Parenthood faces new pressures when you are working at home but you also need to buy, prepare and eat food as well as support children in their schoolwork. In your free time you jog, bake, do gardening and spend grandparents’ birthday parties by having a family picnic. The digital lifestyle is kind of a continuous stream of screens and applications to manage work, learning, friendships but also family life and upbringing. Reading sessions with parents, or watching a film together, are important moments for quieting down.

This is how postdoctoral researcher Tiina Räisä describes the daily life of multilingual Finnish families during the pandemic. She surveyed families about their use of media and which language they use in different situations.

“By encouraging people to make observations on their actions ‘here and now’ we can get valuable information on the everyday use of media,” Räisä explains.

Via WhatsApp, the research participants answered a single question: “What are you doing right now?” The aim is to clarify how bi- and multilingual families keep contact through different means of communication.

The study took seven days and the question was presented to the participants six times a day. They were instructed to respond within five minutes, which wasn’t always possible due to participants’ other hurries and matters that required their attention, such as work or school.

“During the first day I got an overview of the participant’s routines,” Räisä says. “After that I presented further questions in situations in which the participant answered something related to the use of language or media. During the last three days, I presented more general questions related to the coronavirus self-isolation. Some questions developed into longer dialogues between the researcher and the subject.”


Children responded in their own way – and missed their friends

Participants were allowed to respond how they desired. Answers came in different formats: texts, pictures, videos and voice messages. The study included five families, including five schoolchildren and nine adults. Though the sample was small, Räisä received more than 900 responses.

“Children’s participation in the study has been especially valuable,” says Räisä. “They were considered independent agents and reported personally in their own way, for instance, by sending a voice message or a picture with a caption.” The responses were often short but concise, such as ‘I’m doing homework’, ‘I’m playing’, and humorous ‘I’m sleeping’. Children explained how they feel about schoolwork during self-isolation. Some missed their friends, while others considered remote school to be better than normal school.

“First of all we received valuable descriptions on how different activities merge and what challenges the coronavirus has brought, but also what kind of reasons for happiness you can find from being together,” Räisä says.

“With the material we are able to see the ways different family members maintain contact with each other. From the perspective of bi- and multilingualism research, we have received valuable data in which the parent uses one language and the child answers in another language.”

The coronavirus has prevented the researcher from meeting with the families, a situation which has, in turn, enabled and accelerated the development of digital research methods. However, the researcher did have time to be in contact with and establish relationships with the families before the self-isolation. In addition to the WhatsApp study, the participants have kept a diary and made videos and voice recordings.

The study is part of the Academy of Finland project “What’s in the App? Digitally-mediated communication within contemporary multilingual families across time and space”.  The project is studying three different language groups in Finland: speakers of Russian, of Polish and of Swedish.


More information about the project:


Get latest articles from The University of Jyväskylä’s stakeholder magazine into your email. You can cancel your subscription at any time.