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Helsinki opens doors to first Northern Sámi language immersion classes

The new language immersion classes are an effective way for the over 1,000 people of Sámi heritage in the metropolitan region to maintain their native language.

Máttabiegga-kielipesä Helsingissä
Kirste ja Eemil Áile play with language immersion class instructor Sivi Jomppanen. Image: Pentti Pieski

Eemil and Kirste Áile have plenty of room to play at their new Máttabiegga language immersion classes, focused on the active acquisition and use of the Northern Sámi language. For the time being, they are the only two children attending the classes since the programme began just a week ago, although there is space in the classroom for eight. Despite a slow start, Helsinki City Sámi Association President Pentti Pieski is confident of the importance of this new service.

“It goes without saying that there is a need for classes like this. We assessed the feasibility of the project in the spring and many families showed an interest already then. Now, after people have seen that the Sámi language immersion classes have actually begun, we’ve had daily contacts,” says Pieski.

Strengthening the Sámi language

The Máttabiegga (Sámi for South Wind) language immersion classes are funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the Sami Parliament, and funding is secure for the next three years.

The aim of the language immersion classes is to strengthen the urban Sámi language. The language immersion sessions are held on weekends in Sámi children's clubs and music playgroups. Máttabiegga employee Sivi Jomppanen believes that it is important to fortify Sámi language in young families so it does not fall out of use entirely.

“The most important thing of course is the fact that I'm talking the whole time to the children in Sámi. Another way is to play with the children and translate the language they use into Sámi as they play,” says Jomppanen.

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