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Expert in the spotlight in July/August 2012, Heidi Rontu

The expert in the Spotlight feature gives you the chance to interact one-on-one with our Ask the expert-section. The feature also provides interesting and insightful comments regarding the subjects mentioned above, in-depth content and exclusive Q and A’s.

Featured Expert / Area of focus

Heidi Rontu is director of the Language Centre at the School of Science at Aalto University in Aalto, Finland. Her specialisations are language policy, higher education, bilingualism and multilingualism (as an individual and social phenomenon) and minority languages, Finnish and Swedish.
Aalto University is a new university created from the merger of three Finnish universities, The Helsinki School of Economics, Helsinki University of Technology and The University of Art and Design Helsinki, two of which are officially bilingual in the two national languages Finnish and Swedish. Three central factors for a working language policy can be distinguished: firstly a functioning raison d’être, secondly a combination of specific, regional needs with international ambitions and thirdly acknowledgement and management of different organizational, teaching and learning cultures. (source: Heidi Rontu) 

Face to face with Heidi Rontu

What is your background in the field of regional and minority languages/education/ multilingualism? 
With a Finnish immigrant background in Sweden and an educational background in the Swedish minority language university Åbo Akademi University in Finland, I have both personal and professional experience in bi- and multilingualism and minority language issues. For my doctoral dissertation I studied language dominance in infant bilingualism in Finnish - (Finland-) Swedish. An essential part of my post-doctoral research has dealt with different aspects on bilingualism as an individual phenomenon. My current work as the director of the language centre at Aalto University has introduced new research perspectives on bi- and multilingualism as a social phenomenon, in particular in higher education. As a member of the university’s language policy work group my current research interest lies in the making and the implementation of language policies.

What do you think is the major challenge in your field of work?
Even though much research has been conducted on the benefits of organising sustainable education systems in minority languages many minority language speakers face still today unnecessary challenges in education. This can be seen both on the individual and institutional and social levels. Moreover, minority language matters face ever greater challenges in the education system, particularly in higher education where linguistic globalisation in English is changing the language context rapidly.   

What is one of the hottest new projects / items you are working on?

I am currently working on a research project on the implementation of a language policy in higher education in a multilingual context together with Dr.Econ Tuija Nikko, also a member of the language policy work group at Aalto University. I gave a paper at an initial phase of the project in the EUNOM symposium at the Mercator Research Centre in 2010. We are focusing on the implementation of the language policy of Aalto University, officially bilingual in Finnish and Swedish with the target set at trilingualism in Finnish, Swedish and English. In addition, together with a language centre director colleague from University of Helsinki Ulla-Kristiina Tuomi I am studying the role of research for language teachers in higher education on an institutional level. 

Are there any important references such as articles, links, etc. you would like to mention? 

My references are in Finnish, Swedish and English. I have chosen here a couple of articles in English covering the research fields mentioned above:

  • Rontu, H. (2006). The Weaker Language in Infant Bilingualism - in the Bootstraps of Bilingual Socialization Red. G. Watson & P. Hirvonen. Finno-Ugric language contacts.  Frankfurt am Main: Lang New York, 105–125
  • Rontu, H. (2007). Code-switching in Triadic Conversational Situations in Early Bilingualism. International Journal of Bilingualism. Volume 11, Number 4. London: Kingston Press, 337–358
  • Rontu, H. (2011). Putting Policies into Practice. European Journal of Language Policy. Number 3, 245-255. Liverpool University Press.

Do you have any questions on these topics?
Ask Heidi

Featured topic:

Our focus this month lies on language teaching in higher education