When I read about Mare Müürsepp’s grandmother I came to think of mine. Adèle Sofia was born in St. Petersburg in 1882. Her family was from the Grand Duchy of Finland. Her father, like so many Finns, was working on the railway and her mother as a maid. They spoke Swedish at home, learned Russian and French in school. And German by listening and communicating. The world was a whirl of languages and cultures. Mare’s Grandmother, like mine, moved naturally between languages. After finishing  school Adèle moved to Helsinki, where she learned Finnish by reading newspapers. After embarking on the voyage to Swakopmund the Missionaries stayed in London to learn English, and at their destination, Ovamboland, in the Northern Namibia of today, one more language was introduced to Adèle.

For every new language you take in, communicating and even comprehending becomes easier. I doubt that Grandmother’s knowledge of all the languages was perfect, but she used them, and read books in the original languages all her long life, and included words in particularly Russian and Odonga in her everyday talks.

In our literacy network we have so many first languages. If our mother tongue is English, the lingua franca of today, the majority of our European collaborators use their version of English with us. If our mother tongue is one of the smaller languages, or if we are minority speakers at home, then English might be our third or fourth language. Either way the different languages carry different cultures and can pose obstacles to communication and comprehension, if we let them. But to me they are a richness to affirm!

In January, when I return to Tallinn for the 4th Baltic Sea Conference, besides participating in a most interesting Conference together with you, I will enjoy Estonian. It has many words common with my languages Swedish and Finnish. That gives me a key. But I need to be aware, I will often know what the Estonians are talking about, but often I will not know what the Estonians are saying!

Ann-Sofie Selin, PhD

Federation of European Literacy Associations, FELA, Chairperson

Special Education and Literacy teacher, Cygnaeus school, Turku/Åbo Finland