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Report: Nordic universities’ use of English can’t be stopped

Multi-language teaching environment at universities is a ‘challenge’, but is also an already established fact, shows report

Teaching and research at internationalized and multi-lingual Nordic universities are more and more likely to be in English. This is according to a network of language experts that have just presented reports on each of the Nordic countries’ use of languages at universities.

The use of English, in conjunction with one of the national Nordic languages, is an already established fact at universities, according to one of the authors of the study Olle Josephson, professor in Nordic Languages at Stockholm University. National policies should to a higher degree reflect this.

In this way, he said at the reports’ presentation Friday in Copenhagen, “internationalization is a success, and it will go on. The dominance of the English language will continue.”

See the site with links to the reports here.

More formal in English

The conference highlighted the fact that teaching in the English language is tough for some teachers, and for some students.

More and more lectures are being held in English instead of universities’ native tongue. Despite Nordics’ relative proficiency in English, grasping complicated ideas in a foreign language is hard, and support for English-teaching and learning skills is needed, the report argues.

According to Frans Gregersen, a Danish member of the network and language professor, educators have a hard time maintaining an informal atmosphere as they feel less confident in their language abilities. And students are more withdrawn and less likely to participate, if they feel their language skills aren’t up to par.

Takes 25 per cent more time

“This is how it is if we just switch the language. But languages are not switches, they may be developed consciously and that is what we should do,” he adds.

“All kinds of supportive measures should be considered carefully and a choice between them should be based on an analysis of what the students are to acquire,” he says.

According to a study of Swedish universities, it takes lecturers 25 per cent more time to prepare content in English than their native language. “Researchers are used to gather knowledge in English, but disseminating this knowledge is a different matter. It can be challenging to be as qualified in English as in one’s mother tongue”, said Frans Gregersen in connection with the release of the report.


Nordic universities face a number of challenges, according to Olle Josephson.

There is the pedagogical challenge in teaching students with different linguistic backgrounds.

But there is also the challenge in maintaining the national languages of Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Icelandic as languages of science and research.

“There is no-one but the universities who can develop the national languages in terms of science and humanities at a qualified level,” he said at the conference.

Not just two languages, but many

The dominance of English as the language that is parallel to the national language hides the fact that there are often more than two languages in play, according to Olle Josephson.

And this is the third challenge.

For many universities, it is “not just two languages, but a many-language environment,” he said.

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