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Worrying Decline In Language Skills

Experts are increasingly concerned about a decline in language skills among the Finns. Fewer of even the highly educated are able to speak Finland's second official language, Swedish. Meanwhile, language choices have been cut back in primary education.

Language studies opportunities are becoming an increasingly rare privilege. In only a few towns is it any longer possible to take up any language other than English or Swedish as a first foreign language in elementary school. Language teaching is increasingly concentrated in major cities. Last year, middle schools in over 40 municipalities closed down all non-required foreign language courses.

Even though shifting age structure means that there are fewer pupils in schools, financially-pressed local governments are demanded larger classes before offering less popular languages.

For example, the teaching of German at Helsinki's Pelimanni primary school will come to an end this year if more pupils do not sign up for courses.

"When we had large classes, we even put on school plays in German," recalls the school's German teacher Kristiina Hovi. "And, there was a little English mixed in so that everyone could understand something."

The impression is that many pupils tend to think that languages are something that can be studied later in life. However, it has been found that a fifth of students in higher education have problems even with the Swedish language.


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