English Mother Tongue Instruction - Hidden Curriculum and Heteroglossic Repertoires


Summary, in English

In contrast to the peripheral role of mother tongue as a subject in Sweden, English has retained an elevated position. Together with Swedish, English is characterized as being crucial to Swedish society, positioning both languages at the top of the linguistic hierarchy. Given the generally perceived low status of mother tongue instruction (MTI) and high status of English in Sweden, an interesting paradox emerges: instruction in English as mother tongue. What further complicates the situation of English as mother tongue is the fact that students who participate in English MTI in Sweden are a highly diverse group. Some come from or were born to parents from countries like USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, while others come from or were born to parents from countries where English is an official language – in the present study’s case, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. These students are often multilingual and apart from English, they also speak a heritage language; however, in Sweden they are enrolled in English MTI.
The purpose of the present study is to establish the position of English within MTI and examine the connections between what is stated in the policy, what a teacher thinks and experiences, and what students do and believe. In order to investigate students’ heteroglossic repertoires, a biographical approach was used with twenty students ranging from ages 6 to 15. This creative, multimodal method combines Linguistic Portrait Silhouette (LPS) with interviews, providing two complementary sets of data – visual and narrative. In addition to LPS, classroom observations and interviews with the students’ teacher were conducted in order to investigate the students’ as well as the teacher’s attitudes towards the subject. Finally, to examine the way the subject of mother tongue is constructed in the curriculum and how it compares to the high status of English, the umbrella curriculum and the mother tongue curriculum were analyzed, specifically looking at how mother tongue is positioned compared to English and Swedish.
The results point to the complexity of the situation linguistic minority students are in. On the one hand, a hidden curriculum contributes to the marginalization of the subject; on the other hand, the global appeal of English leads to the neglect of other heritage languages. The interview with the teacher sheds light on how the discursive construction of the subject of mother tongue is implemented in practice, providing data on the teacher’s way of working and revealing the challenges faced by students and teachers. Last but not least, LPS worksheets and interviews reveal how students with different sociological relationships to English navigate their heteroglossic repertoires.


  • Languages and Literatures


  • mother tongue instruction
  • minority education
  • heritage language(s)
  • language policy
  • linguistic repertoire


  • Francis Hult (Docent)