Language user profiles

Language user profiles are generalised descriptions of the different kinds of language learners and language users present in different work communities. They help to bring into the open the different wishes, needs and challenges related to language use and language learning – topics which can often be quite sensitive and personal. The profiles also help work communities to plan and shape language support and workplace communication in a way that ensures that all participants feel that they are heard.

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 

Profiles for international employees
Picture: Jenni Lintumäki

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.    

Language user profiles for Finnish-speaking employees   

Profiles for Finnish-speaking employees
Picture: Jenni Lintumäki

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.   

©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

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