Recent events in both international and Finnish politics provide plenty of examples how language can be used for influencing, maintaining existing structures, building new things, and creating problems as well as solving them. Language is central for understanding and changing the world. This means versatile language skills are an essential part of the competence of an academically educated expert. But what are versatile language skills and who defines them?

The idea of language and language skills has changed considerably in recent decades. Language is not only words and structures but also action. It opens and closes doors to different communities. For example, by learning the language of a field of science, the student can access that community and its practices. Versatile language skills enable a range of career opportunities and help us follow what is happening around us locally as well as globally.

The world, and Finnish society as part of it, needs responsible experts with social interaction skills to solve complex cross-disciplinary problems together. Decision-making and leadership are increasingly based on discussion and reaching a common understanding. Multidisciplinary teams need cooperation skills and the ability to solve problems as a community.

As members of the scientific community, we have continuous access to the latest knowledge. Yet science is too important to be shared only within our individual disciplines. This means that researchers must master the communication in their own fields, but they must also be able to explain research results in a popularised and understandable way.

In turn, a multidisciplinary approach highlights how the meanings of concepts differ between disciplines and are connected to each discipline’s way of perceiving the world. We use different names for the same phenomena and the same names for different phenomena. For example, interaction may mean different things to an economist, a physicist and a communications expert. Concepts reflect how we understand and conceive of matters. Concepts unite as well as separate.

Whether the question is about studying, conducting research or other expert work, the basic characteristics are the same: we seek, process, evaluate and produce different kinds of knowledge for different purposes. All this is done increasingly in communities, networks and using various digital tools.

The expert work of today and of tomorrow requires versatile interaction skills, an understanding of different cultures and the ability to read and produce a range of texts. This kind of competence, however, does not develop by itself; it requires patient and goal-oriented practice.

The recently started curriculum work offers a good foundation for building a common understanding of what skills our students should have when they graduate, in what ways the skills can be demonstrated, and what types of content and operating methods support the development and demonstration of those skills.

It is also important to renew how we talk about the development of communication and language skills at the university level.

One step in this direction is that from the beginning of August, the University Language Centre will become the Centre for Multilingual Academic Communication (Movi).

Multilingual academic communication is the goal-oriented use of languages in various situations, in various ways and for various purposes – naturally in interaction with other people and our working environment. It is a skill and a culture of working that we build with our actions and choices every day.

Juha Jalkanen
Vice Director, Senior Lecturer, PhD
University Language Centre

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