Bilingualism

As part of the global anglophonic hegemony, I don’t think too much about communicating with people in different languages, but a few things brought this home to me recently. It’s a big issue here (especially if you read Hufvudstadsbladet like I do), as Finland is officially bilingual and around 5% of the population are native Swedish speakers. The Jaro fans I spoke to in Valkeakoski last week spoke Swedish, and Gary from the excellent Blog Droed got in touch about a couple of things, which set me thinking a little.

Gary wants to increase traffic to his Welsh language football blog, and politely pointed out that I hadn’t yet put a link up to his site. I won’t pretend that I can read it, as despite two years living in Wales I couldn’t get much further than a smiley ‘diolch’ when the nice lady in the shop gave me my change. But it’s good to know that it’s there, should I ever feel the need to learn Welsh properly.

It shows a different attitude to language questions to that prevalent in Finland. Here Swedish lessons are compulsory in schools, as Welsh is in Wales, and there is a Swedish TV channel (FST5) and several radio stations (Radio Vega and Radio Extrem), along with a national newspaper (Hufvudstadsbladet) and several local ones (Vasa Bladet, Jakobstads Tidning, Åbo Tidning, there are probably more).

Public bodies in Finland, if they are national or located in a bilingual area, have to offer Swedish service before they can offer any other language. The Finnish FA is one of these bodies, and at present doesn’t have much in the way of Swedish content on their website. They should of course offer something.

But it seems as though Finland is heading slowly towards a monolingual future, or at least that the position of Swedish is being eroded as the ‘first second language’. Kids no longer have to pass a Swedish exam to graduate from high school, and this has resulted in a decline in the number of high school leavers that have competent Swedish skills.

Of the 14 Veikkausliiga clubs, only Jaro have regularly updated pages in both Finnish and Swedish. Most of the rest have a standard ‘info’ page in English or Swedish, or both, and VPS have a Swedish site that was last updated in November. IFK Mariehamn, of course, have their website in Swedish.

In Wales, the team I used to watch no longer have web pages in Welsh. Bangor, local rivals just up the coast, have welsh content. So do Porthmadog. I could go on with this, but the point is that people only have welsh content if people are willing to write it free of charge. I’m not willing to do that in English for clubs here, so I can only applaud those that do it in Wales.

The question is though, how much do Finnish-Swedish people rely on their ‘official’ status instead of doing something active to remedy the situation? I know that Gary busts his balls writing Blog Droed, on top of his full time job. I have the incentive of getting work through this blog, so I am not in the same altruistic mindframe as him, but where are the Finnish-Swedish football blogs? I’ve had a little look, but can’t find a thing.

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7 Responses

  1. You need to pass swedish (or if that is your main language, then finnish) as a second language in tertiary education.

    (In university) it’s called virkamiesruotsi. You (native finn) won’t get a degree until you have competed it.

    Is it really useful? You don’t need to use swedish if you live elsewhere than Finland’s south or west coast.

    I think there’s one finnish-swedish football blog at GMM’s (MIFK fans) pages.

  2. I thought it was no longer compulsory for high school graduation? All these ranting articles in HBL get confusing after a while.

    I added a link to GMM, I’d forgotten about them.

  3. Swedish is not compulsory in matriculation exam / ylioppilastutkinto, but you still have to study it (compulsory courses). These courses will appear in “päättötodistus”.

    Mandatory: To pass the courses “swedish as a second language”
    Voluntary: Taking swedish in matriculation exams. 85% still take it (in 2005), because they have already had to complete the mandatory courses.

  4. It’s a shame that Wales’ language policy is not as ‘strong’ as Finland’s bilingual system. Although there are schools that teach mainly in Welsh, the vast majority teach in English, with Welsh given the same standing as e.g. French – 3 classes a week from 11-14 and then you’re free to quit – no need to pass an examination. There are many ramifications, and I’ll not start to discuss them (though thanks for making think of issues of the country I’ve fled!).

    At the same time, the fact that we were ‘forced’ to learn Welsh meant that many a teenager really dispised the language – especially as it’s as useful as a one-legged man in an arse kicking contest in many places. I imagine – and have heard – that this is, increasingly, the case in Finland too. What’s the point, on the whole, of learning Swedish in Kuopio for instance? More useful to learn Russian, dare I say?

    In Wales, there’s a TV on Sundays (or at least there was) focusing on the Welsh premier league on S4C – the welsh version of Channel 4 -so there is a media service in Cymraeg covering local football. Is there something similar on FSTS? I guess not as – Wales and Welsh football is incomparable vis-a-vis Swedish-speakers and Finnish football, demo/geographically.

    With regards to the matter of learning Swedish as a Finn at University, international students have no such language examinations to pass in order to graduate. In the interests of parity and equal treatment, it would be something if int’l students had to pass a Finnish examination – say, a couple of courses worth of credits – nothing too demanding, but would serve as a handy platform and may encourage/enable foreign students to stick at trying to get a job in Finland once they are done studying. But then again, that would mean the universities would have to actually provide ample resources for this, and that’s not going to be happening…

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