Finnish language and culture – internationally
Finnish lecturer Anne Koskela has been asked, for example, why all Finnish houses have ladders.
text and picture Juho Karjalainen
The Finns are a peculiar people: We love ice-hole swimming, spend a lot of time in the sauna, and endure inhuman below-zero temperatures. We also use suspiciously large amounts of alcohol and our food costs fortunes. These are well-known pre-conceptions that Anne Koskela, lecturer in Finnish, encounters in her work.
Koskela teaches Finnish language and culture to international personnel. She has done similar work previously with exchange students, for example. The course participants can freely pose questions about Finnishness to Koskela. After all, Finland is very different from other places for many people.
”People don’t ask about polar bears and penguins, but the winter seems to frighten many of them. Many people wonder how nothing changes, even when it is twenty degrees below zero. Busses run and schools normally stay open”, Koskela states.
Finnish working hours also provoke surprised reactions. ”Many people wonder when Finns have time to visit offices, since many of them close at four and working hours usually last until four or five,” Koskela explains.
Sometimes the answers are not easy to come by. ”Once I was asked how long you should stay in the sauna in order to not offend your fellow sauna-goers,” Koskela laughs.
Koskela considers it important to learn how to communicate with Finns. ”Quiet moments in between discussion confuse many foreigners. In the beginning, it is difficult to understand that every break does not need to be filled with speech.”
The course participants notice that you have to be active in the right manner when interacting with Finns. The shy exterior is often shed when they get to know people. ”Quiet moments are not so bad,” Koskela smiles.
There is plenty of demand for teaching Finnish language and culture, because the number of international personnel is increasing. ”International exchange students and personnel are eager to learn Finnish, even though it may be very challenging for some people,” Koskela praises.
Similar courses are organised at big universities all over the world. Learning language and culture helps with integrating into the work community, and it makes it easier to feel at home in the new country.
”Language and culture cannot be separated from one another. Phrases teach you important social skills, such as how to greet acquaintances and strangers, and how the Finns behave in different situations,” Koskela emphasises.
The academic atmosphere balances out the differences in culture and language. ”There are many wonders for everyone in the new country, but all the course participants have an educational background. Everyone has experience and insight on learning a language, and that makes it easier to teach them than, for example, students completely detached from the academic world.”
Unfortunately there is no time to explore the culture and customs in detail on the introductory course, but also advanced courses are open to personnel. ”There is even time for some Finnish history on the advanced courses.”
In addition to official teaching, foreigners learn useful tips elsewhere. ”Once a student asked me what is the most polite way to ask a Finnish woman out. Someone shouted immediately ’meille vai teille’ (your place or mine) in plain Finnish,” Koskela laughs.