Teachers worry about declining interest in foreign languages ​​| New

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Only one in five primary school pupils now choose to study optional foreign languages, representing a declining trend throughout the 21st century, according to new data from the National Agency for Education. Language teachers worry that children do not have equal access to learning languages ​​other than English and Swedish – and that fluency in a foreign language is no longer a valued skill.

Teaching foreign languages ​​is not possible in many Finnish municipalities. Image: Ylé

Voluntary study of foreign languages ​​in Finnish primary schools has declined significantly in the 21st century. Only a fifth of schoolchildren today study three or more languages ​​at school.

According to new data from the National Agency for Education (formerly the National Board of Education), in 2000 more than a third of young students started studying a foreign language; about a decade later, only a quarter of 4th and 5th year pupils were studying a so-called A2 language. B2 languages, covered in secondary school, have seen an even more pronounced decline, dropping from one fifth to only one tenth of pupils. Additionally, fewer students chose to study traditional preferred foreign languages ​​such as German and French.

Students seem to lose interest in learning foreign languages. Image: Uutisgrafiikka

Municipal savings reduce language options

Many municipalities are in the midst of a savings drive, which often includes cuts in education funding. In schools where optional foreign languages ​​are still included in the curriculum, group sizes have exploded over the past decade.

“Municipalities can decide to increase the minimum group size of a language course from 12 to 16 students. In classes of 30 to 40 students, language learning groups end up not taking off at all”, explains specialist Jaakko Salo of the Education Union (OAJ).

This leads to a situation where students who wish to study a new language at their school may not be able to do so.

Students on an equal footing

Teachers expressed concern that foreign language learning is increasingly centralized in southern Finland.

“Children are being denied education simply because of where they live,” said chairwoman Sanna Karppanen of the Federation of Foreign Language Teachers. “If you’re from Helsinki, Tampere or Turku, you’re set – there’s plenty to choose from. But Finland isn’t just the big cities in the south; in many areas the only other available languages ​​are Swedish and English.”

Salo also finds that children of highly educated parents are much more likely to choose a language other than Swedish or English for their children to learn.

No progress

Karppanen says he fears that fluency in the language is no longer valued as a skill in Finland.

“People keep saying you’ll have no problem learning English. But then employers and politicians keep saying they need lots of multilingual young people, which doesn’t reflect in reality,” she said.

Karppanen says his solution to keep Finnish foreign language skills from degenerating into English and Swedish only is to properly fund municipalities.

“We need to find new ways to support municipalities that lack adequate resources to offer foreign languages. And municipalities themselves need to think about what they think about language learning,” says Karppanen.

OAJ’s Salo says that municipalities should be obliged to offer an A2 language as part of their primary school curriculum.

“The previous government was unable to follow through and it never became law,” Salo says.

Foreign language learning should start in the first year

The teachers’ union also believes that pupils should start learning their first foreign language from year one, with an optional foreign language introduced in year three. If this were to happen, according to the union, more students would choose to continue their language studies up to secondary school. The organization also believes that studying Swedish in sixth grade would not be as difficult.

The OAJ described the decision taken last autumn to move the study of Swedish to sixth grade – earlier than before – as a good idea, but said it should not reduce the number of hours of study. instruction in the language as children grow.

Be that as it may, there has been a distinct shift in focus in language learning from the upper classes to the lower classes. One of the key programs of the current government is to ensure that students start learning languages ​​earlier in their school career. The Ministry of Education and Culture and the National Agency for Education are setting up an experiment to start teaching a foreign language from the first year.

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