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English increasingly dominant at Finnish schools

Almost three quarters of primary school pupils study English, along with virtually everyone in grades 7-9.

Erkko Tolvanen kirjoittaa valkotaululle.
English is by far the most popular foreign language in grades 1-9. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

Nearly three out of four children in grades 1-6 at comprehensive schools studied English last autumn, Statistics Finland said on Thursday. The figure rose from 71 to 74 percent from a year earlier. Meanwhile 99 percent of seventh through ninth graders studied English.

Swedish was the next most popular non-native language, studied by nearly one fifth of kids in lower grades and 92 percent of those at upper-level comprehensive schools as a 'foreign' language.

Swedish is Finland's second official language, spoken as a native tongue by 5.3 percent of the population.

Paradoxically, Finnish was the third most popular 'foreign' language in Finland, studied by just over five percent of all comprehensive school pupils.

One in 8 have native tongue other than Finnish

Swedish was most often studied as an optional language, while Finnish was usually studied as a compulsory one.

Swedish is compulsory in upper grades, reflecting its official status and traditional reputation as a lingua franca with the four other Nordic countries – though it is increasingly being replaced by English in that regard. Finnish is the only main Nordic language that is not in the Scandinavian linguistic group.

According to the statistics bureau, 7.1 percent of the population last year had native languages other than Finnish, Swedish or the Sámi dialects, mostly spoken by indigenous people in Lapland.

In other words, roughly one in eight people in Finland have a mother tongue other than Finnish. That figure is much higher in Helsinki and in other large southern cities.

Small numbers for German, French, Russian and Sámi

The next most commonly studied foreign language was German, opted for by four percent of those in lower grades and 10 percent of those in grades 7-9.

Next up was French, studied by two percent of younger pupils and five percent of older ones.

Russian – which was compulsory in the nineteenth century when Finland was part of the Russian Empire – is now studied by just 0.6 percent of lower-grade pupils and two percent of those in grades 7-9, making it less popular than Spanish.

Sámi was studied as a compulsory language in primary schools by just nine pupils and three in upper grades, and only by around 300 altogether nationally, fewer than Latin.

Finnish comprehensive schools include grades 1-9, which nearly all youngsters complete between the ages of seven and 16.

Education is compulsory in Finland through ninth grade, when most students go on to vocational schools or academic high schools. Some municipalities also offer a tenth grade for students who want to improve their grades before going on to other education or work.

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