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From an immigrant to a citizen: language as a hindrance or a key to citizenship

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The starting point for this paper is a question that has provoked a recent parliamentary election debate in Sweden: whether fluency in Swedish should be regarded as a requirement when applying for Swedish citizenship. Two main issues have been discussed: the different levels and meanings of citizenship, and language acquisition by adult immigrants as a hindrance or a key to citizenship based on recent research and scholarship.1 The Swedish policy of integration, being trapped between demos and ethnos, between universality and diversity, has profound consequences for forming Swedish language policy for immigrants. Yet learning a new language is connected with learning a new culture and society. For immigrants the new language is not only a means of survival, but an important step in reconstructing identities. It seems quite natural that a good command of the language is a key to becoming a full and active citizen, i.e. to acquire a citizenship. Comprehension of the language and knowledge of culture of the (new) country helps one to be aware of one's rights and duties and exercise them, to be involved in society and to participate actively in it. The new language and culture can enrich one's identity and make it more complex.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Stockholm, Sweden

Publication date: November 1, 2003

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