In this section, the aim is
- to understand what language skills are made up of,
- to identify and present your language repertoire,
- to identify and learn to describe your plurilingual skills,
- to identify language awareness as a component of language skills and to learn how language awareness can be made use of in communication, and
- to gain an understanding of language needs in further studies and in working life.
Language repertoire is a term used to refer to all the languages you have learned and use in your daily life, hobbies, work, and possible further studies. Your language repertoire consists of the languages and dialects you speak at home as well as those you learn at school and in your free time. It also includes the languages you use with your family, friends, and other social circles.
The term plurilingual does not refer only to people with bilingual or multilingual childhoods. Plurilingualism can also be regarded as knowledge of languages that are learned throughout life, be they home languages, dialects, languages learned at school or outside of school, at any point in time. Even the slightest knowledge of a language is valuable.
Different languages are used in different ways, in different situations and with different people. You use some languages at home with your family, some with your relatives, and some when playing, reading, or engaging in other activities. Language use may refer to, for example, speaking, listening, and reading, and your choice of language can vary depending on the situation or the person with whom you are engaging in conversation. In the following task, think about where and with whom you use the languages you listed in the previous task.
Language skills also refer to the ability to vary and adapt language(s) in different situations and for different purposes. For example, when communicating on social media, responding to work emails, or when writing answers to exam questions, the context of language use is very different depending on the situation. Attention should also be paid to the objective of language use: is the objective to give a neutral summary of an online piece of news, or is it to influence readers’ opinions with a blog post on the subject, characterized by your subjective views on the matter?
Studying languages is inherently connected to building cultural competence. Languages and cultures are intertwined, and it is worth remembering that they know no national borders. For example, English, German, Mandarin Chinese, and Farsi are spoken in many different parts of the world, as first languages, second languages, and foreign languages. At the heart of cultural competence is an understanding of the diversity of cultures and an open and respectful approach to diversity.
Language and culture are discussed in more detail in the section on Language, culture and internationalism.
Using language always entails making (linguistic) choices in terms of what
we say, how we say it, and who we are addressing. The linguistic choices
we make play an important role in interaction. Using language in a way
that is attentive to the listener or reader requires linguistic awareness, that
is, an understanding of how, for example, word choices and the manner of
communication affect what is said and how the message is interpreted—or
whether the message is understood at all.
Therefore, linguistic competence is also about being able to adapt the way you communicate and the language you use according to who the recipient of the message is. Developing your language awareness is an essential tool for communication of any kind.
Language awareness also refers to knowledge regarding attitudes towards language communities, that is, to an understanding of how different languages are valued and appreciated in different communities. This is reflected, for example, in being aware of the fact that some languages enjoy the status of being more acceptable to use and are often more visible, while others may be disregarded, even disapproved of, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Bear in mind that language can also be used to prevent or discourage
others from participating in conversation. For example, the use of academic
or discipline-specific vocabulary and complex sentence structures can
make it difficult to understand a message, be it a web publication, a TV
appearance, or an email. A language does not need to be “foreign” for it to
be incomprehensible. It may just contain vocabulary that is unfamiliar to you.
Examples of such “foreign” terminology may include, for example, engine
parts, medical terms, or agricultural vocabulary.
Language awareness is also a tool for learning. For example, learning
about the structure of different languages helps you learn new languages.
In addition, learning different subjects at school not only increases your
knowledge of different disciplines, but also includes learning the language of
those disciplines: for example, mathematics makes extensive use of graphs,
pictures and notation, and history teaches you how to interpret and critically
reflect on different sources.
The development of learning skills will be explored in more detail in the section on language learning skills.
When engaging in interaction, creative use of shared languages can help in situations where the message would otherwise not get across. In such cases, even limited knowledge of a common language is of particular importance in interaction.
Multilingualism and creative language use may come in handy when you meet
new people and you need a way to break the ice. For example, if you have
studied the basics of French and meet another person who speaks French,
even a brief exchange in French can help create a positive atmosphere and
Language choices can be made to emphasise solidarity or shared linguistic and cultural features. For example, when two people from the same dialect area meet, they may switch from the standard language to a dialect variant (for example, the Turku dialect) to show that they come from the same place. Using a dialect is also a way of expressing one’s linguistic and cultural identity when the person you are talking to comes from a different region.
The parallel use of languages in interaction, translanguaging, may help to smooth the flow of meaning-making more than sticking to one language. Multilingualism creates opportunities for creative, lively, and playful language use.
In fact, using several languages flexibly in conversation is more common than monolingual communication. However, it is important to be aware of the situations in which multilingual communication is acceptable or commendable and when it is better to stick to just one language.
Improving your language skills
Describing language skills
An important part of language learning in general upper secondary school is
learning to identify and assess your language skills, as well as to learning how
to describe your skills to others, such as employers.
A good way to describe your language skills is to give concrete examples
of situations in which you can use a given language with ease. In which
situations are you able to communicate in different languages? Examples of
such situations include, for example, customer service, making small talk, or
exchanging more complex opinions or views.
In the following exercise, you can practice assessing your language skills using the European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
The Evolving Language Proficiency Scale (NCC 2019), a Finnish adaptation of the CEFR, can be found on the Studyinfo website of the Finnish National Agency for Education.
Language skills for future studies and working life
After general upper secondary school, you will continue improving your
language skills in further studies and the world of work, where you will
gain expertise in a given field. Linguistic expertise includes, for example,
knowledge of the vocabulary and text genres in your field (such as reports,
memos) and proficiency in internal and external communication at the