Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. The government also recognizes an additional handful of regional languages like Sámi or Karelian, as well as local signed languages—of all the languages with some sort of legal status in Finland, none of them are English.
Despite this, the mayor of Helsinki—the nation’s capital and largest city—recently floated the idea of declaring the city an English-language city, according to a recent report in The Guardian. Mayor Juhana Vartiainen believes that the Finnish language is a sort of deterrent for potential immigrants to the nation, and that the city could better attract skilled foreigners looking for work by embracing the English language.
“Helsinki could call itself an English-speaking city, where people who speak English wouldn’t need to speak Finnish or Swedish,” Vartiainen said, speaking about the matter with the city’s daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat.
The mayor noted that Finnish can be a fairly difficult language for foreigners to learn, and that it might be too much of a daunting task for foreigner. On the other hand, English is a widely spoken and taught language which could attract people to immigrate to the city. In particular, the mayor wants to attract young, skilled workers who can contribute to the nation’s economy.
Finland, home to an aging population, has made many efforts to attract such immigrants, but these attempts have largely been unsuccessful. The Guardian notes that more than a third of international students who attend university in Finland leave the country within a year, despite measures to better facilitate relocation for foreign graduates.
Still, it’s unclear whether or not the language is actually a contributing factor to the nation’s struggle to attract skilled young immigrants. Finnish is widely acknowledged as being a fairly difficult language to learn, in large part due to its complex grammatical case system. Unlike neighboring European languages, Finnish is a member of the Uralic family, and is typologically quite distant from the Indo-European language family.
I think Finland should include English in addition to Finnish and Swedish in Helsinki, but not replace those languages with it. More immigrants would be attracted to the city, if that is the reason for changing the language, but bilaterally is important. Plus, what about the Swedes or Finns living in Helsinki who struggle with English? It’s going to make it harder for them too when their city’s official language is changed.
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