On Monday, April 9, Finns around the world have a special reason to celebrate their mother tongue. The day commemorates the Finnish language and the man behind written Finnish, Mikael Agricola.
In 2011, according to Statistics Finland, 4 863 351 Finnish residents spoke Finnish as a native language and half a million as a second language. In addition, there were an unestimated number of expatriates and other Finnish-speakers living abroad.
Some might say that 5 million speakers is not a very high number in comparison to more widespread languages. However, the number of Finnish-speakers has been rising all the time; during the last three decades it increased by 300 000, which is something to be proud of.
Institute for the Languages of Finland has drafted a language policy to preserve the Finnish language in all fields of society. According to the programme, the future of the Finnish language seems relatively bright – in other words, it is far from dying. However, there are major challenges lurking beneath the surface. As a result of globalization, the growing influence of English can be seen in various fields of life – science, business and social media to name a few – which is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, it has been reported that Finnish grade school pupils are not as good in Finnish as they have been in the past.
Finnish government is planning to take action by increasing the amount of Finnish classes in grade schools. If everything goes as planned, pupils will have one extra hour of Finnish per week. This is a good start. Increasing the amount of teaching is a major part of the solution but not the whole solution. The most important thing is to use the language in varying ways from early on. For example, reading books and newspapers is a great way for pupils and other language learners to deepen their language skills.
Publications like Vapaa Sana are of utmost importance for expatriate Finns. Languages evolve all the time, and keeping in touch with the Finnish language is not a simple task for any of us. Sweden’s Ambassador to Canada Teppo Tauriainen learnt this from own experience.
Tauriainen’s family left Finland for Sweden when he was a 4-year old, and, as years went by, he forgot many Finnish words. Luckily, in 1990’s Tauriainen got a chance to work in Sweden’s Embassy to Finland in Helsinki. During the three-year period, he revived his Finnish. The whole story can be found on page 9.
Reading good Finnish is a good and easy way for expatriates, second language speakers and other language learners to keep up with the evolving language and update their vocabulary.
Therefore, Vapaa Sana will pay more attention to the Finnish grammar from this issue on. For example, numerals will be written without dots – unlike in English.
In order to serve you better, our paper will go through some other changes as well. In the future, the amount of pages written in Finnish will be increased by two because the English pages will vanish. Only our columns will be written in English. Therefore this will be the last editorial written in English.