Finnish Language Education Poised for Shake-Up

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Mar 27 18:32:34 UTC 2009

Finnish Language Education Poised for Shake-Up
published yesterday 05:03 PM, updated today 05:25 PM

Finnish language teachers fear that students are spending less time
studying languages while society and working life demand more language
fluency than ever. On Thursday, an interdisciplinary group, including
language teachers and interest groups, discussed how to overhaul
language education to better meet emerging needs.  Decision-makers are
coming face to face with the fact that Finland lacks the language
reserves needed to survive in an increasingly global society.
Education experts say Finland’s fragmented language education policy
is to blame. If they had their way, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic would
be rolling off the tongues of Finnish pupils.

The Network for Language Education Policies, funded by the Ministry of
Education and managed by Jyväskylä University, wants policy makers to
understand that language education is not just about learning phrases
to survive on holiday. Language policies carry serious societal,
cultural and economic implications. “Working life needs more and more
people who can speak languages like Russian, Chinese, and Arabic. We
don’t really have the school system producing people fluent in these
languages,” says Taina Saarinen of the Network for Language Education

Russian and Chinese in Demand

“German and Russian-language teaching have diminished in the past
decades. The new generation of kids needs to see what advantages there
are to mastering these languages,” says Bertold Fuchs, who heads
language teaching at the University of Jyväskylä. “There is an urgent
demand for Russian-speakers in Finland. But the need is also emerging
for Japanese," says Anna-Kaisa Mustaparta, a Russian-language teacher
and counsellor at the Finnish National Board of Education. Financial
considerations and political will are the heart of language policy.
Mustaparta says all politicians may not see the need to boost language
training. “I think there’s political will to introduce more
Chinese-language education, but Arabic is another matter,” says

Helping Immigrants Retain Their Native Language

Saarinen says there are currently 60 languages spoken in Finland.
Experts are now mulling whether immigrants should receive more
training in their own mother tongues. To date, the focus has mainly
been on immigrants learning Finnish and Swedish. While immigrants in
Finland continue learning Finnish in the classroom, experts point to
the importance of Finns not automatically switching to English when
they encounter foreigners. “One challenge right now is encouraging
Finns to speak Finnish with foreigners learning Finnish,” says Fuchs.

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