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How well are immigrants served by Finnish or Swedish language instruction?

Yle hopes to gather helpful information about the importance of language skills for immigrants seeking employment by asking those with experience in the matter to answer the following questions: Do language lessons in one of Finland’s native languages influence how immigrants integrate into society and find work in Finland? And when it comes to language teaching for immigrants, what works and what doesn’t?

The number of immigrants in Finland is estimated to increase by half a million by the year 2030. According to the Finland’s official integration strategy, in order for immigrants to integrate effectively, they must gain sufficient language skills, education and work.

Yet a recent study carried out by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy concludes that not enough is known about the effect of language acquisition on immigrant employment. This lack of information significantly limits efforts to make it easier for immigrants to secure a job.

The objectives and realities of language courses

Immigrant integration into society-at-large in Finland is steered by the country’s Act on the Promotion of Immigrant Integration. A one-year language course, in which participants learn basic Finnish or Swedish language skills and expressions that help them cope in everyday situations, is usually arranged for adult immigrants who fall within the sphere of the Act.

As a rule, however, immigrants to Finland form a diverse group, and this poses challenges for language instruction. The range of people taught can extend from highly educated persons who already speak several languages to persons who are functionally illiterate.

In addition, some people are forced to queue for more than half a year before they can start a language course, as the average waiting time is over four months. There is also a concern about stay-at-home mothers and elderly immigrants may never participate in a language course because they are outside the active labour market.

Let us know your thoughts on the matter

Tell us how you think immigrant integration can be aided by studying Finland’s languages. Which teaching method do you think is best – can Finnish be taught with language immersion or does it slow tuition down? Can immigrants receive language training in the workplace? Do all immigrants receive instruction and does it come at the right time? And finally, when it all comes down to it, are language studies really beneficial in terms of employment?

The Yle programme Suora linja plans to discuss the topic of immigrant integration and language acquisition next week. If you are an immigrant that is studying Finnish or otherwise have experience in this area, contact the Suora linja team directly at suoralinja@yle.fi  or jaana.siljamaki@yle.fi.

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