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Language education issues

March 27, 2015

These are some scattered thoughts that I have had recently…. I hope this makes sense because I kinda feel like I am rambling here.

These days Finland’s population growth is driven mostly by immigration. A news brief in Metrolehti this morning revealed that Finland’s population is set to hit 5.5 million soon. So there are more foreigners than before and many of them are starting families here. Myself included.

The Little Miss started school last fall and the City of Espoo generously offers additional language lessons those kids who have another language other than Finnish or Swedish in their home. I, however, have a real problem with the terminology used to describe these kids. I have to apply for my child’s own “mother tongue education” in the education system. (We use an internet-based record keeping system that is called “Wilma.”) Read a little bit further down and the terminology used is “immigrant mother tongue education” for children with:

  • a migrant background, whose mother tongue is something other than Finnish or Swedish (but the system says her mother tongue is only Finnish)
  • students whose parent(s)’ mother tongue is something other than Finnish or Swedish (requirement fulfilled)
  • adopted children who can maintain their first-learned language (not applicable)

In the internet-based education record system, the Little Miss’ mother tongue is listed only as Finnish. But she speaks two languages at home, so why isn’t English listed there too??

This whole idea of two mother tongues was pointed out to me by a friend whose children are also Finnish-Canadian and hence have two languages in their home. Is it just me or is it annoying that kids born in Finland in an international family are automatically thought to be Finnish (or Swedish) speaking even though they have another language at home?

How does one address the fact to the authorities that many kids have two mother tongues? I don’t consider my child as a Finnish-speaker first. Sure, it is her dominant language because she goes to a Finnish language school, but that shouldn’t diminish the role of English in her life either!

Why is she considered a child with an “immigrant background.” In my opinion she has no such thing because she was born here. I am the immigrant! She may learn Canadian customs and take part in cultural activities that mainstream Finnish people don’t necessarily partake in – but that does not make my child an immigrant in any way. Or better yet, under Finnish legislation, immigrants are called “aliens.” A crappy word that needs to be dropped from the legislation.

I was so irked at this kind of classification of these kids born in Finland that I sent feedback to the City of Espoo.

I have feedback regarding the application for foreign-language lessons offered to kids in Espoo. My kid is learning English and dozens of other kids are learning their own mother tongues. This is a really valuable service.

But why is the application in Wilma in Finnish? Could you not simplify this process by translating that particular module of Wilma into English and/or other languages to make it easier for us non-Finnish speaking parents to help further our kids’ educations?

And why are children who have been born and raised in Finland who have a second language other than Finnish or Swedish classed as “maahanmuuttaja”? We already have enough problems with children being stigmatized for being different. I assume most of the children in these language programs are in fact Finnish citizens, so call them as they are – not “aliens” or “immigrants.”

The reply that came back was:

Thank you for your feedback concerning the English language translations of the Espoo Childcare and Education websites.

The English version of the electronic application form for the pupil’s own mother tongue instruction will be put to use in August 2015. Because the majority of foreign language families in the Espoo region cannot speak English, the form was initially introduced in Finnish quite recently. (I take issue with that assessment, I know plenty of foreigners in Finland who can speak, understand and read English!)

The name for these studies in the current National Core Curricula is literally the mother tongue instruction for immigrants. We have had to hold to the consistent name in the forms. In the new National Core Curricula (2016), the name of the subject will be nevertheless modernized and called the pupil’s own mother tongue instruction, after which we will be able employ the name also in our official use.

I was glad for the clarification, but still have a big problem with the terminology.

Are your kids getting “mother tongue” education in Finland? What are your thoughts on it?


7 Comments leave one →
  1. Sonia permalink
    March 27, 2015 9:00 pm

    No kid experience obviously, but two aspects – the technical and the cultural.

    The technical: Wilma, the user interface. I do understand that it is easier to maintain for _them_ that a child has (a) foreign parent(s), but why do they need to show it exactly with this dirty “mamu” word to the user? It’s probably not a rocket science to code the “mamu” field in the maintenance database as “Other native language training needed?” Tick on/off for the end user interface. Then you don’t need to take a stand if the child is a fifth generation of “mamu”, has one or both foreign parents, or is born in Finland or in Timbuktu.

    I can understand that it hurts feelings – the public servants don’t! The same thing is when you buy a nougat-filled (!) easter egg at Lidl and the display shows “born before 27.3.1994? yes/no” according to the Finnish restrictions. The reason is that a sort of the same eggs is filled with – oh no – alcohol (!) and the cashier needs a reminder to ask for ID card if you look younger than 30 (which is insane anyways), but the point here is that it makes the buyer feel supervised and brainless. At least me. So keep it only for the seller display, not for the user, dammit. Or do they want to make us feel nannied (or in case of Wilma inferior/not accepted)?

    The cultural: it is discussed that it takes many generations to accept that a foreigner/partly foreign family is accepted as “Finns”, even if gaining citizenship and/or being born in this country. That is why it seems to be “simplified”… Especially when you have dark skin. It’s nearly impossible or extremely slow in comparison to other countries (Enrique Tessieri has some good points about it in his blog as he himself faces the problems being born in Argentina as half-Finn, if I remember correctly). I followed the blog of Ana Maria Gutierrez Sorainen from The Vihreät – a very active woman, who speaks the language, lives here for years, works, is active in the politics, is well integrated, loves Finland. I could not stand, how these wise contributions on her blog were shot down by so many mean, dumb, racist, mainly PS comments carrying the message: “You will NEVER be a Finn”. For me one of the reasons that I don’t want the Finnish citizenship. You pay a bunch of fees, wait for bureaucracy and it does not bring anything, but you’ll be still offended as you’d be without. The voice of foreigners in Finnish politics is non-existent, so why bother trying?

    Of course there are marginalized groups in other countries too, but it’s rather a certain approach of certain groupings. Integration needs activity from both sides. There is no such a thing that the foreigner needs to make all the effort him-/herself. And needless to hide behind “but immigration is so new to Finland!”. True, it’s still a very low number of foreigners and very little diversity, but years and years ago, there were foreigners who brought many valuable merchant or culture traditions to Finland. What would Finland be now without Stockmann, Sinebrychoff, Fazer, Finalayson, Kiseleff, Engel, Paulig, Fiskars’ Thörwoste and and and… Just let people be different!

  2. anonymous permalink
    March 28, 2015 1:24 pm

    I think äidinkieli (lit. mother tongue) at least used to be the official name of the school subject. It is also probably doubles as the language that the education is given in. Obviously that terminology then will clash with the outside world usage of the term. You’ll want to check if that is the case.

    I believe that language education was started in order to allow immigrants to retain or gain proficiency with their family language – especially the ones for with there is a lot of demand and no general language teaching skills, not English, French or German. I don’t think it was intended to serve the English-dual-native-language speakers at all. Your daughter would be a better match if she only spoke English (or Swahili) at home and had to learn the Finnish (or Swedish) language for her education and integration into society. So, I think the probable reason the terminology and the service doesn’t seem to match your purposes is that it’s not really supposed to.

    “Other native language training needed” tickbox, by the way, could be more of a problem than “maahanmuuttaja”, because it would be easier for a parent not proficient with the language to miss, which would then unintentionally screw the child over.

    • Sonia permalink
      March 30, 2015 4:17 pm

      Wouldn’t it be in Finnish anyways and to the point “Muu äidinkieli” and a drop down list + “muu, mikä?” to fill in?

      • anonymous permalink
        March 31, 2015 11:05 am

        Wouldn’t what be in Finnish anyways? The education? Äidinkieli? What is the “it” you’re referring to?
        Anyway, no. There’s another official language, remember, and many schools teach in it. I also know of at least one Russian (language) school (but no details on it).

    • anonymous permalink
      March 31, 2015 11:32 am

      Well, people have the right to know as it has a lot of bearing for on migration and integration policies. Also, the point of news is to give details.
      The problem with this sort of outrage is that it makes it all about race. However, the society clearly has interest here and while some people do have a problem with race, the more relevant differences are cultural (and social).

      I personally dislike the attitude some people have of first freely choosing to move to live in another country and then loudly criticizing how it’s not international and open enough (or, often, enough like their own origins) and wanting to turn it into a melting pot. There are reasons for the existence of nation states, of peoples wanting to control their own fate and keep their culture and language, and that sort of attitude often undermines the whole point of that country, which makes it deeply offensive. Especially some Americans can’t seem to understand that the basis of the formation of their own country is quite different from many, if not most, others.

      • Sonia permalink
        April 4, 2015 10:57 pm

        If this kind of melting pot does not work in Finland, I can live with it. It is understandable that the tough history and small population turns Finland rather inwards.

        Nevertheless I know many other melting pots outside of the US. Some do not work, some work fine. It does not necessarily need to be the entire country, but a region, a place. I find it rich. Far richer than places with the rigid distinction between “we” and “they” and a feeling of superiority. Then no wonder that minorities are marginalized.

        It may be that I perceive it this way, because I have never lived in homogenous places before Finland, but with many other nations, being often (a well-accepted) “guest” myself. Like now too, at least in my direct environment. 🙂

        It’s a state of art to pick the best of different cultures. And be a human.

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