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Immigrants Learning Swedish over Finnish Run into Problems

Finland’s integration policy calls for newcomers to learn either of the country’s two official languages, Finnish or Swedish. However many immigrants who have mastered Swedish say they feel shortchanged, as knowledge of the Finnish language is a vital skill in Finnish society.

maahanmuuttaja, paperi ja kynä käsissään
Asioimistulkkauspalvelujen kysyntä on kasvanut maahanmuuton myötä. Image: YLE

Sami came to Finland from Pakistan four years ago. Today he studies Swedish at the Swedish Adult Education Centre of Helsinki (Arbis).

”It will also help me if I look for a job in other places, like Sweden or Norway. It’s also so close to German,” he explains.

Minority Ombudsman Eva Biaudet says newcomers learning Swedish have had many good experiences.

“We've had many success stories in terms of integration in Swedish-speaking areas.”

But many immigrants feel they’ve studied Swedish in vain.

Paula Kuusipalo, an official at the Interior Ministry’s migration department, says she has been the target of many angry complaints from refugees and immigrants who were directed to Swedish-language courses in Ostrobothnia.

“Some have been really frustrated—even angry. They didn’t know that Swedish wasn’t enough to get by on,” she says.

Many immigrants moving to the capital region from Ostrobothnia, a region with a Swedish-speaking majority, say they feel cheated. According to them, they were kept in the dark about the fact that Swedish-language skills would not suffice for launching a career in Helsinki—or anywhere else in Finland.

Stressing to immigrants that Finland is a bilingual country may not tell the whole story.

Biaudet says immigrants must be given the opportunity to choose whether they want to study Finnish or Swedish, adding that recent arrivals should be given an accurate picture of Finnish society.

Kuusipalo meanwhile points out that officials in Swedish-speaking areas like to believe that immigrants will settle down in the areas where they first arrive.

Roughly six percent of Finland's population speak Swedish as their native tongue.

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