Language learning is a common cause for everyone
Language learning tools are available for educated international experts. The Kielibuusti website offers learning templates to support Finnish and Swedish studies.
Text jepa viinanen Images kielibuusti / language boost Translation Marko saajanaho
Work-based immigration is one of the hot topics at the moment, and many projects have been launched specifically to attract highly educated people to Finland and keep them in the country. One such project is Kielibuusti (Language Boost).
As the name suggests, this project is designed to boost Finnish and Swedish learning and support to meet the language skill requirements for highly educated workers. Content created and compiled by Kielibuusti can be found on a website by the same name.
As per the Finnish government’s policy, the number of new foreign degree students is to be tripled to 15,000 students by the year 2030. Out of these foreign students, 75 percent should be attracted to stay and find employment in Finland (Roadmap for Education-based and Work-based Immigration 2035).
Plenty of work remains especially in increasing retention, as nearly half (47 percent) of international degree students in Finland are likely to move out of the country after finishing their studies. Over 60 percent of international experts consider the language barrier one of the main challenges for integration (Välimäki et al., 2023).
Kielibuusti – a subproject of the national Talent Boost programme – creates and compiles research-based, ready-to-use materials and tools to facilitate learning the national languages at work and in everyday life. The content is collected on the Kielibuusti website, targeted primarily at Finnish and Swedish learners and teachers, study and career counsellors, and work communities.
Last autumn, a survey was conducted for the site’s different user groups to collect data for building a site that better serves the target groups and guiding content creation. The survey received over 700 responses, and representatives of each different target group were interviewed.
Language learning objectives from different academic points of view
Social integration, using Finnish as their study or work language, and career progression were some of the main goals stated by the language learners responding to the survey. In addition to early language education, teachers encourage learners to take advantage of any and all learning opportunities around them.
Many career and study counsellors stated they emphasise the role of Finnish (or Swedish) language skills in employment and integration, with a number of them also considering the language question crucial for student community integration. 32 percent of work community representatives wished to develop their communities to allow international workers to learn and use their developing Finnish or Swedish language skills at work.
Mindset issues as a common challenge
Regardless of the target group, the challenges to language learning and support were largely the same, and especially the English bubble was seen as a major problem. In the worst-case scenario, international students and personnel are lured by marketing Finland as a largely English-speaking environment despite studies indicating that employment and/or integration are often practically impossible with no local language skills (see e.g., Välimäki et al., 2023).
One reason why English is propped up so much is the myth of the difficulty of the Finnish language. Learning Finnish should appear as an opportunity and potential goal for all language learners.
To allow learners to practice their developing Finnish or Swedish skills, native speakers should also drop their habit of switching to English as soon as someone just learning the language starts to struggle even a little.
Language learning planning guidance, advice and support are needed
The respondents were also quite unanimous about what may be the largest problem of language learning: learners need both guidance and a language learning plan. For example, international students generally receive no guidance at all for planning language learning right now.
In their survey responses, study and career counsellors aptly described the chicken and egg phenomenon – a student may consider learning Finnish once they decide whether to stay in Finland, but they may not be able to stay if they do not know the language. Thus, the goal should be to get international students to learn the local language from the beginning of their studies.
In order for international students to have a genuine chance to learn Finnish or Swedish during their studies or for personnel to be able to learn the language at work, the academic or work community must also carry their own weight supporting the learning process.
Structural changes are also required
Administrative and structural reforms are also needed in order to allow universities to offer enough language studies of all levels. In their responses, teachers brought up their concern about how advanced courses in particular cannot always be held due to the lack of students. This must be addressed by increasing cooperation between schools and facilitating cross-studying.
The lack of planning in language studies is also partially an issue with degree structures. Counsellors in particular raised the point that degrees tend to be so packed that students cannot fit language studies into the schedule or even have enough time or energy to study languages on top of the rest of their studies.
Naturally, this is a challenge, and it must be solved or else the issue of students not learning the language is not going away. In the end, it all comes down to university values and choices as well as social responsibility. Do we want to train experts that also know the language and find employment matching their training in Finland? And do we want to keep the international experts we recruit at our universities?
What does the Kielibuusti website offer to universities?
For international students and personnel, the website offers e.g., Finnish and Swedish learning materials, a course location search, self-learning tips and applications, and integration info.
For work communities, the site offers templates and tangible material on supporting international employees on learning and using a language at work. Also available are language strategy development tools (e.g., the steps toward language awareness in the workplace) and practical tips.
For study and career counsellors and study administration, the site offers tools for guiding an individual student in their language learning process (e.g., the Language PSP) as well as templates to enable language learning during studies.