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Study: Minority language groups struggle to feel Finnish

A new study reveals that residents with a foreign background feel part of society, but seldom adopt a Finnish identity.

Maahanmuuttajaäitien kielikurssi Kotkassa.
Image: Juulia Tillaeus / Yle

A new survey suggests on attitudes to Finnishness suggests that more than three out of four speakers of Estonian, Russian, English, Somali and Arabic living in the Greater Helsinki area feel like they are part of Finnish society either fully or to some extent,

Significantly fewer consider themselves Finnish, according to a recent study conducted by e2 Reasearch, which interviewed 1,527 people.

Some 43 percent of Somali speaking-people in the study identified themselves as Finnish. Only 10 percent of Estonian speakers considered themselves completely or somewhat Finnish.

“We want to increase work-based immigration to Finland. Maybe some alarm bells should ring considering that Estonians, who come from a culture like Finland, are not interested in staying here. One message from this study could be that it is not easy to get foreigners attached to Finland,” Pasi Saukkonen, researcher at the municipality of Helsinki, noted.

Saukkonen pointed out that the majority of Estonians who have come to work in Finland plan to return to Estonia at some point.

English speakers have more Finnish friends

Identification with one's own country of origin is common among members of all five language groups in the study, but some also have parallel identities. This is most common among Somali speakers — almost one in two feels that they are both Finnish and Somali. Among Arabic and English speakers only around 25 percent of them have such a parallel identity. Among speakers of Estonian (5 percent) and Russian (12 percent), parallel identities are significantly more unusual.

There are however, significant differences between the language groups when it comes to the number of Finnish friends and acquaintances. English speakers are better integrated into Finnish society than other language groups with almost all having Finnish friends or acquaintances, despite 40 percent of them speaking Finnish at beginner’s level or not at all. A large majority of Estonian and Russian speakers also have many people of Finnish origin in their immediate circle.

By contrast, Somali speakers have the best command of Finnish, but 45 percent of them lack ethnically Finnish friends, and 32 percent of Arabic speakers have no friends or acquaintances who belong to the majority population.

“In terms of integration, it is a problem if immigrants have no contacts with natives,” researcher Ville Pitkänen pointed out

Somali speakers face most workplace discrimination

Almost 90 percent Somali speakers feel discriminated in the labour market, followed by 57 percent of Arabic speakers, 51 percent of Russian-speaking and 40 percent of English speakers. Only a quarter of Estonian speakers say they have encountered some degree of discrimination in the job market.

Minority group members also felt that they were depicted in a poor light in the media. This view is held by 82 percent of Somali speakers, 72 percent of Arabic speakers and 56 percent of Russian speakers. Among Estonian or English speakers, it seems to be less of an issue, the study revealed.

Despite that perceived negative reaction, majority of the surveyed language groups are very or somewhat pleased to live in Finland. According to the report, knowledge of the Finnish language plays a crucial role — those with excellent knowledge of Finnish are very pleased to live in Finland.

Topping the list is the 60 percent of Arabic speakers, who are absolutely certain that they want to stay in Finland. In other language groups, significantly fewer people feel this way. Less than one third of Russian and Somali speakers are absolutely certain that they want to stay in Finland, whereas only one in five English speakers and one in ten Estonian speakers feel that way.

The research was planned and financed by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, e2 Research, the cities of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa, and the Ministry of Justice. The study was based on more than 1,500 query answers — around 300 per language group.

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