Elisabeth Wåghäll Nivre
Elisabeth Wåghäll Nivre Photo: Niklas Björling

Language is of key importance for everyone. Linguistic skills are essential to everyone studying or working at the university and a high level of competence in academic language is often decisive, when, for example, writing research grant applications or participating in discussions during seminars.

Today, we offer courses in around 20 languages in seven departments at Stockholm University. The research carried out includes the study of even further languages. We have chosen, as far as possible, to have very strong ties to research in our courses, not only by having a large proportion of teaching staff holding a PhD, but also by offering language training  from beginner to postgraduate level. We offer a variety of languages which are spoken across Europe and on the American continent, in addition to some major languages which may open up doors for contacts in the Middle East and in Asia. When we hear the term ”small languages” we should not only think that they are small in the sense that only a small number of people speak them. In Sweden small languages now signifies those languages which are not studied by large numbers of people, that being a significant number of languages of those taught.

Perhaps it is true that in Sweden we do not need large numbers of people studying Latvian, Italian or Dutch, which are just some of the languages we currently offer. On the other hand, it could be very problematic if it was only possible to study Swedish, English and a small selection of other languages in Sweden. That would be at odds with what is being advocated within the EU: that everyone should be able to communicate in two languages in addition to their mother tongue. In an ever more complex society, with strong demands placed on the educational level of each individual, we have to equip young people with the basic tools for good communication, namely good spoken and written language skills. That is the target we set ourselves in language teaching at Stockholm University.

This is a text written by Elisabeth Wåghäll Nivre, Deputy Vice President and Professor of German, under the subject line “Words from the University's Senior Management Team”, where different members of the university’s management team take turns writing about current issues. “Words from the University's Senior Management Team” is included in each issue of “News for Staff”, a newsletter that goes out to all university employees.