Language polemic

Helsinki, -16 degrees

As you all know, I belong to a minority in Finland that has Swedish as its mother tongue. This is a fact that I always been proud of since I appreciate and cherish the culture that we Swedish speaking Finns have. I have been raised in Swedish so natuarally the language heritage is close to my heart.

Lately as Finland is getting more and more international, the obligatory Swedish in Finnish schools has been widely discussed in Finland. Right now Finland has two official languages, so both Finnish and Swedish speaking Finns need to learn each other's languages. Now some Eastern cities even want to replace compulsory Swedish with Russian. This even though it might make it impossible afterwards to move to the metropolitan area for work since here it continues to be necessary for all, not merely Swedish speaking Finns, to speak Swedish in everyday life and work. It's funny how the attitude towards the Russian language has changed during say, the last 10 years. Nowadays it almost trendy to learn Russian. Swedish on the other hand has suffered from a bad image change. It seems in Finland that Swedish is the least attractive language to learn, which is a pitty.

Like most of you know, I have recently started to learn Russian as well through my job. I absolutely think it is necessary for me, as a tourism actor, to speak Russian since the biggest amount of tourists we have in Finland come from our Eastern neighbor. We also have lots of Russian speaking people living in Finland, and it would be nice to know this group. Far too often it seems that the Russian speaking part of Finland is out of reach. I would like to understand its mentality and cultural heritage since it takes part in giving Finland its current form.


Just some days ago we got a letter to the tourist information office from a 70-year-old Russian lady who was searching for a Finnish man of her age. This fact stunned me, because she had sent us some pictures of her, at the age 70 as well as a picture of her at the age 25. What makes a person contact a tourist information office in a different country for company? The picture of today was set, I mean she had dressed herself up and stood against a wall on the picture so it was especially taken for this purpose. It made me sad to think that a women of that age would have to reduce herself to something like that.


I do see some light in the end of the tunnel for us Swedish speaking Finns though. Recently a Finnish speaking colleague of mine asked me at work where she can get to know some Swedish speaking Finns. That made me so happy. I told her that we are everywhere, in just the same places as the Finnish speaking. She just has to make the first move. I told her that we could speak Swedish together too, if she would want to. But she seemed not to want, maybe we had already crossed that border somehow. I know it's difficult to change one's language after one gets used to speaking a specific language with somebody. I hope one day we do speak in Swedish though.

Another interesting fact is that one Finnish speaking woman has started up a Facebook site called "Senja teaches you Swedish/Senja opettaa sinulle ruotsia" where she tries to get especially young Finnish speaking Finns excited again about learing Swedish. I have followed the site now for some time and I think she's doing an excellent job. The site many times makes me laugh, because Senja writes in a humorous way. And learing a language should always be related to having fun.

The whole idea of starting the Facebook page started from the fact that Senja wanted to come up with new swear-words in Swedish. I think Senja has showed a creative way of approaching the Swedish language. The fact that nearly 4 000 people like this site makes me think there's still hope for us.

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