Since 2015, the Swedish NGO Språkkraft has been enabling immigrants and refugees who use their services to watch, listen, and interact with the Swedish language by supporting learning through authentic media sources. Språkkraft has partnered with Sveriges Television (SVT) since 2016 and has been successful in providing interactive language learning through closed captions of your favorite TV shows. This integrated language support feature works with up to 25 different languages, thereby making the learning experience accessible to many of those whose level of Swedish is limited or advancing. With over half a million downloads and counting, Språkkraft’s platform offers an interactive experience aimed at newcomers to Sweden who are seeking to overcome the language barrier.
The necessity for such digital language learning platforms is vital in these exceptional coronavirus times, where social distancing is essential. The founder, Niss Jonas Carlsson, highlights how the coronavirus crisis has not hindered Språkkraft’s mission to provide Swedish language support, on the contrary, it has boosted the availability of its services, particularly on the topic of education.
“Covid-19 pushed education from the physical presence in schools to distance learning so we are seeing more people using our platform and watching those TV programmes on Utbildningsradion that support the education curriculum.”
With distance learning on the rise, more people may be looking to digital platforms that specialize in language learning as an alternative. “We saw a 48% increase in downloads of our language learning app” says Niss Jonas. The marked increase in users of the language learning service could be attributed to more households staying at home due to being unable to attend their usual Swedish class. Sweden’s state-funded Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) course is a form of adult-education specifically designed for immigrants who wish to learn Swedish perhaps for reasons related to study, work or just to participate in daily life. However, on advice from the Government to combat the spread of coronavirus, classroom-based education is no longer taking place causing many to turn to distance learning as their primary source of Swedish language development.
Språkkraft as a digital learning solution not only provides the tools to support a wide range of languages but also benefits people of all ages. The platform offers a format, method, and technology that enables language learning from any digital text, whether it be a tweet, e-book or website. The innovative design has allowed for diversification and adaptability for how we learn and consume information. This is particularly impactful given the abundance of information relating to public health and well-being, the economy, transport and environment, and how these sectors have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic across the country. On a community level, we are seeing some groups in society being harder hit than others, placing them in a vulnerable position for infection. There are growing concerns over the Somali, Iraqi and Syrian populations living in Sweden as there is an over-representation of covid-related deaths particularly of those with a Somali background. This has been linked to the lack of available information in other languages about advice, precautions and how coronavirus is spread.
While there has been a boost in the amount of information available and reporting in multiple languages, it is easy for a non-native speaker to miss out on vital information that affects them. With this in mind, Språkkraft’s technology provides a solution: “We have a recommended section that we curate to provide relevant information for immigrants, for example providing an understanding into how the healthcare system works in Sweden”. For immigrants and refugees living in Sweden, digital platforms such as Språkkraft are effective in combing the necessary tools for an interactive language learning journey with a deeper understanding of Swedish society and culture. At a time of uncertainty, access to readily available and well-communicated information brings great assurance to us all, but with a limited knowledge of Swedish, this can make the accessibility process challenging for immigrants and refugees. Språkkraft’s services help to increase the accessibility of information to those with limited Swedish and it has even developed a function that notifies people of important updates relating to Covid-19 (featured on the SVT Språkplay app). This presents a level of adaptation, innovation and understanding in response to the current climate and, in doing so, enables a greater sense of community and connectivity among those who may otherwise be missing out on the conversation.
Visit Språkkraft’s website for more information about the organization and how to access their services.
For real-time statistics on Covid-19 across Sweden, visit Folkhälsomyndigheten’s website.
Caitlin Metcalfe-Bliss is studying her Masters in Globalization, Environment, and Social Change. She led a project looking at support networks that help migrants and refugees have a successful integration journey.