Languages are important, and a great investment

By Nicholas Anderson, Editor in Chief of

The ability to speak 2 to 5 languages in countries like Finland is incredibly important. We rely on exports and the domestic service sector. Language skills are essential to our everyday life.

Some people make learning languages hard and that is not at all productive because every language learnt is one of the best investments you can ever make at any time in your life, no matter where you live.

I can recall how I was forced to learn grammar and read books in my school in London. Most of the material was not relevant for a boisterous schoolboy, but that did not stop me from learning two languages then. Most of the other boys at my school concentrated on every other subject except languages. Few enjoyed the methods used by teachers there and then.

Now teaching and learning have changed. Learning has been made easier and more interactive, and Finland’s high quality schools have given the country a strong advantage in the global markets. But there are serious problems with schools allowing too much freedom of choice, and by describing Swedish, for example, as an obligatory language.

In the first place, children are seldom able to make wise choices to study different subjects at school. Learning should be based on a basic syllabus that includes all the main subjects like languages, maths, science, history and literature, etc.

Language, the topic of this column, should include at the minimum 3 languages, including Finnish, with options for 1 or 2 more languages, if a student so wishes. Learning Swedish has been made obligatory and that is a useless solution. Learning Swedish to service Swedish-speaking Finns is not a smart idea, but learning Swedish to find a job in the 25 million geographical area around us and enjoying fully that culture is extremely valuable.

Learning Swedish, an important language for all people here in Finland, is being thrown out of the window for 2 bad reasons. RKP, the Swedish Folk Party, have been shouting too hard for it to be “obligatory” when the word “important” would be perfectly adequate. The second reason is that Soini and his party are a backward-looking group of dunces who react to the word “obligatory” by saying that “it is too much like hard work and why anybody should want to learn another small language”. This party just don’t get it! Finns should understand that we must learn 2 or 3 languages on average, in addition to Finnish.

Why is it that learning English is a no brainer here in Finland? Well it is not a no brainer because of the following:

  1. Most people cannot speak very good English, even though they manage with a basic narrow vocabulary. I know because I do a lot of English coaching to brush up the English of senior staff at banks and companies. But listen for a few minutes to Sipilä, Soini and Orpo, as well as many company bosses. Their English is awful and I am not sure that they really understand what others are saying.
  2. Teaching English here has always been about grammar and syntax, when language really are about talking, idioms, getting across what you need to say. You do not have to be word perfect, you do not have to be grammatically correct but you need to feel confident in what you are saying. Present teaching methods appear to harm that self-confidence. Say what you want to say even using simple phrases and sentences is enough… and say it with confidence.
  3. Getting a job in London or in the US is hard, really hard because you are competing with the best and most ambitious people from the US and other foreign countries. I know because I have worked for over 20 years as a senior banker in 6 countries. It is far easier to find a well-paid job in the Nordic countries than going fishing in the English language countries.

For the record, at 68 years old, I have spent the last 3.5 years learning to read and write Mandarin. It is coming along nicely, and that is in addition to Finnish, Swedish, French, English and basic German. Age does not make learning harder – the more you make the effort, the easier things are.

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