Section 4. Why learn Swedish in Finland?
Taija Votkin, Aalto University
Few people are aware that Finland is a bilingual country with two equal national languages: Finnish and Swedish. Swedish is mainly spoken along the Finnish coastline and in the Åland Islands. About 5% of the population has registered Swedish as their official language. You can find three types of municipalities in Finland: Finnish speaking, Swedish speaking (mainly located in the Åland Islands), and bilingual.
Everyone in Finland, including those who move here, can choose their official language. In addition, the language exam required for Finnish citizenship can be taken in either Finnish or Swedish. In other words, it is possible to integrate into Finnish society in either national language.
There are several reasons for learning Swedish in Finland. Here are a few of them.
It can be easier for you to learn Swedish
If you choose Swedish as your language of integration, you can attain the National Certificate of Language Proficiency (YKI) that is required for applying for Finnish citizenship in Swedish. Swedish might be easier to learn than Finnish, and one can reach the required level of proficiency sooner. This is especially true for people who speak languages that are related to Swedish, such as English, German, and Dutch. These languages belong to the Germanic language group together with Swedish, and as such contain many similarities when it comes to vocabulary and grammar. In addition, those speaking Romance languages can find Swedish easier to learn than Finnish.
You have a Swedish speaking spouse or family
One of the most common reasons to learn Swedish and integrate in Swedish is a Swedish speaking spouse or family members. It is sensible to learn the language of one’s family, as it will make communicating with family members and integrating into the family much easier. It is worth noting that elderly family members and children might not know any other language than Swedish. If you have children with a Swedish speaker, it is also beneficial to understand what the children speak with their other parent, family members, and friends. Communicating at day-care and school is also considerably easier if you know some Swedish. Furthermore, learning Swedish helps understand the local culture better.
You live in a Swedish-speaking or bilingual area
If Swedish is spoken in your area, it might make sense to learn Swedish or even to integrate in Swedish. It is easier to communicate with your neighbours, in shops, and in different activities in your free time if you speak the local language. Even if the language at work is English, people might still use Swedish in the coffee room and in social contexts.
You have a profession where Swedish would be beneficial, like health care or customer service
Since citizens of Finland are entitled to certain services in their mother tongue, there are many professions where it is important to master both Finnish and Swedish. This is especially the case within healthcare and social services. Knowledge of Swedish might also help one get a job in customer service. There is a lack of people who speak both Finnish and Swedish, so knowing Swedish might also increase your career opportunities more generally. There are places in Finland where Swedish is the majority language, such as the Åland Islands and certain municipalities in Ostrobothnia, in which you can get by with Swedish alone.
You are interested in Swedish speaking culture and in Scandinavia in general
Language is a key to the culture. If you want to understand Finland and how bilingualism works here, it is good to know Swedish. It also helps you understand Swedish speaking culture, as well as other Nordic languages and cultures.
It might be easier to find your place within a minority, since there are smaller circles
The Swedish speaking minority is not declining in number, but the percentage of Swedish speakers is decreasing due to immigration. It is vital for the Swedish speaking minority that some people moving to Finland learn Swedish and integrate in Swedish. Because of this, the Swedish speaking minority is working hard to help anyone interested in learning Swedish find a job and their place among the Swedish speaking minority.
Learning languages never hurts
It is always beneficial to learn languages and understand more cultures. If you (also) learn Swedish, more doors will open for you.
Where to study Swedish
You can learn Swedish in many different places. Most, if not all, Swedish-speaking and bilingual higher education institutions offer courses in Swedish for international students. You can find courses for beginners and for more advanced students. Adult education institutions in Swedish-speaking and bilingual areas also offer courses in Swedish language and culture.
What does it mean to integrate in Swedish?
If you have Swedish as your official language, you will receive letters from national authorities, such as the Finnish Tax Administration and the National Social Insurance Institution (KELA/FPA), in Swedish. If you live in a Swedish-speaking or bilingual municipality, you can communicate with the local authorities in Swedish in addition to using health care services and other kinds of social services in Swedish. There are also Swedish-speaking day-cares and Swedish-speaking schools available. Many companies, such as banks, also provide services in Swedish. In bilingual areas, there are also many activities and hobbies available in Swedish.
Where to find more information about learning Swedish and integrating in Swedish in Finland
Personal testimony: The story of Alejandro
Capital region: Swedish courses in the Capital Region - Luckan Integration
Integrating in Swedish:
Last modified: Wednesday, 29 March 2023, 1:05 PM