The offering of Finnish language studies for international experts expands

Every year, more than 800 international students participate in Finnish language courses at the Extension school of the University of Oulu. From the autumn of 2022, the course offering of the university expands massively as the Faculty of Humanities begins to offer a minor in Working Life Finnish. In the future, students can choose several advanced Finnish language courses according to their interests and compile a sixty-point minor focusing on Finnish for working life.
Two persons discussing and smiling, explaining with their hands

The need for teaching Finnish as a second language is growing continuously. A national goal is to increase the number of international experts in Finnish universities, and the experts are also attracted to stay and live in Finland permanently. Therefore, it is essential that newcomers integrate smoothly into the surrounding community.

"The level of mastering the Finnish language impacts both well-being and employment," says Anne Koskela, a lecturer in language and communication at the University of Oulu. She has worked as a Finnish language teacher for a long time and has experienced the development of the field and the strong growth in the number of students. “Twenty years ago, most students taking our university courses were exchange students, and the course offering strongly focused on the elementary level. Today, the range of course participants is more diverse. Tthere are still exchange students but also a growing number of international degree students, doctoral students, researchers and teachers.”

The university has responded to the growing demand by diversifying the course offering and increasing the number of groups. Study opportunities are offered from the survival level to the advanced level.

The learning objectives of the Finnish language courses are determined on the basis of the situations where the language is used, so that concrete communication and interaction situations are emphasized. “At the beginning of a course, we usually discuss with students what they want to study and how. In our teaching, we pay close attention to the needs of students and the situations in which they use Finnish language,” Koskela says. “The elementary course highlights what the student needs to know in current everyday situations. As Finnish studies progress, we gradually move from concrete to wider and more abstract areas.”

At the Finnish language courses of the University of Oulu students learn how to use the language not only in different situations, but also through various channels and media. Some courses emphasize oral communication skills, while others focus on written communication. Virtual learning and the use of digital tools are, of course, commonplace.

"In contact teaching, the main emphasis is on spoken interaction and communication," Koskela confirms. “Homework, on the other hand, focuses on reading and writing text. We give quite a lot of homework because you can't learn a language if you don't study it outside the classroom.”

It is possible to complete the basic path of a Finnish learner from a beginner's course to an advanced level course in three years. Working Life Finnish is now being introduced as a continuation which can be completed in two years.

Learning the Finnish language requires commitment and versatile practice of language skills from the very beginning.

"After the advanced courses, one can cope very well in everyday situations," Koskela says. “The communication skills needed in working life and studies can be achieved by attending various courses at the advanced level, or language proficiency levels B1/B2. Of course, there are individual differences between students.”

The new module Working Life Finnish offered by the Faculty of Humanities emphasizes the student's own responsibility for developing his or her language skills. There is a lot of individuality in the studies: Language courses teach how to participate in language use situations in one’s own field of expertise and, for example, encourage the student to collect a professional vocabulary. Two internships are organised at a workplace in the student's own field where the language can be used in practical work-related situations. Alongside work tasks, there is thus goal-oriented language training supported by the workplace.

Working Life Finnish studies are intended for persons who need Finnish in their work or want to get deeper into Finnish society and working life culture. The aim is integration and increased inclusion, but also improvement and expansion of employment opportunities.

"It may be that even if you can manage in English in your current job, there will be a top job available in the future where Finnish language skills are needed too," says Sisko Brunni, a university teacher from the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Oulu who has been involved in the planning of the module. “With this course offering, we are also aiming to meet the need for advanced language proficiency teaching, which has been discussed a lot lately,” she continues.

Short-term goals accelerate learning

Finnish language teachers encourage students to use the language actively in hobbies, when running errands and, for example, in the daily life of a family with children. Learning and listening Finnish can be easily combined with a wide range of everyday activities. "For example, at the gym, you can listen to podcasts in Finnish, news in plain language or music," Koskela suggests.

"Finnish is a language just like any other and it can be learned as long as you are goal-oriented," she continues. “For example, a short-term goal could be that you can communicate successfully in Finnish, for example, in a restaurant or at the kindergarten when taking and picking up your child. Ideally, the goals should be concrete and relatively easy to achieve. It is also worth celebrating successes!”

It is evident that Finns in the family or in a circle of friends are a big advantage for learning. At workplaces, such as the University of Oulu, the daily use of the Finnish language could be boosted a lot more.

"Finns - do not immediately switch to English when you meet a person who speaks another language," Koskela encourages. “Be patient and helpful and help him or her speak Finnish. Even when it comes to beginners, greetings and giving thanks as well as exchanging the latest news is easy, or can be done with little effort. The coffee room is an excellent place to start, for example, by exchanging news. And at least some parts of meetings could be in Finnish, for example, the initial greetings and the start of the meeting.”

It is also easy to study Finnish on your own

In summer, the course offering in the Oulu region is narrower than during the school year, but Finnish learners should also take advantage of the summertime and study the language independently. In order not to forget the language skills already acquired, the language must be used.

Practical interaction situations are, of course, the best exercise, but you can also practice the language by exploring textbooks and various digital materials. For example, the courses at the elementary and intermediate levels at the University of Oulu use the textbooks Oma Suomi 1 and Oma Suomi 2 which contain really good digital materials. It is possible to borrow the books from the Oulu University Library. In addition, before the start of the courses, you can recall things you already know, so that it is easier to integrate new learning into old knowledge and skills.

Some summer courses are also available. In the summer of 2022, Finnish can be studied at the Summer University of Northern Ostrobothnia and Villa Victor, among others.

Summer is also an ideal time for reading - also in Finnish. On 10 June 2022, Oulu University Library, together with the university's Finnish language teachers and the Talent Boost programme, publishes a reading challenge for the summer for all members of the university community and other library users who do not speak Finnish as their mother tongue. Participants in the challenge can win book prizes.

You can also study the language easily online on your own. Here are some recommendations:

Elementary level

  1. Welcome to learn Finnish!

  2. Finnish phrases

  3. Speak Finnish - Easy Finnish for beginners

  4. Finland in the Pocket: Basics, Words and Shop

Intermediate level

  1. Real Finnish

  2. Finnish for practical purposes

  3. Yle Uutiset - News in plain language

  4. Yle Kielikoulu – A service enabling you to study Finnish or Swedish by watching Yle’s media content in an application or a browser

  5. Suomi-sanakirja – A dictionary focusing on everyday culture

  6. Finland in the Pocket - Learn Finnish through videos

Advanced level

  1. Finnish for practical purposes

  2. YKItreenit - YKI certificate as a goal

  3. DigiJouJou: Finnish for advanced learners (levels B2 – C1)

More information:

Anne Koskela
Lecturer, Languages and Communication
emal anne.koskela(at)
tel +358 50 35 04 568

Last updated: 16.6.2022