My Experience Of Plurilingualism In Finland
Finland's Colors: White and Blue
Minority Languages In Finland
I belong to a minority group in Finland. I don't really know what it feels like being ”normal” and feel at home and to have a feeling of belonging in my own country.
In Finland, about five percent of the population speak Swedish. The rest of the people mainly speak Finnish. In the north of Finland, some people speak Sami and due to an increased emigration from Russia, there are now many Russian speaking people in the south of Finland around the capital Helsinki.
The Swedish speaking people in Finland live on the west and south coast and they are called Fenno-Swedes. Finland was a part of Sweden for 600 years, but in 1809, Sweden lost a war against Russia and Finland then became a part of Russia until 1917. Since that year Finland has been independent.
What's left from Finland as being a part of Sweden, are 290 000 Swedish speaking people and I'm one of them. In fact, I speak three different kinds of Swedish.
My First Years Of Learning Swedish
When I grew up, I learned a specific Fenno-Swedish dialect that people speak in my village and around where I live. As I got older, I learned ”standard Finland-Swedish” in school and when I watched Finnish TV, where they sometimes had children's programs in Finland-Swedish. Growing up on the west coast of Finland, also meant growing up with Swedish television. We had two Swedish channels that our family mostly watched. My parents didn't watch the Finnish channels often, beacuse they didn't and they still don't speak much Finnish. Thanks to watching Swedish television, I learned how to speak Swedish like they speak it in Sweden.
As a seven year old, I could speak three different kinds of Swedish. Then we suddenly had the opportunity to have more channels on TV, even English channels. As the youngest of four siblings, I was quite often alone. My siblings were several years older than me, and I didn't always spend time with friends, especially not in the winter. Then I watched TV, and I learned more Swedish and started to pick up som English words. I had not learned many Finnish words yet.
Learning Swedish, Finnish, English and German
In school we started learning Finnish at the age of nine. Two years later we started learning English. When I was 14 years old, I started studying German. I studied Finnish, English and German until I was 19 years old. Then I moved to Switzerland, where I lived in a family and took care of their two children. The children's mother was Finnish speaking and their father was both Finnish and Swedish speaking. I spoke Swedish with the children and I made som friends, to whom I spoke German or English. I lived in the German speaking part of Switzerland, and I also learned some Swiss German by watching TV and listening to the people out on the streets. After spending a year in Switzerland, I moved to Sweden.
In Sweden I could finally speak my mother tongue, but of course with a ”Sweden Swedish” accent. It was little hard to pick up the right accent the first months, but pretty fast I got used to it. Did I feel at home? Not really. There were many words in my Finland-Swedish dialect that I couldn't use in Sweden. Nobody would have understood me. The dialect I speak now is similar to an old Swedish language that was spoken 300 years ago in Stockholm, Sweden.
Read my hub The Education System In Finland - A Success if you want to know more about schools in Finland and how they rank in PISA.
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Language And Identity
My seven years in Sweden made me feel very Swedish, and I even studied Swedish at the university. There I had the opportunity to write about my own, native Fenno-Swedish dialect, and that gave me a better understanding for the Swedish language and different dialects and accents.
Now I'm back in Finland and I use my own dialect daily. It's a i part of my identity. Though it's a little sad to see how my dialect is changing. Many words that the older generation use, are no longer used by children. I really enjoy talking to the old people in my village, because they sometimes use words that hardly exist anymore. I'm really thankful for having the work I have, beacuse I get to meet old people every day, and I can discuss the dialect with some of them.
Do I feel at home now? Maybe, but I still belong to a minority group. People in the south of Finland would not understand my dialect here on the west coast. I have to change my accent if I go to Helsinki. Sometimes when I listen to the radio, I don't understand some of the Swedish words that are used in the southern parts of my country. I guess the people there are more influensed by the Finnish language than we are here on the west coast. We use more words from the Swedish in Sweden.
The Swedish in Sweden have many different dialects, too, and Swedes have also started to use many words from foreign languages because of the many emigrants in Sweden. That's very interesting. I picked up some slang words during my years living in Sweden, and those were mainly words from foreign languages. Of course I learned some typically, old Stockholm slang words, too.
It's amazing how the same language can be so different depending on where you live. I know one thing for sure, I'm proud of belonging to a minority group and I'll never change my dialect. I'm also proud to be able to talk Swedish with different accents. If I use my Sweden Swedish, people in Norway and Denmark also understand me. Norwegian and Danish are closely related to Swedish.
My biggest problem right now is to speak Finnish. I struggle with finding the words all the time. I'm not even going to mention the Finnish grammar. That's impossible to learn. Or is it?
Fenno-Swedes Singing the Song "Our Time - Our Land"
Learn More About Swedish Speaking People In Finland
- Swedish In Finland
Finland has two official languages. They are Finnish and Swedish and only 5,5 percent of the population speak Swedish. I'm one of them.
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