The guidebook "Monikielisen työyhteisön opas" was written by Salla Kurhila, Eveliina Korpela, Inkeri Lehtimaja, Johanna Komppa, and Lari Kotilainen. Photo by: Meeri Utti

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A recent publication titled "Multilingual Workplace Guide" delves into the challenges faced by foreign experts in Finland, challenging the myth that the Finnish language's complexity is the primary barrier. The book, based on extensive research and interviews with both Finnish and foreign workers in Finland, provides insights into the real reasons behind the difficulties in learning Finnish and assimilating into Finnish society.

The authors, including Eveliina Korpela and Johanna Komppa, who are seasoned experts in language and communication, argue that the difficulty isn’t so much in the Finnish language itself, but in the limited opportunities foreigners have to use Finnish in everyday settings. "Our tendency to switch to English upon hearing an accent can be discouraging to learners, implying that their Finnish isn’t good enough," explains Korpela.

Komppa points out that many highly educated foreigners are eager to learn Finnish but often feel excluded when they cannot understand conversations outside the workplace. Their research indicates that even when foreign workers manage their professional tasks in English, not knowing Finnish can lead to a sense of alienation.

The guide challenges preconceived notions about language learning and fluency, emphasizing the need for a supportive environment in language acquisition. It sheds light on the responsibilities of Finnish speakers in aiding immigrants’ language learning processes. Komppa stresses, "Language learning is not a solo endeavor. Every learner needs encouragement and opportunities to use their developing language skills."

The book offers practical advice on how workplaces can foster an environment conducive to learning Finnish, ensuring that foreign professionals feel more integrated into Finnish society. It also discusses how Finnish speakers can engage more effectively and empathetically with language learners, such as by speaking slowly, using gestures, and creating opportunities for meaningful conversation in Finnish.

The authors lament that many interviewed experts regret not being able to use the Finnish they have learned, with some only speaking Finnish with other foreign workers, as Finns tend to converse with them in English despite knowing their proficiency in Finnish. "While Finns are generally considered less polite, in this respect, they are overly polite," the authors note.

"Multilingual Workplace Guide" is the first comprehensive, research-based book addressing the language experiences of educated international workers in Finnish workplaces. It offers concrete tools for workplaces to support the well-being and retention of foreign workers in Finland, adding new perspectives to the Finnish language and culture.

This insightful book aims to enhance understanding and support for foreign experts in Finland, tackling one of the key challenges in integrating into Finnish society.

HT

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