Volume 7 (2016) Issue 2 - Article Krulatz & Dahl
JLLT 7 (2016) 2 Publication Version.pdf

Journal of Linguistics and Language Teaching

Volume 7 (2016) Issue 2 (PDF)

Baseline Assessment of Norwegian EFL Teacher Preparedness to Work with Multilingual Students

Anna Krulatz (Trondheim, Norway) & Anne Dahl (Trondheim, Norway)

Abstract (English)

The present paper describes a study of Norwegian EFL teachers’ self-perceived preparedness to work with multilingual students. The study employed an online survey to examine teachers’ self-perceived preparedness to work with multilingual students, the training they had received in the area of multilingualism, their beliefs about knowledge, skills and resources needed to work with multilingual students, and their interest in receiving additional training. The findings suggest that, while the majority of the teachers have not received specific training on multilingualism, most of them feel confident about their ability to work with linguistically diverse student populations. Implications for practice in EFL teacher education programs are discussed.

Key words: EFL teacher education; teacher preparedness; multilingualism; teacher self-assessment

Abstract (Norwegian)

I denne artikkelen presenterer vi en studie av hvor godt forberedt norske engelsklærere selv mener at de er på å arbeide med flerspråklige elever. Gjennom en spørreundersøkelse undersøkte vi hvor godt forberedt lærerne følte seg å arbeide med flerspråklige elever, hvorvidt de hadde formell kompetanse i å arbeide med flerspråklige elever, hva slags kunnskap, ferdigheter og ressurser de selv mente at trenges for å arbeide med flerspråklige elever, og hvorvidt de var interesserte i å motta ytterligere opplæring i temaet. Funnene tyder på at mens et flertall av lærerne ikke har formell kompetanse i å arbeide med flerspråklighet, føler de fleste av dem seg forholdsvis trygge på sin egen evne til å arbeide med språklig mangfoldige elevgrupper. Vi diskuterer implikasjoner av funnene for engelskfaget i lærerutdanningene.

Stikkord: engelsklærerutdanning; lærerkompetanse; flerspråklighet; læreres egenvurdering

1 Introduction

In the last few decades, immigrant populations have undergone a rapid increase in many European countries. One implication of this demographic change is the ever-growing presence of minority language students in European classrooms; both students with home languages different from the majority language, but born in the country of residence, and students who are recent immigrants. These students are, in various ways and to various degrees, faced with the potentially challenging task of maintaining their home language while at the same time developing academic language proficiency in the majority language. Due to the importance of English as a lingua franca, English may be added to their linguistic repertoire as a third language (L3) as early as in the first year of formal education.

Recent research on “beyond two” multilingualism (Aronin & Singleton 2012) suggests a great complexity in the factors involved in multiple language acquisition as opposed to second language acquisition, where the mutual influence of the two linguistic systems is bidirectional (Jessner & Cenoz 2007). In tri- and multilinguals, all language systems can influence each other, and production and acquisition are influenced by factors such as typological relatedness, cultural similarity, proficiency level, and language status (Williams & Hammarberg 1998). At the same time, research underscores the unique­ness of multilingualism and third language acquisition as compared to bilingualism and second language acquisition, emphasizing that multilingualism is a norm in the majority of contemporary communities (Cenoz & Hoffman 2003). Multilingualism is found in contexts such as African countries where children speaking two local languages learn the official language when they start attending school, and European regions in which minority speakers of languages such as Basque, Catalan, Sami, or Frisian, who are also fluent in the main language of the respective country, learn a foreign language. However, multilingualism is also on the increase in areas with high immigrant populations. As a lingua franca, English is probably the most frequent additional language. For example, Turkish children growing up in Germany learn German as a second language and English as a third language. The same is true for many children with immigrant backgrounds in Norway. They may speak their first language (L1) at home with their families, learn Norwegian as a second language (L2) outside of the home, e.g., in kindergarten or at school, and start developing proficiency in English as an additional language as early as in the first grade.

Previous research from American and Canadian contexts suggests that teachers need appropriate training and instruction in issues pertaining to language acquisition and multilingualism to successfully work with students of diverse language and cultural backgrounds (e.g. Webster & Valeo 2011, Faez 2012). However, there is less research on teacher preparedness in the European context, where English is a third rather than a second language, and little is known about how well-prepared English-as-a-Foreign-language (EFL) teachers feel to work with minority language students in the EFL classroom. The present study attempts to address this gap.

The authors of this article conducted a baseline study of the perceptions of Norwegian teachers of English with regards to their preparedness to teach English to minority-language students, their formal training in doing so, as well as their beliefs about what knowledge and skills are needed, and their interest in receiving further training in the area. The cities in which the study was undertaken have relatively high proportions of immigrant populations ranging from 12% to 32% (Statistics Norway 2015). Although the data are limited to Norway, the findings are likely to be relevant to other European countries which have recently experienced a rapid influx of immigrants.

In the following, we will first discuss multilingualism and L3 acquisition, the linguistic situation in Norway, and EFL-teacher-training requirements. Next, we will present our findings, which shed light on the degree of professional training, perceptions about knowledge, skills and resources needed to successfully work with minority language students in the EFL classroom, and the perceived level of preparedness to support the development of students’ multilingual competence. Finally, we will consider implications for teacher training programs and in-service professional development.

2 Literature Review

2.1 Multilingualism and Third-Language Acquisition

The Council of Europe defines plurilingualism as “the ability to use languages for the purposes of communication and to take part in intercultural interaction, where a person […] has proficiency of varying degrees, in several languages, and experience of several cultures.” (Council of Europa 2001: 168)1. Recent research on third or multiple language acquisition suggests a great complexity in the factors involved in the process, which is influenced by variables such as typological relatedness, cultural similarity, proficiency level, and language status (Jessner & Cenoz 2007, Williams & Hammarberg 1998).

While research points to several cognitive, linguistic, and social benefits of multilingualism, multilingual education is not without challenges. To support multilingualism, teachers and schools need not only to be knowledgeable about language learning processes, but also to accept and respect multilingual students and their linguistic repertoires. As Jessner states, “[o]ne of the most difficult aims of future work on language teacher education will be to make sure that all language teachers are experts on multilingualism” (Jessner 2008: 45).

2.2 Multilingualism and Language Teaching in Norway

In the present study, we are specifically investigating the EFL classroom in Norway. English has a prominent role taught as an obligatory subject beginning in Grade 12 (Utdanningsdirektoratet 2013). For monolingual Norwegian children, this is clearly a case of child SLA (Second Language Acquisition). Children who speak another language in addition to Norwegian, however, are acquiring a third language, and developing from bilingualism to multilingualism. Depending on their age of arrival in Norway, L2 and L3 can be developed simultaneously or consecutively.

Most Norwegians are exposed to English through online sources, media such as non-dubbed, subtitled films and TV-shows, and music and literature, and fluency in English among Norwegians is generally considered to be high (Bonnet 2004, Breivik & Hasselgren 2002, EF Education First 2013). In contrast, Nesse (2008) found that immigrant students’ proficiency in English is generally lower than that of Norwegian speaking peers and is affected by factors such as ethnic background, parents’ attitudes, proficiency and literacy in the first language (L1), interlanguage transfer, and qualifications of teachers working with these students.

While English has achieved a special status both in the Norwegian society and in the school system, and has been argued to be more than just a foreign language (e.g. Phillipson 1992: 25), the teaching of English in Norway is still largely influenced by traditional foreign language teaching methodologies. Studies report fairly high teacher reliance on textbooks, as well as a high proportion of teacher-centered communication (Drew, Oostdam & Toorenburg 2007, Eikrem 2012, Ibsen & Hellekjær 2003, Hestetræet 2012). There is also a reason to believe that Norwegian is relatively common as the language of instruction in English classrooms (Drew 2004, Drew et al. 2007, Eikrem 2012), including heavy reliance on translation (Mehl 2014). This may in part be due to low teacher competence in English, especially in primary schools where, until recently, there were no formal requirements for an English endorsement. Furthermore, although there have always been minority language speakers in Norway, it has historically been considered a fairly monolingual society. If all students in a classroom share Norwegian as their L1, teachers may feel that it is beneficial to support L2 learning by instruction and explanations in the L1. However, if Norwegian is used for communication in English classroom, students with minority language backgrounds, whose Norwegian proficiency may be low, may face an additional disadvantage.

It has been estimated that children of linguistically, culturally and ethnically diverse backgrounds constitute 11% of the student population in Norway (Utdanningsdirek­toratet 2012a). Depending on the school, these numbers can reach as high as 95%, as is the case in certain schools in Oslo (Surkalovic 2014). The exact statistics about languages spoken by minority language students in Norway are not available, but based on advertised openings for mother tongue teachers, it can be estimated that at least 179 various languages are spoken in Norwegian schools (Wilhelmsen et al. 2013). The Norwegian Education Act (1998) guarantees minority language students a right to mother tongue education and to adequate support for Norwegian language development. Thus, upon arrival, immigrant children are typically placed in a “mottak” school or classroom, which are specially designed to provide transitional bilingual education and adapted instruction to meet individual student needs. These programs focus on developing proficiency in Norwegian, including speaking, reading and writing in Norwegian, and children are expected to exit the program within one or two years and to enter mainstream education (Utdanningsdirektoratet 2012b).

Despite the European Commission’s recognition of the crucial role that foreign language teachers fulfil in supporting multilingualism (European Commission 2005), English is often treated as unrelated to the development of minority students’ multilingual competence. Additionally, research suggests that despite the rapid increase of minority language student populations in western countries, teachers in these countries lack adequate competence and skills to work with linguistically and culturally diverse students, and the overall awareness of issues related to multilingualism is low (Evans, Arnot-Hopffer & Jurich 2005, Faez 2012, Ladson-Billings 2000, Rushton 2000).

2.3 EFL Teacher Education in Norway

Teacher education programs in Norway are offered by universities and university colleges and are available in three tracks: Grades 1-7, Grades 5-10, and Grades 8-13. In addition, kindergarten teacher education supplemented by an additional 60 credits (equivalent to one year of full-time studies) qualifies for teaching in Grades 1-4. Typically, students in teacher education programs are required to take general courses in pedagogy (30-60 credits), and students in the 1-7 track are required to obtain credits in Norwegian and mathematics. The national guidelines specify the number of credit hours required for an English teaching endorsement, which is 60 credits at the middle-school and high school level, while for elementary school teachers a requirement of 30 credits was only introduced in 2015. Thus, it has not been uncommon for teachers in Norway to teach English without an EFL endorsement (Drew et al. 2007, Lagerstrøm 2007, Eurydice & Eurostat 2012). In addition, English teacher education programs have a fair amount of autonomy in determining the content of the courses they offer, and the methods of delivery and assessment. As a result, pedagogies and approaches vary among faculties.

The national guidelines for teacher education do not specifically state that English language teachers should be trained to work with linguistically, culturally and ethnically diverse students. To our knowledge, very few programs give attention to the special needs of multilingual and multicultural learners. Multilingual and multicultural perspectives may be infused into pedagogy courses and Norwegian language courses, but are mostly absent from English courses. As there is no uniform approach to integrating a linguistically and culturally responsive pedagogy in teacher training curricula, the majority of graduates may not receive any preparation in this area, at all.

Few studies on the Norwegian EFL teachers’ preparedness to work with minority language populations exist. Surkalovic (2014) examined whether pre-service language teachers (PLTs) possessed the necessary skills to support linguistically diverse students linguistically, culturally and ethnically. She found that PLTs lack knowledge about the extent of linguistic diversity in Norway, have a superficial understanding of language acquisition processes, and are unable to perform a contrastive analysis of Norwegian and other languages, which the author identified as important skills for teachers working in multilingual classrooms. Nonetheless, the participants in the study thought it was important for them to develop skills and knowledge that are relevant to work with culturally and linguistically diverse students. In a qualitative project, Krulatz & Torgersen (2016) observed and interviewed in-service EFL teachers and found that they respected their students' multilingual backgrounds and were invested in their wellbeing, but that there was a need for a greater understanding of multilingualism. Dahl & Krulatz (2016) used some of the same interview data as well as the descriptive statistics and additional comments obtained in the present study to triangulate teachers' responses about their preparedness for teaching diverse classrooms. They argued that despite feeling somewhat competent to work with multilingual students, Norwegian EFL teachers needed further training.

Considering the increasing numbers of multilingual students in classrooms in Europe and the important role of EFL teachers in supporting children’s multilingual development (European Commission 2005), the issue of teacher-preparedness to work with diverse populations appears to be an urgent one. The present study aims to address the existing gaps, specifically focusing on elementary- and middle-school EFL teachers who work with multilingual student populations. As Norway is not the only Scandinavian country currently experiencing a growth in its multilingual population, in particular in light of the new waves of refugees arriving in Western Europe as a result of conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, the present findings may bear important implications for Norway as well as Sweden and Denmark.

3 The Method

3.1 Research Questions

The following research questions were raised to explore EFL teachers’ preparedness to work with multilingual students:

    • How do EFL teachers perceive their level of preparedness to work with multilingual / minority language students?
    • What formal training in working with multilingual / minority language students have the EFL teachers received?
    • What are the EFL teachers’ beliefs about knowledge, skills, and resources needed to successfully work with multilingual / minority language students?
    • Are EFL teachers interested in receiving additional training in working with multilingual / minority language students?
    • What are the relationships between the variables explored?

3.2 Data Collection and Participants

In the present study, a mixed-method design was used. Data were collected in the fall of 2014, using an online survey addressed to EFL teachers. A self-report was chosen because, although there are limitations to self-report data, research suggests that teacher perceptions of their preparedness are a strong predictor of how they perform in the classroom (Darling-Hammond et al. 2002, Pappamihiel 2004). The survey was administered in Norwegian. It was fully anonymous, and no IP addresses were stored.

Teachers from about 150 elementary and middle schools in five major cities in Norway were invited via email to participate in the study. The survey was also shared on social media such as Facebook, and, in addition to respondents from the targeted cities, eight participants residing in towns with a population of between 18,000-51,000 responded, as well as fifteen participants from towns with a population of under 11,000. Three participants did not specify their place of employment. In total, 192 teachers responded.

3.2 Data Analysis

After the removal of respondents who did not teach English at the relevant level, 176 responses were included in the analysis. The cities where the study was conducted were represented as follows: Oslo (51), Bergen (29), Stavanger / Sandnes (25), Trondheim (18), Tromsø (29), other (24). The data were coded in Excel and analyzed, using the SPSS analytical software. In addition to descriptive statistics, chi-square tests were used to investigate whether there was a significant difference between the training reported and the grade level taught, the current type of education and an interest in receiving additional training, self-perceived preparedness and amount of training received, and self-perceived preparedness and interest in receiving more training. These analyses were included to gain a better understanding of the factors underlying teachers’ self-perceived readiness, and in particular of the effect of formal training on teachers' self-perception.

Responses to open-ended questions were analyzed qualitatively. The organization process consisted of developing codes and identifying main themes. The responses were coded, using the keywords training, experience, language proficiency, SLA, multilingual studies, undergraduate, graduate, in-service, teaching strategies, activities, theory, differentiated instruction, students’ L1 and other. Next, patterns by which keywords could be grouped into themes were identified. For instance, the theme of practical applications encompassed keywords like teaching strategies, activities, and differentiated instruction. Some of the keywords were used to code responses to more than one question. Specific vignettes and quotes were selected to illustrate the findings, but as the number of open-ended responses was limited, these findings are primarily used to provide more detail about the patterns that emerged from the analysis of the close-ended responses.

4 Findings

4.1 Experience and Readiness to Work with Linguistically Diverse Students

The majority of the respondents (87.5%) indicated that they had worked with students with minority-language backgrounds:

Fig.1: Distribution of participants based on whether they had taught minority language students

With regards to their self-perceived preparedness to work in multilingual classrooms, the teachers in this study reported fairly strong confidence in their abilities. Figure 2 shows that the majority of teachers classify themselves as somewhat prepared to work with minority language students. Nevertheless, only 5% of the teachers indicated that they felt very well prepared, and 33% stated that they did not feel prepared, at all:

Fig. 2: Distribution of participants based on how prepared they felt to teach minority language students

Only twelve of the participants included open-ended comments about self-perceived preparedness. They expressed concerns about diverse needs and proficiency levels of minority language students, their own lack of experience and training, challenges caused by the fact that teachers often do not speak a student’s first language, and difficulties associated with learning two new languages, English and Norwegian, at the same time. One respondent commented that it is particularly challenging to work with students who have moved from a country where English is not taught until the 4th grade, and another mentioned the challenge of working in a classroom where several different L1s are spoken.

4.2 Training in Multilingualism

The data show that only a minority of the participants (20%) have formal training in working with multilingual students;

Fig. 3: Distribution of participants based on whether they had formal training

in working with multilingual / minority language students

In a chi-square test, a significant association was found between whether teachers had training and how prepared they felt to work with minority-language students, χ2 (2) = 23.832, p<.001, showing that teachers with training in working with such student populations were more likely to feel somewhat prepared or very well prepared than teachers without any training.

Those teachers who stated that they had received formal training in working with diverse student populations were also asked to describe the type of degree they had obtained or courses they had been enrolled in. Eight teachers stated that they had been trained in Norwegian as a Second Language (NSL). Training in second language methodology and in special education were listed by four teachers each. Three of the teachers reported that they had received other, unspecified in-service training, and two mentioned experience working at a school with a diverse student population. Other types of training mentioned included courses or a degree in linguistics or bilingual education, a pre- or in-service English teaching endorsement, a graduate degree in intercultural relations, a degree in German teaching methodology, a bachelor’s thesis on the topic, or a foreign degree. Some of the teachers stated the name of the institution where they had received their training, mentioning the University of Bergen, the University of Oslo, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Hedmark University College, and Hamar University College. Interestingly, one of the teachers commented that courses with a focus on working with multilingual / minority language students had not been offered at the University of Tromsø, where he received higher education.

Since the formal competence requirements are different for teaching in different grades, we also investigated whether the highest grade in which teachers had taught made a difference in whether they had had training to work with minority-language children. Figure 4 shows the distribution of participants based on the highest grade taught:

Fig. 4: Distribution of participants based on the highest grade in which they taught

A chi-square test was performed to examine whether there was a significant difference between whether teachers in the different grade categories reported having had training for working with multilingual students. However, no such difference was found (χ2(2)=.222, p=.895).

4.3 Knowledge, Skills and Resources Needed to Work in Multilingual Classrooms

The participants were also asked what knowledge, skills and resources they believe English teachers need in order to successfully work with multilingual students. Multiple answer choices were possible. These results are summarised in Figure 5 below, showing that knowledge of teaching strategies for a multilingual classroom (85% of the respondents), resources for differentiated (or adapted) instruction (84%), knowledge of language acquisition theory (70%), and theoretical knowledge about different aspects of multilingualism (69%) were perceived as the most important ones. Many teachers also selected knowledge about students’ cultural background (55%), knowledge of the latest research on multilingualism (42%), and access to resources in students’ L1 (34%). The ability to speak the students’ respective first languages was only indicated as important by a small group (5%), and very few teachers (5%) agreed that working in multilingual contexts requires no special knowledge or skills:

Fig. 5: Knowledge, skills and resources English teachers need to successfully work with multilingual students

The participants were invited to elaborate on their responses by listing other areas of expertise needed to work with diverse student populations. Twenty-seven of the teachers did so, many merely repeating the answer choices available. The open-ended responses were coded and grouped into the following categories: knowledge of (or resources in) students’ mother tongue; knowledge of students’ cultural background; access to research on multilingualism; knowledge of second language and multilingual acquisition theory; knowledge of teaching strategies in a multilingual classroom; resources and materials for differentiated instruction; simply being a good teacher; other. The importance of knowledge of the theory of second language acquisition and multilingualism was reiterated by five participants, and four restated the necessity to either know students’ respective mother tongues or to have access to materials in languages represented in the classroom. The importance of expertise in strategies for multilingual classrooms, access to resources for differentiated instruction, familiarity with the current research on multilingualism, and no special knowledge or skills were each mentioned twice. One teacher stated that it was not possible to speak the languages of all minority language students in the classroom, and another one commented that minority language students could be used as a valuable resource in the classroom. Experience and willingness to improvise, as well as students’ proficiency levels and mother tongue typology were also mentioned. Thus, on the one hand, many of the respondents felt that they needed additional knowledge and skills to better serve the needs of the multilingual students at their schools. On the other hand, one of the participants asserted that minority language students were not unique in any way and that all students in the classroom needed individualized instruction.

4.4 Interest in Additional Training

The majority of the teachers interviewed indicated that they were interested in receiving training in working with minority-language students, as illustrated in Figure 6. However, in a chi-square test, no relationship was found between whether they had already had such training and whether they would be interested in (more) training (χ2 (2)=1.6, p=.4153), nor between whether they felt prepared to work with minority-language students and whether they would like to get some training (χ2 (2) = 5.340, p = .2564):

Fig. 6: Participants’ responses to whether they would like to get training in working with minority language students

The teachers interviewed were also invited to elaborate on the specific type of training they are interested in. Forty-four submitted comments. These answers were classified and coded into the following categories: specific methods, strategies and activities; theory and research; classroom resources; cultural knowledge; other. The majority of these respondents (28 teachers; 64%) expressed an interest in receiving more training related to the use of effective methods, strategies and activities in the classroom. This included activities and strategies specifically aimed at minority language students, differentiated instruction, methods for teaching grammar and figurative language, strategies for integrating minority language students in the mainstream classroom, and support of the consecutive acquisition of two languages (Norwegian and English). One of the respondents specifically expressed a wish to become better prepared to work with students from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Africa. Ten of the respondents (23%) stated a need for a better background in language acquisition theory and familiarity with recent research in the area of multilingualism. For instance, one teacher expressed an interest in learning about “how the brain functions when we learn a foreign language” (our translation). The respondents were also interested in acquiring more background in cultural knowledge as well as tips on where to find useful classroom resources. Overall, the results suggest that the teachers have a strong interest in receiving in-service training and are able to specify what type of training would best suit their needs. To quote one of the participants, if teachers receive solid training “we can ensure that all [students] receive the necessary support to succeed in school” (our translation).

5 Discussion

The present paper reports the results of a baseline assessment of teacher self-perceived preparedness to work with multilingual students in the EFL classroom in Norway. The most important finding of this study is that, while most of the teachers reported some level of preparedness - with 62% reporting that they felt, to some extent, prepared to teach English to diverse student populations -, 89% of the teachers stated that they were (possibly) interested in receiving more training in this field. At the same time, 33% of the teachers stated that they felt not prepared for instructing culturally and linguistically diverse students, at all - a finding which has important implications for all parties involved: minority language students, parents, teachers, administrators, and teacher training institutions.

Furthermore, our results show that the majority of the teachers (80%) do not have any specific training in working with this special group of students. The additional comments from those who reported that they had had relevant training included a range of courses such as Norwegian as a Second Language and general second language methodology. In other words, not all such training focused on multilingualism or third language acquisition. Still, the teachers who reported such training felt more confident about their ability to work with multilingual student populations. This is encouraging and indicates that the training that is available is relevant to teaching in diverse classrooms.

On the basis of the teachers' responses and additional comments regarding the type of training they would like to receive, it is clear that training in specific classroom methods, strategies and activities is needed. As much as 85% of the participants reported a need for practically-oriented training in teaching methods that are tailored to the specific needs of their students, and this is also the most common theme in the additional comments. This result is not surprising, and reflects a common desire in teachers for practical knowledge that can be applied in the classroom directly.

In addition, most teachers in the survey (84%) express a need for resources for adapted teaching. This desire may reflect frustration with large class sizes, especially when students' backgrounds are heterogeneous. However, given that “adapted teaching” in Norway is often taken to mean instruction adjusted to students with specific needs rather than geared to all students, it may also reflect the common perception of monolingualism as the norm, where multilingual students are seen as special cases that need particular modifications in instruction. Thus, the high percentage of teachers who selected this option may suggest that Norwegian teacher education does not prepare instructors for teaching diverse classrooms. One of the participants submitted the following comment:

“I have participated in seminars… but they always give an example of a small, undifferentiated group of students… That is not my world and it is a waste of time!” (our translation).

This comment reflects our earlier point about multilingual students being a heterogeneous group, and underlines the need for special teaching strategies for diverse classrooms.

A clear majority, around 70% of the respondents, also expressed a need for theoretical knowledge about SLA and about multilingualism, and this is also mentioned in several comments. This estimation indicates that Norwegian EFL teachers have an understanding of the complexity of multilingualism, even though many have no formal training on the topic. This interest of theirs in theoretical knowledge is encouraging. Although specific teaching strategies are important, successful teaching in diverse classrooms also depends on teachers who value all the students’ languages properly, and this may, in turn, depend on their theoretical knowledge, for example about the benefits of (additive) multilingualism and the interdependence of linguistic competence in the languages of multilinguals (Cummins 2000, Cenoz 2003). Without doubt, teachers need increased awareness of issues such as codeswitching, deemed as “the most distinctive behaviour of the bilingual speaker” (Wei & Wu 2009: 193), cross-linguistic influences (Jarvis & Pavlenko 2008), the complexity of multilingual development, and existing models of multilingual competence. Furthermore, unless teachers are aware of the difference between conversational fluency and academic proficiency in a new language, they run the risk of overestimating students’ comprehension of lesson content (Cummins 2000, Tuveng & Wold 2005).

Not surprisingly, approximately half of the respondents (55%) noted a need for knowledge about the students’ cultural backgrounds. Nonetheless, it is surprising that the remaining 45% did not select this response. This result may reflect the idea that integration into Norwegian society entails adapting to Norwegian culture, which is rooted in the predominant notion of equality as 'sameness', not just as 'equal opportunity' (Gullestad 1991: 4).

A final important finding of our study is that the question of whether or not teachers had relevant formal education was not correlated with their interest in receiving additional training. Thus, it seems that a lack of professional preparation does not necessarily correspond to teachers being interested in receiving in-service training. Conversely, it indicates that having some such training does not stop teachers from desiring even more training.

Overall, the findings suggest that an improvement of quality in EFL teacher education and access to professional development focusing on multilingualism is needed. In Norway, some efforts to improve teacher qualifications to work with diverse student populations are already under way. Although these efforts are not specifically aimed at EFL teachers, they constitute the first important step in increasing teacher awareness and providing teachers with much needed in-service training. For instance, Competence for Diversity is an initiative by The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training to provide support for kindergartens and elementary and middle schools. Workshops on topics such as multilingualism, strategies for working with diverse student populations, intercultural sensitivity, and parental involvement are offered in collaboration with universities and university colleges. Schools interested in receiving financial support have to conduct a needs analysis and submit a specific plan for in-service workshops. They are then matched with local institutions of higher education whose faculty provide on-site training, workshops and support (Utdanningsdirektoratet 2013).

However, participation in such programs is voluntary. Given the unprecedented diversity in Norwegian classrooms, it is extremely important to prepare all teachers in Norway to work with linguistically and culturally diverse students. We would like to propose that certification requirements for EFL teachers in Norway be revised, and that all teachers be offered opportunities and incentives to participate in professional development with focus on multilingualism and culturally and linguistically diverse students. Such requirements would also imply a need to rewrite the curricula of existing teacher education programs, which in turn requires qualified academic faculty. These are not changes that will happen overnight, but rather long term goals that require careful planning and an involvement of legislative authorities, institutions of higher education, academic and administrative staff at schools, and local communities.

While the present study constitutes the first step in assessing the preparedness of teachers of English to work with multilingual students in the contexts of third language acquisition, more in-depth research using validated teacher efficacy instruments is needed. While the question of the present study was teachers' self-perceived preparedness to teach in multilingual classrooms, it would also be useful to follow up this study with more objective measures of their qualifications. Continued work in this area in Norway can be useful, but we also want to point out that collaborative projects with researchers in other Scandinavian and European contexts could render more generalisable results and help share best practices. It is important to recognize that the concerns about teachers' preparedness to work with diverse student populations are relevant for the majority of Western nations. With an increased international mobility and recent waves of refugees, teachers can no longer expect to work in ethnically, culturally and linguistically homogenous classrooms. New teacher training objectives need to be set in place by individual nations, but international collaborations and knowledge exchange in this domain are undoubtedly welcome as well.


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1The Council of Europe distinguishes between plurilingualism and multilingualism, with the first term referring to individuals, and the latter to social contexts. In this paper, however, we use the term multilingualism to also refer to individuals, as is common in the field.

2In Norway, other foreign languages, such as Spanish, German, and Chinese are offered as electives beginning in 8th grade.

3The significance value of Fisher's exact test is reported since one expected value was below 5.

4The significance value of Fisher's exact test is reported since three expected values were below 5.