Mother Tongue Instruction: Between Assimilation and Multicultural Incorporation

Oral D, Lund A. Education Sciences, 2022.

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For many students with migrant backgrounds and newly arrived students, their mother tongue is not only a knowledge and a school grade issue, but also a reflection of their identity and a sense of belonging, which are shaped by political structures. In this article, we analyze the role of mother tongue in Swedish policy documents and the way teachers and students see the role mother tongue in two Swedish schools: how do school professionals and students view the importance of mother tongue? What measures are taken to encourage the mother tongues of students with a migration background and newly arrived students? What are the implications of and obstacles to studying one’s mother tongue? We will look at levers of integration where school staff, as well as policy documents, encourage modes of incorporation, but also do identify obstacles concerning the practice of mother tongue instruction. Our article shows that although students long for a double cultural belonging, the policy documents are ambiguous and create an unclear promise for migrant students and their mother tongue teachers concerning multicultural incorporation. In practice, they have little evidence that maintaining their cultural background represents a strong value in Sweden. Ambiguous attitude towards mother tongue can be seen as a symbolic response to Sweden as a country which took a turn regarding its migration policy. The integration of residents with a migrant background is constantly questioned in the media and became a central issue in political debates. The implementation of mother tongue instruction reflects Sweden’s current state of discussing migration concerning integration policies somewhere between recognition and stigmatization. The data are drawn from student interviews, interviews with mother tongue teachers, and field notes in two schools in one of the biggest cities in Sweden.