Growing interest in Finnish language as part of school curricula

Finnish and Estonian flags.
Finnish and Estonian flags. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

An increasing number of schools in Estonia are adding, or hoping to add, Finnish language lessons to their curricula. At the same time, an initial shortage of teachers may be addressed purely due to the sheer numbers of Finnish speakers in Estonia who do not yet teach the language, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Friday.

Over 7,000 Finnish nationals reside in Estonia, and over 50,000 Estonians live on the other side of the Gulf of Finland, and the cultural, business, historical and linguistic ties are strong.

The Estonian Ministry of Education supports more Finnish teaching in Estonian schools, while President Alar Karis has suggested this could even be mandatory.

Marika Peekmann, chief general education expert at the Ministry of Education, said: "In addition to being the language of our neighborrs, Finnish is also our kindred tongue, meaning that both in the context of the labor market and in expanding cultural horizons, this language is very a very welcome addition to school curricula."

Ilona Säälik, board member at the Finnish language teachers' association (Soome keele õpetajate selts), told AK that: "40 schools in Estonia already provide the opportunity to learn Finnish.

"However, there are actually schools all over Estonia, where people want to start and where they could indeed do so," she went on.

Additionally, unlike with other disciplines, foreign language teachers often have more scope for taking on work in several schools at once – this could be done in rural areas, with transport being reimbursed by local government, for instance, the ministry said.

Conversely, while from the start of the next academic year in September, schools will be required to offer at least two options for foreign languages, there is likely to be a shortage of teachers of Finnish.

The Finnish language teachers' association is thus addressing the issue, including by mapping out Finnish speakers, on both sides of the Gulf of Finland, who might be interested in teaching the language.

Hannele Valkeeniemi, head of the Finnish Institute (Soome Instituut) in Estonia, said that there is no shortage of people, Estonians and others as well as Finns themselves, who speak Finnish

Finnish and Estonian are the two largest languages within the Finnic branch of the posited Finno-Ugric language group, a group quite distinct from the much larger Indo-European family of languages.

The two languages are morphologically and lexically quite close, syntactically, a little further apart.

This makes learning Finnish already considerably less of a challenge for an Estonian than for most others (and vice versa).

The two languages share many cognates, though pitfalls also include the false cognates one can find, often with comedic results and with the joke falling on either language in roughly equal measure.

For instance, the Estonian word for "book", Raamat, is almost the same as the Finnish "Raamattu", but this refers to a one specific book, ie. the Bible.

Kallis, in Estonian, means dear both in the sense of a personal term of endearment or respect, and in the sense of costly. In Finnish, however, Kallis has only the latter meaning (the former would be "Kulta"), meaning in hotels, a customer is sometimes seemingly referred to as "expensive guest."

While you might buy wallpaper in Finland ("Tapeeti"), in Estonian, Tapeti means "killed", in the past tense, passive voice.

In Finland, Hallitus means "government" – in Estonian, fittingly or otherwise, it means "mould", while another false cognate which might lead one to wonder if this is not being done intentionally comes with the word Pulm - "wedding", in Estonian (plural: Pulmad), whereas in Finnish, Pulma means "problem"...

During the latter phases of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Finnish TV could be picked up, at least in northern Estonia. Viewing this is thought to also have been responsible for many Estonians being able to speak Finnish well, and for that matter English, given the large number of U.S. and British shows carried, subtitled rather than dubbed, by Finnish TV then and now.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Akuaalne kaamera

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