In a recent survey conducted by Oma kieli ry, six Finnish presidential candidates unanimously voiced opposition to the ongoing trend of English becoming more prevalent in Finnish society. The candidates, Mika Aaltola, Sari Essayah, Pekka Haavisto, Jussi Halla-aho, Harry Harkimo, and Olli Rehn, responded to a series of questions about the role of English in Finnish society, particularly in education, public, and private services. Notably, Li Andersson, Alexander Stubb, and Jutta Urpilainen did not participate in the survey.
The survey, echoing similar questions asked in the National Language Barometer in September 2023, sought the candidates' views on whether all permanent residents in Finland should be required to speak Finnish or Swedish, and if Finland should evolve into a country where living in English is feasible. All respondents affirmed the importance of proficiency in Finnish or Swedish for permanent residents and opposed the idea of an English-dominant Finland.
A critical point of discussion was the role of English in education. Five of the six candidates expressed concerns that the quality of education in Finland could deteriorate if English becomes more widely used as the medium of instruction. Harry Harkimo did not take a stance on this particular issue.
The candidates also diverged on the use of English in private services. The survey statement, "It is discriminatory to serve consumers in Finland only in English, as not everyone speaks or wishes to communicate in English," found agreement from Aaltola, Essayah, and Halla-aho. In contrast, Harkimo leaned towards disagreeing, highlighting entrepreneurs' freedom to choose their service language. Rehn and Haavisto chose "undecided", with their justifications focusing on the quick integration of skilled foreign workers into the workforce.
The survey also revealed mixed opinions on the provision of public services in English. While some candidates agreed that offering extensive English-language public services could hinder integration and prove costly, others saw merit in facilitating certain services, like business establishment, in English.
These responses from presidential candidates align with the sentiment expressed by 82% of Finns in the National Language Barometer, who view English-only private services as discriminatory. Additionally, 56% believe that extensive English-language public services could slow down integration and increase costs.
The candidates' answers reflect a strong, principled support for the status of national languages in Finland. However, their varied responses on specific issues highlight differing views on the extent to which education, public, and private services should be offered in English. While some see the growing use of English as detrimental to integration and language learning, others argue for the necessity of English in addressing the pressing need for workforce.
Oma kieli ry emphasizes that the future of Finnish and Swedish as common languages for all residents in Finland hinges on decisions made across various societal sectors. Increasing use of English in education, as a common language in Finnish working life, as an automatic third language in public services, and as the sole language in many private services, could lead to the very scenario the candidates and Finnish citizens oppose: an English-dominated Finland.