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"

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Comments 20 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

That is simply amazing. I had no idea of the language differences in that small country, but then I am not very worldly. We have a large country that at one time only spoke English; now we hear more and more Spanish spoken because of the immigrants from Mexico....but back to your article...amazing!

Made profile image

Made 3 years ago from Finland Author

I'm not sure how unique Finland is... The biggest concern to us Swedish speaking people is to get our voices heard. Even if both Finnish and Swedish are official languages, you don't always get the service you should have the right to in your own mother tongue. Thank you Bill.

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

Intriguing story you have shared with us to let us see another part of the world and a battle of saving a dying language. Do you keep journals to hold to those words that may one day disappear? I must say though even considering yourself a minority you have some very interesting life. Voted up and sharing.

Made profile image

Made 3 years ago from Finland Author

Hi Jackie Lynnley, I have written down quite many words in my dialect, but I should also keep a journal over many sayings, wich I don't have - yet. My grandmother, who I never met, and her sister won a competition in writing riddles many, many years ago. I think one of my relatives has these riddles. Thank you for reading and leaving an interesting comment.

DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

I speak four languages and and my most difficult language is the Croatian language. A very interesting and useful hub. A language rarely spoken certainly would die out.

Made profile image

Made 3 years ago from Finland Author

Hi DDE, here in Europe we have so many languages. It's good to be able to speak many languages. I hope we can keep the Finland-Swedish dialects for many, many years to come. Thank you!

J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

This is very interesting and informative. I really didn't know much about Finland or its many languages until I read this. You are very smart and lucky to know so many languages. Awesome job. Up and shared.


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Finland is rarely spoken of and is a beautiful place the language requires more communication. You have such a thoughtful message here. I had to come back to this hub.

Made profile image

Made 3 years ago from Finland Author

Hi J.S.Matthew, Finland is just a small, cold country up in the north. People don't have much interest of the country. I guess Finns are known for drinking and sauna bathing, LOL! It's a big differens between the languages Finnish and Swedish, and both groups have difficulties learning the other official langugage. Many Finnish speking people don't seem to see the benefits of learning Swedish. Thank you so much for reading.

Made profile image

Made 3 years ago from Finland Author

DDE, thank you for returning. Communication is important. There are many issues around Fenno-Swedes. In Finland I feel that Finnish speaking people don't like me. When I go to Sweden, on the other hand, Swedes don't know that Fenno-Swedes exist and they think we're speaking Swedish with a Finnish accent. So where do I belong?

bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 3 years ago from Central Florida

Made, we have many dialects here in America also. Depending on which part of the country you're in common words in the English language are spoken differently. In fact, it's pretty easy to tell which part of the country someone is from just by hearing them speak.

Made profile image

Made 3 years ago from Finland Author

Hi bravewarrior, as a native American it's easy for you to hear the different dialects spoken. For me, it's much harder. I think dialects are very interesting. My mother, who greawup just 10 miles from where I live, speaks another dialect than me. Thank you for stopping by again!

kidscrafts profile image

kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

It's a little bit like Belgium, a tiny country where there are 3 official languages and several other dialects and different accents depending where you live! When we consider the size of Europe compare to North America, it's almost difficult to understand that there are so many languages in a not so big area. But it's also a richness :-)

Made profile image

Made 3 years ago from Finland Author

Europe's countries and their languages are interesting. Switzerland isn't a big country either and has four official languages. You are right about that it's a richness to have many languages. Personally I'd really like to be able to speak Finnish fluently, and I'm trying my best to improve... Thank you kidscraft!

Kalmiya profile image

Kalmiya 3 years ago from North America

I had no idea there were so many variations on Swedish, etc. I know that Finnish is difficult to learn and while I learned it as a child as my first language, I don't use it here in Canada (though I seem to retain many things). I have family in Finland who learned German in school though I don't think they use it as adults in Finland. Diversity of language is great though it brings complications in communications and as you say not having access to things in your own natural tongue. It's interesting too that you also speak English to communicate through your HubPages! Voted up.

Made profile image

Made 3 years ago from Finland Author

Hi Kalmiya, I envy you. I wish I could have learned Finnish as a small child. The older generation here in Finland didn't learn English in school. They learned German instead, but most people haven't used the language, like you said. I started writing for HubPages to reatain my English and learn more. Thank you so much for your interesting comment!

cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 2 years ago from Western NC

Now you've got me wanting to watch more TV in other languages so I can learn, haha. I watch a lot of TV in Spanish because I speak it and want to maintain it. But seeing that you watched TV to help you learn other languages is so fascinating. I think it's awesome that you speak so many languages and "being a minority" just makes you even more awesome: you can be proud of who you are. And now I really want to visit Finland, too. Loved the video. :)

Made profile image

Made 2 years ago from Finland Author

Hi cclitgirl, your comment made me smile. Watching TV is a great way learning a language. Make sure you visit Finland in the summer. This time of the year is so cold, you'd wish to be anywhere else on the planet but here, LOL! Thank you so much!

dearabbysmom profile image

dearabbysmom 2 years ago from Indiana

It's very interesting to hear your experience. In high school, I had an exchange student from Finland, and she could speak Swedish. Also German, Russian, French and English! That accomplishment seems to come so naturally for European children, who start speaking new languages at such a young age. Thank you for sharing!

Made profile image

Made 2 years ago from Finland Author

Hi dearabbysmom, it's good to be able to speak different langugages. My children know some Finnish words thanks to school and some English words thanks to TV. I really hope they can learn more languages in the future. To be able to speak a few languages opens up doors to so many adventures. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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