Students believe that the Finnish language is the key to accessing Finnish society.
What is the difference between talonpoika (a farmer) and talon poika (the son of the house)? What about sairaanhoitaja (a nurse) and sairaan hoitaja (a person taking care of someone who is ill)? And how is tuorejuusto (cream cheese) related to tuore juusto (fresh cheese)?
These are examples of words learned in a course that forms part of the Finnish Language and Culture Study Programme organised by the Faculty of Communication Sciences at the University of Tampere (UTA). This programme for advanced Finnish speakers is offered to both degree and exchange students as well as to University employees with immigrant backgrounds. Due to the cross institutional study opportunities available, the programme is also open to students of Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) and Tampere University of Technology.
Students from sixteen countries and numerous disciplines have participated in the courses organised this spring.
You can learn Finnish if you want to
Leila Mohammadi from Iran is currently working as a research assistant in the field of psychology at UTA. She has also worked as a teacher of Kurdish at primary schools in Tampere and is currently complementing her Iranian education degree with pedagogical studies at UTA.
“I feel that because I do academic work and am a teacher, I have to learn the Finnish language really well. I also have a clear goal in mind – earning a doctoral degree – which is another reason for developing my language skills. When I arrived in Finland, my big sister emphasised that language is like a key. If you have not mastered it, you cannot really get involved in society. My wish to integrate is a further reason”.
Mohammadi is disappointed that many immigrants feel that the Finnish language is difficult to learn.
“It is hard, but if people want to learn it, they can,” she says.
English cannot replace Finnish
Suhyun Kim, a native of South Korea who is studying music production at TAMK, has similar thoughts.
“I live in Finland and my spouse is Finnish. Without language skills, it is really difficult to integrate into society,” Kim says.
Kim is on an English-language international programme, so in theory she could manage with English.
“But that is not the same thing. The Finnish language is also important for my future employment,” Kim points out.
Lauren Stevens from the United Kingdom works at a flea market and cannot assume that all her customers speak English. A student of peace, mediation and conflict research at UTA, Stevens would like to stay in Finland after graduation.
“My spouse is Finnish, and returning to Britain is not an option because of Brexit. For me, it is particularly important to learn spoken Finnish. After all, you need it more than the written language.”
Stevens’s compatriot Edward Trethowan is enrolled on the international Master’s Degree Programme in Cultural Studies at UTA. His language studies are progressing slowly because in addition to his Finnish spouse, Edward’s small child takes his time and attention away from language studies.
“It is very important to me to be able to follow up on what is happening in society. You must know Finnish in order to keep up with what’s going on and to be able to discuss current issues,” Trethowan says.
Mastering the language in one’s field
The University has organised the Finnish Language and Culture Study Programme since 2008. Four courses start each spring and autumn semester. In order to be admitted to the courses, the students need to take a placement test, because the courses are aimed at students on the advanced B2 level.
“These courses deepen and expand what the students have already learned on other courses – for example, those organised by our Language Centre,” University Instructor Maija Tervola explains.
The aim of the courses is to enable the students to study and work in their field and to use Finnish to discuss what they are doing.
“The people who study on these courses speak and write about their own fields of expertise. The courses thus also serve as an arena for the interdisciplinary exchange of ideas,” Tervola says.
Text: Hanna Hyvärinen
Photos: Jonne Renvall