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Teksti Willie Lahti

Learn Finnish! (just in case.)

"...there might not seem to be any point in learning one of the most obscure and useless languages in the world."Hey there foreigner, and welcome to Jyväskylä. By pursuing your studies at the University of Jyväskylä, you are a part of either the fourth or fifth best university in Finland, depending on whom you ask. According to the report recently published by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, the University of Jyväskylä is ranked between 400 and 500. Considering that the our university’s position on the list was between 300 and 400 just a decade ago might suggest that our administration has been on the wrong path in recent years, but that is a topic I won’t go in at this time. Feel free, however, to discuss this problem with your peers.

In previous columns I have tried to emphasize how important it is for students of non-Finnish background to learn the language during the time that they are here. If, at the beginning of your studies, you have no intentions of staying in Finland after you graduate, there might not seem to be any point in learning one of the most obscure and useless languages in the world. I’ve been here for a few years now and I’ve run across several cases of individuals who came to Finland “just for the degree” and found themselves staying here permanently due to one reason or another (fell in love with a Finn and/or made a baby with a Finn and/or married a Finn). I guess what I’m trying to say, without sounding like a superstitious old new-age auntie, is that you never know what the future may bring.

One of my reasons for bringing up this topic yet again is that the importance of learning Finnish came up in an article that I ran across in the Helsingin Sanomat recently. According to the article, the biggest problems that foreigners face in the Finnish labor market are deficient Finnish language skills and a lack of Finnish networks. If for some reason you end up staying in Finland after you graduate, unless you are a trust fund baby or relish the idea of being on the dole for the rest of your life, you will probably be seeking gainful employment. While there are jobs in Finland that will never require any knowledge of Finnish, chances are that if you wish to be employed in the field that you studied for, you will need to have a basic command of the Lingua Finnica. Another bonus to having adequate Finnish skills is that you will be able network with a wider variety of Finns, rather than just those who want to boink foreigners or polish up their English.

  1. anon

    Other than the long-term what-ifs listed by Willie, you may find that, for your own deeper sense of being and sanity, living the life of a perpetual tourist is not good for you. You see, quite unsurprisingly, essentially all of Finnish culture, customs, laws, rules, instructions, all things in day-to-day living, etc. are conducted, effected and perpetuated using the language(s) of the natives. Oversimplifying the situation, you could say that, strictly speaking, no one is required to offer any services in any other languages. Outside any studies taught in those languages, they are more or less an afterthought, never the core of discussion. Using a strained and overdrawn metaphor, one could say that the official languages offer you the comprehensive healthcare, other languages (i.e. English) will get a bandaid handed to you. Now, your mileage may vary and undoubtedly will, but this is the extent to which things can be in any society foreign to you and it is useful to understand that, as it gives you perspective on how to see things.

    Even a rudimentary grasp of Finnish (or Swedish, depending on region) gives you a window to and a common contact point with the society you’re living in and the residents you’re living with. It gives you the tools to dig deeper, should you find a sudden need, or maybe even a fleeting wish, to do so. Coupled with a dictionary, having a decipherable pronunciation, the most basic vocabulary and some grasp of the grammar will always, in any situation, get you significantly farther along the road than any amount of pointing and waving hands ever can.

    Nearly any small grasp of the language gives you the basic security that, in your hour of need, you have a better chance of getting across to others what specific kind of help it is that you require. So, instead of only watching your frantic waving and your mildly-to-severely panicked-to-nauseated facial expressions, people can actually be of some service to you. It doesn’t matter if the situation is the most horribly unrealistic kind of what-if or the most mundane request for ultimately unneeded advice in a shop when looking for things you’re not even sure you want or will ever need, knowledge of the language will always give you some back support – even if it is ever so slight.

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