Developing second language resources for working life

This interdisciplinary project explores the Finnish language resources needed and developed by adult immigrants whose aim is to get employed in their own field in Finland. Two major educational reforms serve as the framework of the project: one concerns the integration training available for unemployed immigrants, and the other has an effect on all upper secondary vocational education and training provided in Finland. Both reforms aim to update the education and training with fewer financial resources, and they share the idea of promoting learning at workplace and for working life needs. Also learning Finnish as a second language is thus suggested to increasingly take place in real working life environments and not so much in formal classroom context anymore. The reforms bring along a remarkable change in pedagogical design, and the key idea of this research project is to analyse how the students’ second language resources develop in the reformed educational models.


The key participants are immigrants who attend either integration training or vocational education to strengthen their opportunities for employment. The project investigates the complexity and dynamics present in their second language use and development during the education process. Also the positionings and identity work connected to this development are paid attention to, and the language, education and integration policies surrounding the research participants are an important aspect of the research setting.

Theoretical and methodological background

The project brings together two holistic theories of second language development that rely on the idea of language use as a key to language learning: language ecology and complex dynamic systems theory (CDST). In the socio-cognitive ecological framework, language is defined as a socially shared, dynamic and activity-oriented resource, and affordances are seen as a key to development. In the complex dynamic systems theory, in turn, the main focus is on the interaction and interplay between individual’s developing linguistic subsystems and the usage-based nature of the development of different constructions and practices. Remarkable explanation power is expected to be reached by bringing these approaches together in a nexus analytical empirical work.

The nexus analysis of the migrants’ developing second language resources and use combines quantitative variability analysis, visualization methods and modeling, typical of CDST, and qualitative methodology such as narrative and discourse analysis favoured in language ecology oriented ethnographic research. Furthermore, the social basis of the cognitive functions present in second language development is approached by designing some novel neuroimaging experiments (magnetoencephalography) which can shed some light on the very basic processes involved in second language development in adults.