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The Mixed Group Dilemma

Sara Sokolowska-Katzer -

Sara Sokolowska-Katzer -

Group projects are stressful enough, but being in an international-mixed group brings even more challenges. We talked with international students at KTH about their experience working with Swedish students and vice versa. Here is what they told us.

Canvas creates a group for your assignment. You show up excited to make new Swedish friends but as the introductions begin the group realises that most of the members are Swedish. The conversation spirals into more and more Swedish interjections and eventually the Swedish students find their own conversations in their language. Have you experienced this before? How did you handle it? OL interviewed some of our fellow students.

It turns out that in Master programmes this situation happens more often than not on our KTH campus, as international students mix with the Swedish natives. Sometimes the proportion between Swedish and non-Swedish speakers are imbalanced, says Darta (Latvia). They switch between languages without bad intention because usually the Swedish students don’t see it as an exclusion of internationals. Celeste (Belgium) points out that often, conversations that are held in Swedish amongst students in mixed groups are personal. Looking at his previous university experience, Celeste says KTH is incomparably better in the students’ efforts in linguistic inclusion. The lack of conversation in English might be simply related to the level of fluency.

Whenever Swedish students start to get into their own bubble amongst a mixed group, Darta tends to point it out. Not everyone is brave enough to do so, though. Marianna (Poland) says it’s natural that people want to speak their native language. She usually asks her Swedish-speaking friends for context when this happens. Kristoffer (Iceland) says Swedish students seem willing to change back to English in their conversations when asked, because they want to practice their spoken English skills. Kristoffer reminisces on a Swedish Gasque he attended. The songs there were in Swedish, however the entertainment was all in English, which is considerate of the mixed group attending such an event.

Norwegian students are in the unique position of understanding Swedish (to some extent) but still should be theoretically considered international, because of the language differences. Aurora (Norway) doesn’t notice the transition between English and Swedish. Some Norwegian students start speaking Swedish unconsciously, confirms Aurora. For the case of Norwegian students, they adapt to the situation.

Some view the language switch as a learning opportunity. Raygo (Hong Kong) finds that the Swedish students encourage him to speak Swedish, a language he is now learning. He finds the mix works well and he does not intervene if the conversation switches to Swedish.

The problem of a linguistic barrier is not a one-sided blame on Swedish students “not trying”. Max (Sweden) says that when he sees that someone is more comfortable speaking English (even if they understand a bit of Swedish) then he switches the language. Swedish students seem to all evaluate what language to speak depending on the surrounding group. This is not to say that there are no situations where someone feels excluded, but it definitely shines a light on the fact that there must be a mutual effort to entertain a conversation in a chosen language.

Nevertheless, teachers switching to Swedish when speaking to a mixed group is a recurring theme. Students agree it is irritating, when some tutors tend to say single (but key) words in Swedish during their classes, leaving the international students lost. It is found to be uncomfortable to keep questioning and putting extra effort into getting information that is supposed to be given in English.

Reflecting on the thoughts expressed by this handful of KTH students, you can definitely tell that mixed group conversations are on the minds of both “sides”. It takes some courage to put yourself out there speaking a second language, especially in front of peers with the same mother tongue. That is totally understandable and agreed on by both Swedish and international students.

However, one thing that has been brought up by all interview partners, is that English-taught courses should be fully taught in English. It seems that tutors and teachers at KTH are not always aware that it is not necessarily appreciated if they start speaking Swedish. It should also be disclaimed that luckily there are many that have consciously stuck to English no matter the situation, still, there is always room for improvement.

Publicerad: 2023-03-24

Ansvarig utgivare: Raquel Frescia
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