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What if we started the conversation in Finnish instead?

Satu Nurmi | 02.03.2018

Around 180 different nationalities live in Finland. Out of our 5, 5 million inhabitants around 354 000 speak some other language than Finnish, Swedish or Sami as their native language. (Statistics Finland)

There should be plenty of possibilities to practice Finnish if we Finns realised the potential. Knowing the local language gives a better idea of the not-so-perfect society and improves chances to find a job. If you apply for Finnish citizenship, you will need to know Finnish or Swedish, at least satisfactorily.

Last autumn Jenni Laine, teacher of Finnish for foreigners, contacted us and asked us to cooperate in Suomipassi project. We were very eager to cooperate because we knew that our students would also like to use Finnish outside the classroom. However, we were a bit suspicious if Finnish customer service staff would switch to English if their clients hesitated with the Finnish language.

Our concern was pointless. Last autumn, the phrasebook, Suomipassi, was used in three Finnish language courses (total of 67 students) in the University of Turku. The students were supposed to visit different kinds of places on the leaflet and they got a mark every time they used Finnish during their visit. 35 students (more than 50 %) collected enough marks to earn extra 8 points for their course exam.

In total students made nearly 200 visits. The most common places for visits were libraries, Unica restaurants, Kansallinen Kirjakauppa Bookstore and grocery store Puhakka. Some of the students had used Suomipassi even on sites that were not officially involved in the leaflet. Positive feedback was that with Suomipassi international students dared to use Finnish and got motivated to learn more. Thanks got also Finns' support in using the language. Critical feedback was mainly related to the fact that students did not need to visit all of the places and some students thought it was embarrassing to explain how Suomipassi works and ask for a mark. For some, it was also unclear how phrases should be used to get a mark.

With Suomipassi project, international students were encouraged to use Finnish as well as us Finns to answer in Finnish. Big thanks go to those who participated in the project: Unica restaurants, TYY, TYS, Portti, 3 Beers, Ekotori, Puhakka, Kansallinen Kirjakauppa, libraries of the University of Turku and the city, Campus Sport and FSHS (Finnish Student Health Services).

Now Suomipassi has been awarded a grant from the Study in Turku project. During the spring, a mobile application will be implemented with the University of Turku IT Services. At least Finnish, Swedish and English, and possibly other languages, will be used for the application. The application will be completed in August as new international students come to Finland. In contrary to the original Suomipassi, all companies in Turku are involved, as the application may not advertise certain businesses.

In TYY we have seen Suomipassi as a part of a bigger picture. Autumn’s “Learn Finnish with TYY” campaign is still ongoing in our English info mail but we have also used bilingual communication more than before. I hope that we will also see other than Finnish speaking students in our events. I would like to challenge everyone to take part in this project: Start now. Give an international student a chance to hear and speak Finnish. It is much easier to start in Finnish and switching to English than another way around.


Read more:

Suomipassi is going to be a mobile application

Earlier blog on How to master Finnish language

Kansainvälisten asioiden asiantuntija
Satu Nurmi