Nordic and especially Finnish culture is known for punctuality and organisation. It is widely appreciated to be at places on time and things are mostly taken literally. A lot of Finns are fortunate enough to foster the art of preciseness through high quality education. This also means a possibility to learn new languages. Sometimes it proves to be beneficial, while other times we are left wondering why so many hours were used on French grammar and so few on how to actually communicate with fellow train passengers. It also raises the question of how much are Finns, as colleagues, employers or organisations asking from those, who are learning Finnish as a new language – and whether these requirements are always necessary.
The demand for perfection in strict language requirements can cause a lot of confusion and difficulties for multilingual applicants, who are navigating working life in Finland. Research shows that a lot of hours go into applications only to go unnoticed by too many recruiters (48 %), who think the applicant should master a near native-level proficiency in Finnish. As many jobs can be done with basic language skills, this is a questionable requirement, which has been increasingly challenged. Working in positions that do not include customer service are an example of this. Perhaps there should be more reflection on how it is actually possible to manage in various situations, not to mention the benefits waiting to be discovered. It turns out, many have stood puzzled in some unfamiliar situation, or station, and somehow made it through. Maybe there was a knowledgeable passerby, or the information desk was able to explain the travel itinerary in very few, but efficient, words. Similar skills can be transported to Finnish organisations with precision.
Learning a new language means going beyond your comfort zone. I believe it to be a two-way process. This is in line with existing EU policies and objectives of for example the Ministry of Economic Affairs Employment of Finland, which recognise the responsibility of both job applicants and employers. In linguistic practice, it can feel uncomfortable to tone down a dialect or to speak slower. It might not be similar to how language is spoken in familiar settings, and there might be fears of sounding tactless when trying to get a message through. However, these experiences can be mutual and exist on either side, regardless of who is more proficient in the language of the conversation. It is possible, though, to learn to accept these initial reactions and exit the comfort zone –without leaving the station altogether.
All of us can become more holistic communicators, who learn to navigate our language spheres effectively. The need for change is evident in this situation, where unrealistic expectations have been set to some and not enough reciprocity is expected from others. Diversity agents can help in upgrading multilingual approaches and get different fields on the right track. The question is, who is ready to be on time to this required reorganisation?
Nuura Naboulsi is a Global Politics and Communication research assistant at University of Helsinki, Diversity Agent and active member in arts and culture collective Louhos ry. They have previously worked with Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland, Ruskeat Tytöt Media and others.
Yle: ”Finnish employers often require native-like fluency from immigrants, restricting job prospects”, 4.9.2021.
Kotoutuminen.fi: ”Integration is a two-way process”.
Ministry of Economic and Employment Affairs: ”Working life diversity programme”.
Diversity Agents at the Culture for All Service website.