Sonya Sahradyan

Sonya Sahradyan 1

Centre for Applied Language Studies

University of Jyväskylä

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My experience in researching multilingually started several years ago when, as an MA student, I studied at the University of Turku and conducted research on the role of languages in the integration of working-age migrants into the Finnish labour market. My study focused on migrants working in multicultural non-governmental organisations (NGOs) based in Finland. I carried out semi-structured interviews with migrant NGO workers in English, Finnish or both English and Finnish. As that time, I had basic language skills in Finnish, so I asked the participants to choose an interpreter who could help me with the Finnish interpretation. In order to facilitate the interpreter’s work, interview questions were prepared not only in English but also in Finnish. At the beginning of my study, I undertook the pilot interviews with two participants. During the pilot interviews, it became clear that it was quite difficult for the migrants to understand questions in both English and Finnish because of the complexity of grammar and vocabulary. To address the issue, in the following interviews, the grammar and vocabulary used in the interview questions were simplified. Besides this, two interviews conducted in Finnish were also translated into English after the transcription because the interpreters did not have experience in interpreting and they summarised the participants’ answers instead of interpreting them as accurately as possible. However, the participants felt comfortable sharing information about themselves with the interpreters they knew rather than with strangers. They were also less anxious when using more than one language and mixing these languages whenever necessary. Hence, based on my master’s research project, I became aware of possibilities as well as complexities in researching multilingually.

Needless to say, I was inspired with doing research in more than one language. Thus, when I started my doctoral studies at the Centre for Applied Language Studies, University of Jyvaskyla, I decided to conduct my doctoral research multilingually as well and to use all my linguistic repertoires as a researcher. I am currently conducting multilingual research on the Finnish working life integration of migrant NGO practitioners through languages. The key participants in the study are multilingual migrant NGO practitioners who were working as part- and full-time employees, apprentices, trainees, interns, and volunteers in a superdiverse NGO based in Finland. Within a twelve-months period, I carried out multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in both the online and offline settings of the NGO. There I collected multilingual data through participant observations, audio/video recordings, photographs, artefacts, documents, informal talks, group discussions, mailing lists, websites, and social media sites. Afterwards, I undertook narrative and thematic interviews with migrant NGO practitioners in our shared languages, that is, English, Finnish, Russian and/or Armenian. By using our linguistic resources and mixing different languages, we not only constructed and negotiated knowledge and meanings together but also jointly created narratives about the participants’ working life.

I believe that conducting research in more than one language adds various voices of languages to my research even though it usually requires more time, resources, and effort to collect and organise data for further analysis and reporting. Meanwhile, I realise that researching multilingually is a complex and multifaceted process, and I am interested in learning more about the methods and techniques used to conduct multilingual research. I am sure that this network will give me an excellent opportunity to deepen my knowledge and skills as well as to share my experience with other researchers representing different disciplines and fields.