During the autumn 2016 and early spring 2017, Majlesi and Jansson conducted weekly fieldwork in language cafés in two churches for two months. The Regional Ethical Committee in Stockholm (dnr 2016/1294-31/5) approved this pilot study. The data gathered consist of: field notes taken during participant observations in the cafés; ten hours of video recordings of interactions in the cafés; field notes taken during a meeting with activity coordinators and participant observations of discussions and lectures in a seminar for language café-organizers that was held by an association for adult education.

Preliminary findings suggest that there is considerable diversity in the endogenous organization of talk in the language cafés, as well as in the institutional arrangement of the activity. Participants orient to a variety of activities and identities, including asymmetries in language competence and cultural knowledge. Officially, as communicated by the activity coordinators, the language café aims to provide social spaces for language training through participation in mundane conversation; in other words, the language café is not intended to provide teaching.

As the video recordings of the interactions in the cafés attest, however, the reality may be quite different. That is, the participants may shift from moments of ordinary conversation to pedagogical moments in which they orient to the relevance of doing teaching and learning. Such moments may incidentally arise during the interaction or may be purposefully (and therefore formally) organized (e.g. by implementing teaching activities and/or by assigning a language-related topic for discussion). Some of these pedagogical moments are arranged as teacher-fronted interaction, thereby following typical classroom patterns.

Overall, these preliminary findings prove that the management of a language café is a challenging task for the organizers, who interpret language training in different ways and in ways that are not always in line with the recommendations of the coordinators. This shows that building social spaces for language training is far from a self-given matter. In conclusion, we claim that the organization of such spaces deserves empirical attention for its inherent research interest, but also for the potential practical implications that the findings of this type of research might have for members of the civil society.

Projektledare: Gunilla Jansson

Projektdeltagare: Ali Reza Majlesi

Projektperiod: September 2016–januari 2017

Finansierat internt.