• Suzanne Axelsson

The Story of Language and Communication

Language and communication is essential to reflect on... how it shapes, includes, excludes and forms bias..

Moving to Sweden from the UK 27 years ago I became acutely aware of language... just as my grandmother had before me, when, as an Austrian, she married an English soldier at the end of WWII and moved to England..

Language has been something that has aways fascinated and multiple language awareness has always been around me within the family. Many of my childhood summers were spent with extended family in Austria, playing with children who did not speak English.

The more I connected with educators around the world the more aware I have become about the power of language... the need to be aware, the need to take time to reflect on how we use our own languages... and also the need to be aware that my English language is colonising the world... wiping out rich diversity.

I live in a country with a globally small language - Swedish - there are percentage-wise not many in the world that speak it. YET, even here in Sweden (and other small Nordic (population-wise) countries) Swedish has oppressed and wiped out Sàmi languages... some are extinct already, some are hanging on by a thread, others are proudly making a stand so their language thrives...


When I first started collaborating with educators in Palestine I tried to research as much as I could about Muslim traditions and approaches to education throughout the centuries... it was MUCH harder to find, not because they don't have inspirational pedagogical thinkers throughout time, but because so little is actually translated into English, and my Arabic is basic, a few words spoken, but more words understood. I found it frustrating that I did not have access to this cognitive realm. I did not want to go there with all my Western pedagogical inspirations (not matter how great I think they are) and colonise their pedagogical realm... I want to be a tool for these educators to access their own realm more fully using my lens... This is the same when I have worked with educators in Turkey and Samoa, where it could be potentially quite easy to stamp in and share my context as if it is the right one... it is for me... but not everywhere. This is part of why I wanted to develop The Original Learning Approach... a reflective tool for educators (and parents) to use to evolve their own thinking, their own pedagogy within their own context... definitely NOT copy and paste. Copy/paste is not a sustainable approach to education or community. And in the coming month I will be putting two presentations together... very different, and yet both with the theme of local context being important, and cross-cultural learning, sharing and inspiration. I will also be writing a chapter for a book (in Croatian... it will be translated - I don't speak Croatian) on this topic too. It is incredibly important... that we create a global community based on respect and mutual trust, that also allows and celebrates diversity.

DIVERSITY is essential for well-being. A human well-being across the globe... many ways to see our world... all essential to get the whole picture and not just certain ways of viewing it...

This is why it is important to think about how we use our words... how they shape bias, stereotypes, blame cultures...

and to remember that communication and language is also more than verbal...

as teachers all of this is incredibly important...

If we are to create a world of equity, classrooms of equity, play equity... then we need to start with ourselves... and one way is to start thinking how language shapes our thinking, and to remember the great flexibility of humankind and the 7,000 languages that exist, 7,000 ways of seeing things... and to remember that language is a living, evolving thing, so it can change, we can make that happen.

Check out the TEDTalk shared here, so that you can listen to some examples of language diversity and how it shapes thinking

"There are about 7,000 languages spoken around the world -- and they all have different sounds, vocabularies and structures. But do they shape the way we think? Cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky shares examples of language -- from an Aboriginal community in Australia that uses cardinal directions instead of left and right to the multiple words for blue in Russian -- that suggest the answer is a resounding yes. "The beauty of linguistic diversity is that it reveals to us just how ingenious and how flexible the human mind is," Boroditsky says. "Human minds have invented not one cognitive universe, but 7,000."


How Language Shapes our Thinking



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