Swedish in Finland

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jstc
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Swedish in Finland

Post by jstc » Sun Feb 01, 2009 10:27 pm

Hello folks, great forum.

I just wanted to know: How widespread is Swedish in Finland? I know it is an official language, so it must be present along with Finnish in every public sign, etc; but is it compulsory for Finnish schools to teach Swedish, i.e. does every Finn speak it?

Thanks in advance.



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EP
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by EP » Sun Feb 01, 2009 10:51 pm

About 5-6 % of people state Swedish as their native language. And yes, Swedish is a compulsory language at schools, but that does not mean that every Finn would (or could) speak Swedish. When something is compulsory and you HAVE TO do it, that is not very inspiring. And not very rewarding either, it would be nicer if people could choose what languages they want to learn. There are more useful ones than Swedish.

Swedish also is just as foreign for a Finnish-speaker as are Japanese or French or Swahili (or English). So it really takes a lot of time to learn it properly. And those native Swedish-speakers live on a narrow stretch on the coastline, so Swedish is not something most people have daily contact with. And because that is so, those native Swedish-speakers have a long time ago acnowledged that if they want to survive, they have to speak Finnish, too. THEY are the ones who are almost 100% totally bi-lingual. At least those younger than 50.

Like my daughter-in-law: a Swedish-speaking father, a Finnish-speaking mother --> 100 % bi-lingual, who states herself as Swedish-speaking in the statistics, and wants to raise my possible grandchidren the same way: to become 100% bi-lingual.

Which is fine with me. If those possible little people get the two compulsory languages already at home, they have the freedom of choice what languages they want to learn at school.


jstc
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by jstc » Sun Feb 01, 2009 11:38 pm

Thanks, EP

So you're saying Finns speak Swedish, but they would prefer not to. Would you say most Finns speak Swedish as good as they speak English, or better, or worse? In other words, is speaking Swedish an advantage for a foreigner in Finland, or would it not create more difference than just speaking English?

One more question, just out of curiosity: At which levels of education do the children have to study Swedish? (Elementary school, or up to high school etc?)

Thank you :)


Upphew
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by Upphew » Mon Feb 02, 2009 12:09 am

Wikipedia answers many of your questions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandatory_Swedish
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Rosamunda
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by Rosamunda » Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:32 am

My husband grew up in a bilingual family and speaks Swedish and Finnish fluently (as well as a few other languages!). In those days Espoo (capital region, west of Helsinki) had a large proportion of Swedish speakers. This is no longer the case but there are still districts within the capital area where Swedish is the majority language (eg: Haukilahti, Iirislahti, Laurinlahti, Grankulla), usually in the vicinity of Swedish schools. Although all schools teach the national curriculum the municipalities can offer teaching in Finnish or Swedish (or even English). There are bilingual immersion schools (Finnish and English) but I don't know of any bilingual schools Finnish/Swedish!!! So parents have to choose a teaching language for their children when they decide on which school they will send them to (or even when they decide where to buy/rent their house!!!). Within Espoo, te Swedish schools are managed quite separately from the Finnish ones (different budgets, different management at the municipality level etc), they don't like to integrate, so you will never find a Swedish school sharing the same campus as a Finnish school!

Swedish is compulsory from 7th grade in Finnish language schools. For kids like mine who have English as a mother tongue it is possible to get exemption from Swedish. We got the exemption for our kids (even though my husband is a Swedish speaker) because we wanted them to focus all their efforts on learning Finnish (which is hard enough). I made the same choice and have never really bothered with Swedish (even though it would be a much easier solution for me). It really depends where you live. If we move out west to Raseborg (a possibility after the kids have finished school), I will probably learn Swedish as that area is predominantly Swedish speaking.

IMO one problem with compulsory Swedish is that it effectively prevents kids from taking other B-languages such as Russian, Chinese, German etc. It is extremely unusual for schools to offer Russian as a foreign language even though the two countries are neighbours and trading partners. Weird.


EP
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by EP » Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:41 am

So you're saying Finns speak Swedish, but they would prefer not to.
No, that is not what I am saying. I would love to speak and understand any language, Swedish included, but it seems it would take more than some years in a classroom to do that. I understand everything I read, I understand Swedish-speaking news and programs on TV, and I understand about 80 % of what people speak on the street, but I am still unconfortable if I have to speak it.

If I remember right, Finnish-speaking children start Swedish at 5th grade (age 11) if that is their second "foreign" language. The first one starts at the age of 9. So they learn Swedish for 7 years, but it does not help much if they never even meet a Swedish-speaking person.


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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by Pursuivant » Mon Feb 02, 2009 1:51 pm

I'm from a swedish-speaking family, names etc... my aunts, uncles and cousins are so swedish-speaking they speak Finnish with an accent. however my side of the family is totally Finnish-speaing so if I meet my cousins from Sweden we speak English... I cannot understand their dialect and they cannot understand mine, let alone I am uncomfortable speaking it
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jstc
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by jstc » Mon Feb 02, 2009 11:51 pm

Thanks all

So the average Finn speaks which language better: Swedish or English? From Pursuivant's post I'm guessing English, is that right?


EP
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by EP » Mon Feb 02, 2009 11:59 pm

Yes, right. Unless it is a native Swedish-speaker Finns speak better English than Swedish.

Plus often some other languages, too. Old people speak better German than English, German was #1 foreign language at schools up to 1970´s. And for example I had Russian at school, but that was in the times of "friendship and co-operation". Today I think it would be wise to switch Swedish teaching into Russian-teaching in the eastern Finland.


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Rabs
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by Rabs » Tue Feb 03, 2009 12:23 am

jstc wrote:Thanks all

So the average Finn speaks which language better: Swedish or English? From Pursuivant's post I'm guessing English, is that right?
based on my limited exposure to finnish speaking finns, they kinda hate swedish language and actually anything to do with ruotsi arouses a slight contempt :ochesey:

i believe it's so not necessarily because they hate swedes but because they think they are forced to learn swedish at schools and perhaps has to do with bit of a history also......

edit: seems the sentence gives a different pic. i meant 'not that finns hate swedes'
Last edited by Rabs on Wed Feb 04, 2009 10:10 am, edited 1 time in total.


Upphew
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by Upphew » Tue Feb 03, 2009 12:14 pm

Rabs wrote: i believe it's so not necessarily because they hate swedes but because they think they are forced to learn swedish at schools and perhaps has to do with bit of a history also......
I have nothing against swedes, but much against mandatory swedish at school. There is also saying: "Svenska talande bättre folk" that might tell about attitudes of both finnish and swedish speakers in finland.
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EP
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by EP » Tue Feb 03, 2009 1:21 pm

There is also saying: "Svenska talande bättre folk" that might tell about attitudes of both finnish and swedish speakers in finland.
Maybe around the capital area. But try Pohjanmaa, it is different. Nice.


Jukka Aho
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by Jukka Aho » Tue Feb 03, 2009 1:54 pm

Rabs wrote:based on my limited exposure to finnish speaking finns, they kinda hate swedish language and actually anything to do with ruotsi arouses a slight contempt :ochesey:

i believe it's so not necessarily because they hate swedes but because they think they are forced to learn swedish at schools and perhaps has to do with bit of a history also......
Now, there are several factors at work here:
  1. The Swedish language as spoken in Finland by the Swedish-speaking Finns.
  2. The Swedish language as spoken in Sweden by the Swedish citizens, which is a different thing altogether.
  3. The Swedish language as a compulsory subject in school for the Finnish-speaking Finns. (These compulsory Swedish classes are generally more about the former variety of Swedish than the latter.)

    Edit: It should be emphasized that Swedish-speaking Finns culturally identify themselves as (Swedish-speaking) Finns, not Swedes, which is an aspect that especially newcomers to the Finnish culture sometimes miss.
  4. The Swedish-speaking Finns, their culture, history, politics (SFP/RKP) and special rights and privileges as a minority, and how all these things are usually perceived – stereotypically or not – by different classes of the Finnish-speaking Finns, living in different parts of the country – some closer to (or within) the areas where Swedish is spoken, and some far away from them.
  5. The Swedish citizens, Swedish culture, and Sweden as a neighboring country and a political entity, and all the ties and relations with them – both on-going and historical. Close neighbors often have this love-hate relationship going between them which manifests itself in stereotypes and recurring jokes, as well as in “heightened spirits” whenever the two countries meet each other in a competitive sports event. Another form of this relationship is the “big brother vs little brother” dichotomy, which sometimes rears its head in one form or the other, especially in political discourse. (You see similar things going on e.g. between Canada and the U.S.A.)
  6. The Nordic co-operation, at large.
Even though some of the items on the above list are only marginally related to each other, it’s usually all intermingled in a discussion about the compulsory language studies. (As well as when trying to figure out the personal motives of some individual to prefer or not to prefer Swedish to some other language...)

Edit: It should be emphasized that the Swedish-speaking Finns identify themselves as Finns, nationally and culturally (yes, coming from a Swedish-speaking minority or subculture, but still Finns, not Swedes; hoisting the Finnish flag for festivities, cheering for the Finnish teams etc.) This is an aspect that is easy to miss for someone who is new to Finnish culture.
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Travmies
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by Travmies » Tue Feb 03, 2009 3:35 pm

jstc wrote:Thanks, EP

So you're saying Finns speak Swedish, but they would prefer not to. Would you say most Finns speak Swedish as good as they speak English, or better, or worse? In other words, is speaking Swedish an advantage for a foreigner in Finland, or would it not create more difference than just speaking English?

One more question, just out of curiosity: At which levels of education do the children have to study Swedish? (Elementary school, or up to high school etc?)

Thank you :)
The true is that:

If you start at Porvoo, Loviisa and then go west long the coast until you get to Turku and then north a bit along the coast, you will find Swedish spoken openly amount Swedish Finns (even expressing no knowledge of Finnish, which can be so snobbish). Furthermore, the Finns who live in these areas will not normally speak Swedish to Swedish Finns even if they can.

However, if you go a little north to say for example, Kouvola, you will get a slap if you speak Swedish; they seem to be very aggressive toward the Swedish-Finns pursuit of the two-language idea in schools and public life, with the general belief that the language is regarded as elitist and an indicator of social class.

Personally, I have found Swedish-Finns very chilled out in my work relationships, even though in some works meetings in these areas do drift between Swedish and Finnish, which is a pain and again could be an expression of ones class in a works situation.
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Jukka Aho
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Re: Swedish in Finland

Post by Jukka Aho » Tue Feb 03, 2009 4:03 pm

Travmies wrote:However, if you go a little north to say for example, Kouvola, you will get a slap if you speak Swedish; they seem to be very aggressive toward the Swedish-Finns pursuit of the two-language idea in schools and public life, with the general belief that the language is regarded as elitist and an indicator of social class.
I’m not sure if you mean that “slap” quite literally or not. Even though I come from a 100% Finnish-speaking area myself, I’ve never witnessed physically aggressive or violent attitudes towards Swedish-speakers. Some amount of general frustration and contempt or suspicion in some circles, yes – mostly to do with the perceived role of SFP/RKP as a political party eternally lobbying for the slightly elitist “bättre folk” interests, and the perceived futility of the Swedish classes in school, as well as lack of motivation towards learning it – but getting assaulted in any other way than someone refusing to speak what little Swedish they can with you in a store or something, if addressed in Swedish, (and that would be mostly because many Finnish-speaking Finns really can’t speak Swedish worth a damn as they never put any real effort in it and never needed or used the language after school, and not for any deep ideological reason) sounds weird and foreign to me. Of course, in bi-lingual towns and cities there are from time to time some heated-up disputes and political tension between the two language groups about how to spend public money and resources on language-dependent services, especially with regarding to day care, schools, etc.
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