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Survey: Finland divided on benefit of Swedish language skills

Researchers suggest a correlation between respondents’ Swedish language skills and whether or not they found it useful.

Ruotsin tunti koulussa.
The government has proposed restoring Swedish as a compulsory subject in matriculation exams. Image: Yle

A Taloustutkimus survey for Yle of how Finnish residents assess their Swedish language skills and how useful they found the language revealed that nearly half of respondents found the language valuable. By contrast, just over 50 percent said that for them, Swedish was either somewhat or completely useless.

According to Taloustutkimus, there appeared to be a correlation between respondents’ Swedish language skills and whether or not they found it beneficial.

Nearly all of the respondents who evaluated their Swedish language skills as excellent also said it was useful. Half of those who described their language skills as satisfactory said there were benefits to knowing how to speak it. Meanwhile just 23 percent of those who said they were not proficient in the language said it would be useful if they knew it.

"If you are proficient in the language, it’s more likely that you would seek out situations where you could benefit from it. For example by travelling to Sweden or watching Nordic detective series," Taloustutkimus research director Juho Rahkonen noted.

Regional, gender differences in attitudes to Swedish

In southern Finland’s Uusimaa district, 63 percent of respondents said they saw Swedish as somewhat or very important. However in eastern and northern Finland, just 37 percent said that they saw any value to speaking the language or believed it could offer any benefit.

To some extent, more women than men viewed the ability to speak Swedish as a useful skill.

"Female students are generally diligent. Boys on the other hand are less so. On the other hand, if we consider industry, finance, retail or even the construction sector [where Swedish would be beneficial] men dominate there," observed Satu Pessi of the Swedish teachers’ association.

Ilmari Rostila of the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity said that women are more likely to work in sectors that require Swedish language skills.

"The care and service sectors, especially in the public sector require some form of Swedish language expertise. Employment contract requirements are responsible for the difference," he declared.

Party affiliation matters

The survey also revealed differences in attitudes to Swedish along party lines. Not surprisingly, supporters of the Swedish People’s Party said they benefitted most from using the language; they were followed by backers of the Greens.

On the other hand, members of the Christian Democratic Party and the nationalist Finns Party said that they saw Swedish as useless. However research chief Rahkonen pointed out that the relatively smaller number of respondents from these groups may have influenced the survey results.

The new government programme has proposed restoring Swedish as a compulsory subject in upper secondary school matriculation exams.

Taloustutkimus conducted phone interviews of 1,005 respondents between 17 and 25 June for the poll. The margin of error was +/- three percentage points.

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