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Language & Education Network Seminar: Multilingualism in Vocational Education (m-voc)

Event details

Multilingualism in Vocational Education (m-voc): Further insights from technical apprentices in Switzerland and Liechtenstein


  • Dr Gabriela Meier, School of Education, University of Exeter, UK
  • Esther Styger, Berufs- und Weiterbildungszentrum Buchs Sargans, Switzerland

You are invited to a face-to-face event that includes lunch (vegan and gluten-free food available). This follows on from our talk in September 2022, in which we shared our initial findings. Please book here. All welcome.

Languages, and the way we use them at work, can smooth or hinder communication and effectiveness. Staff in today’s globally connected workplaces are often linguistically diverse and between them speak many languages; this also applies to apprentices in technical and related professions in our case study.

This research addresses a gap in research, since there is a dearth of studies related to languages on shop floors and production sites, and vocational education hardly features in such research.

This case study, based on a sequential design, is informed by multilingual socialisation in education (m-soc) and social cohesion perspectives and addresses the question as to what role languages play in technical and trade-related apprenticeships.

In phase 1, we invited apprentices associated with 11 trades, such as masons, mechanical engineers and hairdressers, who attended a vocational college in the east of Switzerland, to fill in a questionnaire (n=674) and participate in an interview (n=11). In phase 2, we discussed initial findings with stakeholders responsible for apprenticeship learning (e.g. college teachers, educators in companies). Based on these results we designed a new survey, which was completed by 86 stakeholders. These helped interpret the learner findings, and formulate recommendations.

We will present and discuss our combined analysis in 4 parts:

  • Part 1: introduction to participants
  • Part 2: Linguistic work realities as perceived by learners in different professions
  • Part 3: Attitudes towards language learning in apprenticeships
  • Part 4: Satisfaction with current language learning provisions
  • Part 5: Conclusion and recommendations

Based on our results, learners and stakeholder groups show different degrees of language awareness. Some learners seem to be operating in one language or dialect only, while others actively support intra- and cross-lingual communication. These findings indicate that language awareness and willingness to mediate seem to form part of some apprentices’ toolkit, but these tools are distributed unevenly in this cohort.

Our results indicate that learners can contribute to effective communication and knowledge exchange in the workplace, which are aspects related to work safety and quality assurance as well as to employee wellbeing and customer satisfaction. We argue that language awareness and willingness to mediate in the workplace maybe an aspect of what it means to be a professional in a multilingual context. Based on these insights, the question arises as to whether colleges and employers can play a greater role in developing language awareness and mediation competences as part of a technical or trade-related apprenticeship.

The results are of interest to academics working in the field of multilingualism in education and business studies. Moreover, the findings are potentially relevant for language teachers and curricula developers in vocational colleges, for employers responsible for apprentices and other multilingual staff, and for apprentices themselves who may not be aware of the value of their linguistic resources.


  • Movetia
  • Berufs- und Weiterbildungszentrum Buchs Sargans, Switzerland
  • University of Exeter, UK

Duration of the project:

  • 15.8.2022-31.12.2023