Plurilingualism vs the English only argument – Swedish EFL teachers’ interpretations of a complex syllabus


This project examined how two contradictory aims of the national syllabus for the teaching of English in upper secondary school in Sweden were interpreted and realized by two EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers. The aims state that English education should be conducted in English as far as possible, yet also promote plurilingualism and allow skills in different languages to interact and support each other. The study was conducted in the form of a case study, examining two teachers from one upper secondary school in the south of Sweden. The issue was examined through classroom observations, interviews and analysis of classroom material. The project found that amongst the two participant teachers, the “English Only argument” was perceived as the ideal, whereas the aim of plurilingualism was less reflected upon and seemed uncertain territory. The two teachers differed in their approach to first language (L1) presence in the English classroom: one teacher (with 22 years of experience) wholeheartedly adopted the English Only approach, whereas the other teacher (newly graduated from teacher training) involved the L1 more. The most dominant L1 in the classrooms was Swedish. The area where most consideration to linguistic backgrounds was found regarded understanding student difficulties and assessment, and the area where student backgrounds and culture were most prominent concerned classroom content and material. The L1 was used both strategically and incidentally, but was still mostly viewed as a last resort when maximum target language exposure was not possible. The project found that perceptions of the “right” balance of target language/L1 differed depending on the teacher, context and learners, and that the aim of plurilingualism seemed unclear.