach, on the one hand, it is important to take into account the linguistic and cultural capital the students already possess. On the other hand, one must be aware of and take into consideration that they have a different way of learning than is the case with people who can read and write already.

Language helpers, ie people with the same mother tongue, but who have progressed further in their Norwegian language education, is a system which is being tested in some parts of the country. There is not much research in this area today, but it may indicate that language helpers can have a positive effect on education.

– This can be useful for both students of Norwegian and language assistants. The latter develops their language by helping others. But we need more knowledge about this. Fortunately, there is research about how language helpers are used in teaching.

In order to get a better overview of which measures can give the best effect to people who wants to learn to read and write Norwegian in the future, Monsen wants more research on the topic.

– As of today, there is too little research in the area. We need both to research more on literacy development and to systematise the research we possess today, Monsen concludes.


© Kompetanse Norge / #Norway Today