[OPR] Artamonova/Androutsopoulos: Smartphone-Based Language Practices among Refugees

Update (22.03.2023): The Open Peer Review for this submission has been completed. Based on the Open Peer Review, the article has been approved for publication in the Journal for Media Linguistics and is available at: https://doi.org/10.21248/jfml.2019.14.

On this page you can download the discussion paper that was submitted for publication in the Journal for Media Linguistics. The blogstract summarises the submission in a comprehensible manner. You can comment on the discussion paper and the blogstract below this post. Please use your real name for this purpose. For detailed comments on the discussion paper please refer to the line numbering of the PDF.

This submission is a contribution to the special issue „Public, private, and anonymous mobile media practices“.

Discussion Paper (PDF)

Blogstract zu

Smartphone-Based Language Practices among Refugees: Mediational Repertoires in Two Families

von Olga Artamonova & Jannis Androutsopoulos

Based on an ethnographic pilot study carried out in a refugee residence in Hamburg in 2017/18, this paper explores the relationship between smartphone usage and multilingual repertoires among refugee families from Syria and Afghanistan who arrived in Germany since 2015. The paper draws on the notion of ‘mediational repertoires’, which pulls together the sociolinguistic concepts of linguistic repertoire and mediational means in order to theorize the interdependence of language and media choices in contemporary digital communication. Previous research suggests that digital media use is very important to forced migrants/refugees, who rely almost exclusively on smartphones for information management and networking, but the interplay of digital media with linguistic choices has hardly been addressed so far.

The collected data includes nine semi-directed interviews, ethnographic field notes, and video demonstrations of smartphone usage by some of the informants. In the interviews, the informants report on their media and language choices for various purposes and to various types of addressees. The analysis focuses on a comparison of the mediational repertoires in two families, originating in Syria and Afghanistan. We explore the relevance of various factors, such as literacy, type of social contact, and purpose of digital media use, to the informants’ linguistic choices from their repertoire.

The findings suggest that both families rely on a wide range on languages and smartphone applications in their everyday life at the residence. Unlike other migrant groups, recent refugees are strongly dependent on Internet access to stay in touch with members of their transnational communities and to gain orientation in the new country. In both families, mediational repertoires differ by generation. While parents mainly maintain contact to interlocutors in their country of origin and tend to select on language and software per contact, teenagers explore a broader variety of languages and software apps and create new social contacts in Germany.

The paper also discusses sources and strategies for smartphone-based language-learning. Refugee networks, both Hamburg-based and digital ones, are instrumental in sharing information about language-learning opportunities online, e.g. smartphone apps, YouTube channels, and Facebook pages that cater to learners of German with Arabic or Pashto as a first language. Since many asylum seekers do not have (full) access to official language and integration courses, self-created online spaces for language learning are their only resource. The paper concludes that media literacy and Internet access are highly relevant to the process of social integration, including language learning, among refugees.

2 Replies to “[OPR] Artamonova/Androutsopoulos: Smartphone-Based Language Practices among Refugees”

  1. RedaktionNovember 28, 2019 at 17:52Reply

    Review by Carmen Lee

    Overall Comment: 

    This paper reports on an ethnographic study of the digital literacy practices and linguistic/social integration of two migrant families in Germany. In particular, the study poses two research questions with an aim to explore how migrants’ digital practices correlate with (i) their multilingual repertoires and (ii) their social and linguistic integration in the new environment. Drawing on multiple data sources, the study analyzes and compares the two families’ mediational repertoires and their linguistic practices across generations. Overall, the paper deals with an important topic, and opens up new opportunities and ways of understanding linguistic integration through systematically analyzing its close connection with everyday digital literacies.

    Originality and Innovation:

    The study is highly original and innovative in several ways. First, it researches a community and context that is under-represented in the sociolinguistics/digital literacies literature. Second, visualizing mediational repertoires through mediagrams clearly presents the complex and intertwining relationships between commonly separated languages, and between these languages and media practices. Third, the findings reveal the central role of digital media and mobile learning in the everyday lives of refugees and migrant families, an area of research that has been largely ignored in empirical academic research.

    Theory and Methods

    Theoretically, the study draws on the authors’ newly developed notion of ‘mediational repertoires’, against the backdrop of polymedia research in their recent work. This is appropriate in understanding digital practices in our network and mobile society. The approach to language is based primarily on a ‘languaging’ framework, in that languages are not distinct entities, but are part of a more holistic linguistic repertoire from which people draw on their linguistic resources for meaning-making. Applying this understanding of language to mediagrams (which, inevitably, represent languages as distinct entities) is not without problem, as the authors aptly acknowledge in footnote #5. At the same time, this paper also reveals the theoretical and methodological limitation of a languaging approach, in that distinct language labels are inevitable and in fact pragmatically meaningful in some contexts. As Canagarajah (2013) points out, while working within a translanguaging framework, labeled languages are not only a practical necessity, but also theoretically motivated. For one thing, languages acquire their labels when situated in their context of use, and serve specific social meanings for particular social groups. What the mediagrams have achieved in support of the languaging approach is to explicitly visualize the interrelatedness of linguistic resources in a broader linguistic repertoire.


    Argumentation, Structure and Language

    The paper is well-organized and written in conventional academic language. There are minor typos and inconsistency in verb tense, which can be easily corrected after more thorough proof-reading. I do however feel that some areas need expanding, clarification or elaboration, notably:

    • While the data and findings in sections 5 & 6 describe the two families’ mediational repertoires in great detail, much of the focus is on ‘when they use which medium’ and ‘when they use which language’. I would like to read more about what each of the languages actual means to the participants in the study, and the underlying social meanings each language conveys, if such data are available.
    • The comparative analysis needs further justification. From the findings, there appears to be no striking difference between the two families, except for the languages to which they expose. The comparative element, as I understand it, lies more in generational differences. I believe the study is interesting enough by looking at the digital practices of these two families without emphasizing the comparison.
    • In the conclusion, I would also like to read more about the new research directions and opportunities that the study has offered. For example, the methodological design may be complemented by an analysis of authentic online communication collected from the participants, so as to understand the situated meanings of the languages as they unfold in actual communicative contexts.



     The study has made various contributions theoretically, methodologically and socially.

    • The notion of ‘mediational repertoire’ is a productive one. It draws attention to the inseparable relation between digital literacies and linguistic repertoire. This concept is applicable in research projects that are interested in the situated nature of digital media and people’s everyday lives, with a focus on their everyday language choice.
    • Methodologically, visually representing ethnographic data through mediagrams allows researchers to clearly present the intertwining relations between media and languages. Similar data visualization technique can be applied in other areas of sociolinguistics that aim to understand factors shaping linguistic repertoires.
    • Socially, the study has presented not only the digital and linguistic practices of refugee families, but it has also revealed the everyday lives of migrant families and the challenges they face in social integration in the new environment. This study, if developed into a larger scale project, can also inform government policies on social integration of immigrants.

    There are of course areas that deserve further attention in future research, such as the important role of ‘literacy brokers’ (Baynham, 1993), which is an established topic in adult literacies research. It is also interesting to further discuss the findings in light of an intercultural communication research.


    Baynham, M. (1993) Code switching and mode switching: community interpreters and mediators of literacy, in B. V. Street (Ed.) Cross-cultural approaches to literacy (pp.294-314). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

    Canagarajah, S. (2013). Translingual practice: Global Englishes and cosmopolitan relations. Routledge.

  2. RedaktionDezember 6, 2019 at 12:46Reply

    Review of Olga Artamonova and Jannis Androutsopoulos’s “Smartphone-based language practices among refugees: mediational repertoires in two families” by Caroline Tagg, The Open University, UK

    This article on the mobile communication practices of asylum seekers is original, innovative and important. It situates itself firmly in the heart of contemporary public concerns about refugees and technology, seeking to address popular complaints about refugees having the ‘luxury’ of a mobile phone by exploring the central role that these devices play in processes of seeking asylum, integration and language learning. As such, it highlights and illustrates through example the relevance of media linguistics in questioning and refining popular assumptions. Building on a limited body of work in this area, the study makes a useful contribution to existing knowledge through its focus on language (and languages) as well as online informal language learning among refugees. In so doing, it expands our understanding of informal learning to this high-stakes context, showing for example how these refugees’ learning takes place not through commercial resources and apps but through grassroots initiatives such as Facebook groups and amateur YouTube channels. It could strengthen the paper in this regard if the authors engaged more thoroughly with the growing body of work into informal learning in the digital age (e.g. Benson 2011; Cole and Vanderplank 2016; Demouy et al., 2016; Lai and Gu 2011; Lai and Zheng 2017; Lyrigkou 2018; Nunan and Richards 2015; Sockett 2014).

    The paper also makes an important contribution to sociolinguistics through its fascinating insights into families’ private mobile communication practices, and through its introduction of the ‘mediational repertoire’ – which recognises how semiotic resources intertwine with, and are structured by, the technologies available for communication – and the mediagram. The mediagram is a new visual representation technique employed to show how languages, modalities and media intertwine in the mediational repertoires of networked individuals. As such, it draws on the sociolinguistic concept of the ‘sociogram’, bringing this well-established graphic representation tool into the twenty-first century by showing how technology choice is an inherent part of meaning-making. The mediagrams in this study are based on findings from a rigorous six-month explorative ethnography which involved participant observation in an asylum-seeker residence site in Hamburg, Germany, as well as interviews with participant residents and short video recordings of selected informants demonstrating their mobile phone use. The predominant focus on elicited data is useful in getting an emic perspective on individuals’ private communication and the motivations for their semiotic and technological choices, but the resulting mediagrams might be said to reflect the participants’ practices as rationalised and structured through their media/language ideologies, rather than reflecting directly on what they actually do. As the authors point out, one unfortunate limitation of mediagrams is that they assume the existence of discrete bounded languages, a view challenged in contemporary sociolinguistic thinking. Perhaps in another study and if possible in this context, looking directly at how the refugees are communicating through their mobile phones – through the more systematic collection of interactional mobile data – may serve to problematise the distribution of languages across technologies by potentially revealing language mixing of which the participants are not aware (or which for various reasons they choose not to share with the researchers). It might be useful in this article to reflect on this issue in the conclusion (as part of a wider reflection on what we’ve learnt about the mediagram from this study), as well as clarifying the nature of the short video recordings and the extent to which they fed into the findings. 

    To finish with some very minor clarification points, it would be useful to clarify what is meant by ‘There was no internet access on the entire residence site’ given that participants are accessing the internet, at least in class, which were held on the site; and to clarify whether or not Ebrahim attends integration class (between lines 668 and 673, contradictory statements about this seemed to be made; see also lines 707-708). The phrase ‘the family network adult refugees they rely on’ needs checking (‘the family network which adult refugees rely on’?); and should ‘even her family language turned to be German’ that ‘her family language had become German’?. Chiks’ throughout should be Chik’s. Otherwise, the paper is written and structured in a clear and engaging way which, despite the expected use of complex sociolinguistic concepts, make the article an accessible and compelling read.

    I would recommend this paper was accepted, with some consideration given to the comments above.  


    Benson, P. 2011. Language learning and teaching beyond the classroom: an introduction to the field. In Benson, P. and H. Reinders (eds) Beyond the Language Classroom. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 7-16.

    Cole, J., and R. Vanderplank. 2016. Comparing autonomous and class-based learners in Brazil: evidence for the present-day advantages of informal, out-of-class learning. System 61: 31–42.

    Demouy, V., A. Jones, Q. Kan, A. Kukulska-Hulme, and A. Eardley. 2016. Why and how do distance learners use mobile devices for language learning? The EuroCALL Review 24/1: 10–24.

    Lai, C., and M. Gu. 2011. Self-regulated out-of-class language learning with technology. Computer Assisted Language Learning 24/4: 317–335. 

    Lai, C., and D. Zheng. 2017. Self-directed use of mobile devices for language learning beyond the classroom. ReCALL17: 1–20.

    Lyrigkou, C. (2018) Not to be overlooked: agency in informal language contact. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching 13/3: 237-252.

    Nunan, D., and J. C. Richards. 2015. Language Learning Beyond the Classroom. London: Routledge.

    Sockett, G. 2014. The Online Informal Learning of English. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Leave a Comment