What kind of Helsinki we should build, so that every citizen of the city could live a good life here? To feel a sense of belonging and to be able to develop into their own best version of themselves. In such Helsinki, the origin, gender, native language, age or other personal factors do not form obstacles to the access for education or employment. The city also considers those who have found their path to the city by train, boat or plane. An equal, functional and comfortable city also contributes to the safety of the city.
One important aspect of equality is linguistic equality. It is important to provide appropriate Finnish or Swedish education for those who do not speak these languages as their mother tongue. Acquiring language skills cannot be placed solely on individual's responsibility and learning languages happen also and especially outside of the classroom. Language can be learned anywhere, and language skills have a significant role in the creation of the experience of inclusivity. For instance, if a conversation is started in English at the store's checkout repeatedly towards someone who is learning Finnish, the experience may be inadvertently alienating.
The plain language and everyday interactions help learning
One effective tool in learning and understanding a foreign language is to use the plain language. It refers to a form of the language that has been adapted in terms of content, vocabulary and structure to make it more readable and understandable than the general, more complicated language. Initially it was designed for those who have difficulties in reading or understanding the common language. The plain language of the Swedish language is known as klarspråk, and the use of it should be supported alongside the common Swedish.
For those who are beginners in Finnish or Swedish, a wide range of information about the city's services should be available in the plain language. The municipalities of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area already offer a fairly comprehensive package of information with plain language. Ensuring that the plain language sites are up-to-date is necessary. Furthermore, it should be ensured that the information with plain language reaches its target audience. paketin. On syytä huolehtia siitä, että selkokieliset sivustot ovat ajantasaisia ja että niille lisätään uusia aihealueita tarpeen mukaan. Tulee pitää huoli myös siitä, että tieto selkokielisestä materiaalista saavuttaa kohdeyleisönsä.
The plain language is not only for those who have moved to Finland from abroad. It benefits everyone whose lack of language skills causes difficulties to cope with everyday situations and their participation in the society. The plain language is also a great way to improve accessibility for those with linguistic challenges.
Being part of the society through work
What other means could be applied to increase the inclusiveness and the experience of being a part of the society, for those who have moved to Finland? In the public debate, the importance of language skills is frequently raised: Once you know a language, there will be better employment possibilities and through that, an easier access to the society. However, this is not always the case. Many immigrants in Helsinki who, despite their adequate Finnish skills, are neither employed nor necessarily feel included to the Finnish society. Employers in Finland should consider the level of language skills that the job actually requires and be more open to hiring people with foreign background.
Attracting international know-how to Helsinki is a part of the city's international strategy. Companies should be braver in hiring international experts, even if they do not speak the country's national languages. However, it is among the city's and its citizens' interest that learning language is easily accessible to everyone who wishes to learn it.
The experience of inclusion is reinforced in everyday interactions
A recent dissertation by Minna Intke-Hernandez points out that the experience of inclusion is always the starting point for successful socialization process of the language. Only through the experience of inclusion, the individual becomes an active shaper in his or her community. To learn and practice the language in everyday life, more opportunities are needed, for instance in places and situations where you can naturally meet other residents. These include playgrounds, family clubs, language cafes and open events.
Also the possibility to show one's aim to learn the language for other people could be beneficial. In the campaign Talk to me in Finnish, those who wanted to speak Finnish kept a pin attached on a visible place, expecting people to speak Finnish instead of English to them. Each of us can start a conversation with a new city member and thus increase the experience of togetherness and community in the city. Language skills grow in everyday encounters and at their best, conversation can brighten up the day for both.
Linguistically equal city is a city that everyone can understand. In addition, it is a city that is proud of all its languages and is actively finding possibilities for everyone to learn and use languages in a versatile way.
Terhi Ainiala, Professor of Finnish language at the University of Helsinki and a Candidate in the 2021 Municipal Elections of Helsinki from the Greens & Milja Suihko, Civil Servant at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and a Candidate in the 2021 Municipal Elections of Helsinki from the Greens
Text is originally published in the blog of the Green Women of Helsinki the 18th of January in 2021.