Language user profiles
There are eight profiles in total: One set of four covers international employees’ attitudes towards language learning, and another set of four describe the attitudes of Finnish-speaking employees towards multilingualism in the workplace. The profiles deal not only with personal characteristics, but also with the interactions between the individual and their work community. Indeed, the profiles emphasize the role of the work community in the language learning process.
Discussions of language user profiles can improve the workplace atmosphere. When people dare to speak openly about difficult matters, it is easier to form a safe atmosphere and shape effective ways of operating and, both of which are important for learning a new language. A joint discussion on shared practices is often needed in situations where the language situation of a work community has changed or is about to change. Such situations can evoke a range of emotions: uncertainty or dissatisfaction on the one hand, but also curiosity and enthusiasm. The profiles can be used both to bring out any anxieties that are steering work decisions as well as to highlight the things that motivate people to learn a language or to support the language learning of others.
Further information on these language user profiles and other tools for multilingual work communities are available in the recently published Handbook for Multilingual Work Communities. The handbook includes, for example, practical guidelines for using the language profile tool in workplaces to discuss language use and develop language-related practices.
Language user profiles for international employees
International employees have different language-related goals. They also have varied language backgrounds, characteristics and needs, all of which affect how motivated they are to learn a new language. On top of this, they work in different linguistic environments, and these environments affect how well their language learning proceeds in working life.
The following language user profiles are one way to illustrate these diverse experiences of language learning. The profiles are located along two axes, highlighting how the development of language skills depends both on the learner’s desire and courage to adopt the language and also the kinds of opportunities and support offered by their environment.
Based on these two dimensions, there are four different language profiles for non-native employees. The horizontal axis represents the key internal qualities of the learner: their own desire and courage to use the new language. The vertical axis, meanwhile, represents the key external factor: the support and opportunities for language learning provided by the work community.
The profiles do not describe individuals, and the profile that best fits a particular person may vary from situation to situation. The profiles should therefore be seen as flexible: the same person can move between profiles depending on the situation, or have different profiles for different languages. More important than classifying individuals, therefore, is to recognise the different types and use this to support discussion of language and related development work.
The Short-term Resident works in Finland in an expert role, using English as the common language for both work and leisure. They don’t think they need Finnish language skills because they are only here in Finland “for the short-term” and have found an English-speaking community to connect with. Some of these short-term residents, however, have remained in Finland for a long time. For them, the decision to finally start studying Finnish now seems like a big step, and they may feel they no longer have the motivation, courage or time for it.
The Short-term Resident is often surprised at how much Finnish skills are needed in Finland, and they may not be aware of how useful even basic language skills can be in everyday life. The importance of Finnish for their work duties and everyday life may have been downplayed in the recruitment process. Not understanding the language being spoken all around you can increase the feeling of being an outsider and weaken one’s sense of belonging. Finnish skills may also be important for career advancement even in workplaces where English is the main language.
As a supervisor or colleague, you can support the Short-term Resident in the following ways:
- Provide realistic information during the recruitment process about the importance of the Finnish language.
- Offer right from the beginning the option of a language course provided during working hours.
- Be interested in their language studies and provide a channel for practising Finnish.
- Discuss language learning in development discussions.
- Emphasise that the employer is also responsible for the employee’s language learning.
- Map out the goals and plans for their language learning.
- Encourage the use and study of Finnish and take note of even slight progress in language skills.
The Cautious Perfectionist is an expert in their field who often experiences a profound conflict between their professional identity and their perceived lack of language skills. For this reason, they prefer to avoid using Finnish in their work duties or when work colleagues are present. The Cautious Perfectionist wants to avoid mistakes and plans their words carefully before daring to open their mouth. During spontaneous or quick conversations, they therefore sometimes don’t manage to say anything at all.
In their language use, the Cautious Perfectionist focuses on mistakes and shortcomings. They compare themselves to native speakers and fail to perceive their own strengths. They may also have received negative feedback about their language skills, which has further increased their reluctance to speak. Fear of failure causes them to often resort to English when interacting with others.
Developing oral skills and pronunciation is particularly difficult for the Cautious Perfectionist, as they avoid situations where they would have to react spontaneously in Finnish. Nevertheless, they may manage well in situations where the use of Finnish is anticipated and planned in advance.
Language learning is usually easiest in situations which do not threaten the professional identity of the language learner. It is good to identify such situations in any given workplace and utilise them for language learning purposes. It is also important that the language learners are viewed through lens other than that of the learner: despite their limited language skills, they are a competent professional in their field.
As a supervisor or colleague, you can support the Cautious Perfectionist in the following ways:
- Combat their feelings of shame and incompetence by creating safe contexts for language use.
- Do not correct their linguistic mistakes in public.
- Anticipate and plan communication situations so that they can prepare for them.
- Give them the opportunity to receive one-on-one feedback.
- Be supportive of language learning.
- Share responsibility for the success of interactions in Finnish.
The Treadmill Runner has the motivation and desire to learn the language, but they lack opportunities at work and in everyday life for naturally putting their Finnish skills to use. Many Treadmill Runners may find themselves in a work life situation where they have been specifically assigned work tasks for which Finnish skills are not needed. In other words, the choices made by their employer have impeded their language learning efforts. The Treadmill Runner has very few Finnish-speaking friends or acquaintances that they could see in their spare time, and their life situation may prevent them from participating in language courses. Furthermore, their work colleagues are sometimes not willing to listen to Finnish that is spoken either more slowly or in a different way.
The Treadmill Runner is aware of the fact that Finnish skills increase career opportunities and integration into the work community and wider society. They would therefore like to study Finnish and would attend a language course if the employer offered one during working hours. The Treadmill Runner is somewhat frustrated with the current situation, but at the same time hopeful that things could change. They believe that in the future – perhaps in a different life situation – they could master this new language. If they receive the right kind of support from their work community, their language skills can develop quickly.
As a supervisor or colleague, you can support the Treadmill Runner in the following ways:
- Listen to their language learning aspirations and desires.
- Set language learning goals together.
- Provide opportunities to use Finnish and encourage the work community to utilise the Treadmill Runner’s language skills.
- Use clear Finnish when speaking with them.
- Draw on their experience when designing language learning support practices for your work community.
The Smooth Adaptor has mastered the Finnish language and found their place in Finnish-speaking communities. They have been a motivated language learner right from the beginning, and they have consciously chosen to speak Finnish even when they could have used English.
The Smooth Adaptor has been on Finnish courses, but they have also actively used the language outside of the classroom, in everyday communication situations. They have received language support in everyday situations from their work community or other Finnish speakers. They have not, therefore, been learning either on their own or only through language courses. Smooth Adaptors have dared to start using right away even very basic Finnish skills, and they have been fortunate to have people around them who have not switched to English even when their Finnish language skills were still very limited.
Smooth Adaptors can often perceive better than native speakers the areas where language learners need support. They possess both a positive attitude towards learning and the courage to make mistakes and get things wrong.
As a supervisor or colleague, you can support the Smooth Adaptor in the following ways:
- Make sure that their opportunities for using Finnish are maintained or even further increased.
- Value the good language skills of the Smooth Adaptor.
- Be prepared to modify their work tasks or increase their responsibilities as their language skills improve.
- Make use of the experiences and skills of Smooth Adaptors to support other language learners in the work community.
Language user profiles for Finnish-speaking employees
Finnish-speaking employees also have varying preferences and opportunities to use the language. The language user profiles of Finnish-speaking employees can also be divided along two axes: the horizontal axis describes their attitude to language in general, while the vertical axis represents their view of their responsibilities and role as a supporter of language learning.
It is useful to explore these profiles for Finnish-speaking employees when seeking to develop shared workplace practices for multilingual communication and structures to support language learning. The profiles offer tips on how Finnish speakers could better support their colleagues' language learning in the workplace and handle any negative emotions related to using other languages.
The Pragmatist takes a practical perspective on workplace language use. If the performance of a certain work task requires good Finnish language skills or if customers are suspicious of an employee who has a foreign accent, the pragmatist takes the view that employees with insufficient language skills cannot be selected for the task. In addition, the pragmatist believes that language skill development is not something that employers or work colleagues need to deal with – the employee is responsible for their own language learning.
On the other hand, the pragmatist sees that good expertise can compensate for a lack of language skills in tasks where language is not of great importance. They therefore take the view that Finnish language skills are not needed if the work tasks do not require it and the job can be done well in English.
The pragmatist’s approach can be problematic in situations where there is a shortage of workers with sufficient language skills. If a work community is willing to participate in the development of employees’ language skills, it gains an advantage in the competition for skilled labour. A prospective employee may have valuable know-how that the company needs – all that is required is support for their language learning.
In some jobs and for some employees, the pragmatic approach to language use may indeed work well. However, the importance of language skills for a language learner’s well-being and job commitment is often much greater than the Pragmatist realises.
As a supervisor or colleague, you can support the Pragmatist in the following ways:
- Provide the Pragmatist with information on the important role of the work community in the language learning process.
- Emphasize how the workplace can benefit from supporting employees’ language learning.
- Explain the ways in which a work community can support the development of professional language skills.
- Provide information on the multidimensional significance of language skills.
The Foreign Language Avoider thinks that because they live in Finland and have not chosen a particularly international field, they should be allowed to work in Finnish. Even though they know English, the thought of using it in their work or in informal workplace gatherings feels quite overwhelming. It also bothers them when non-native colleagues speak together in a foreign language, as it makes them feel like an outsider.
Foreign Language Avoiders also find it burdensome to support the Finnish language learning of their second-language colleagues and feel that unequal language skills lead to an unfair division of work responsibilities. They think that workers from other countries should first take language courses and start work only when their language skills are sufficient for working in Finnish.
In Finland, it is often taken for granted that all trained professionals know English. Such expectations can be stressful for employees who feel they do not meet the requirements. Indeed, the Foreign Language Avoider is quite similar to the Cautious Perfectionist in that both experience a conflict between their professional skills and their perceived language skills. The Foreign Language Avoider may feel ashamed of their lack of English skills, believing that they cannot carry out their work as competently in English as in Finnish.
As a supervisor or colleague, you can support the Foreign Language Avoider in the following ways:
- Establish clear ground rules and guidelines for using different languages.
- Give the Foreign Language Avoider the opportunity to get training on linguistic awareness for workplace communication.
- Give them help and resources for supporting a non-native work colleague.
- Identify any inequalities that relate to language and language use and tackle these together within the work community.
- Encourage them to improve their English by creating safe contexts for using even limited language skills.
- Support and build a safe and communal atmosphere.
The Overadaptor speaks good English and is very happy to use it with international colleagues. They consider it polite to use English with people from other countries, and believe that doing so shows that Finland is part of the international community. In their opinion, it is not necessary for work colleagues to learn Finnish – English is quite sufficient for life in Finland.
The Overadaptor views language and language use as a practical matter. Since everyone knows English and many work-related documents and terms are already in English, using English in all situations is a practical solution. They don’t see any deeper significance in the choice of language.
While the Overadaptor thinks they are being polite and inclusive, they may be doing a disservice to both international employees and their work community. Not all Finnish-speaking employees necessarily speak English as well as the Overadaptor thinks they do, and many international employees may indeed want to learn Finnish. Many people need Finnish in their everyday lives, and their work community may be the only place where they can develop their Finnish skills.
It may not even occur to the Overadaptor that using English may result in a glass ceiling that prevents international employees from advancing their career. The Overadaptor may also unintentionally offend language learners. If a language learner would like to practice speaking Finnish and so starts a conversation in Finnish, but the other person then switches to English, this can feel like a put-down. If the learner repeatedly encounters such situations and is not given the opportunity to practice Finnish, their motivation to keep trying may decrease.
As a supervisor or colleague, you can support the Overadaptor in the following ways:
- Provide information on the multidimensional significance of language skills.
- Encourage the Overadaptor to ask their colleagues what language they would prefer to use.
- Provide them with clear guidance on how to support language learners.
- Remind them that language learners’ needs and preferences may change over time.
The Facilitator is attentive and quick to notice language-related issues. They often raise the topic of which language to use and naturally monitor interactions from the perspective of whether someone needs linguistic support to understand or participate in a conversation. The Facilitator supports their non-native colleagues by themselves using clear language and also acting as an interpreter where needed. They are aware that the development of international employees’ language skills benefits not only the employee themselves but also the entire work community.
The Facilitator is not alarmed when a language learner pronounces Finnish differently, struggles to find the words, or resorts to other languages in the middle of a conversation. They take responsibility for carrying the conversation forward and provide linguistic support by using clear language and synonyms. They facilitate understanding by making use of the surrounding environment, facial expressions, gestures and illustrative examples. They do not switch to English at the first sign of misunderstanding or communication difficulties. At the same time, they are also not averse to using other languages where needed to help ensure understanding. The Facilitator identifies when a language learner needs support and provides it at the right time.
They do not need to be a native Finnish speaker or a language teaching specialist. It is enough for them to be fluent in Finnish and motivated to help learners in their interactions within the work community. Indeed, the best Facilitators are often international employees who have learnt Finnish well.
As a supervisor or colleague, you can support the Facilitator in the following ways:
- Provide the Facilitator with training on factors that influence language learning so that they can be even more effective and can share good practices with others.
- Encourage the Facilitator to become the language advocate for their work community.
- Offer them opportunities to network.
- Give recognition to the language support they provide.
©2023 Johanna Komppa, Eveliina Korpela, Lari Kotilainen, Salla Kurhila and Inkeri Lehtimaja.
Language user profiles, November 2023, by Johanna Komppa, Eveliina Korpela, Lari Kotilainen, Salla Kurhila and Inkeri Lehtimaja, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The material can be found at https://www.kielibuusti.fi/en.