Finland: English language dominance worries language teachers

Traditional grammar-focused language teaching is no longer effective in adult education, as older generations shy away from it. Today’s adult students of languages want practical exercises and are happy to do homework.

Adult language teaching has changed in the last decade. Prepared teaching materials and courses just don’t cut it anymore. These days, teachers of adult education must build the course content in line with the participant requirements of each individual class.

“I carry out a needs analysis for my language courses and instruction in which I mould the content together with the students,” says Anna-Mari Piirainen, a teacher of French and English at the Oulu Vocational College.

Today’s language instruction focuses on current events and breaking news. Teachers are required to keep the subjects for discussion timely in order to motivate their students.

Surprisingly, homework is not a curse. As a matter of fact, most students prefer to do it.

Traditional focus on grammar causes distress

Another major change in language instruction in Finland is the focus on grammar. Today’s instruction incorporates grammar into the practical exercises, as the traditional practice of studying grammar rules fails to inspire students.

“Many people have really bad primary school memories of cramming the grammar rules. Adult students now prefer inspiring practical exercises over traditional grammar-focused material,” says Piirainen.

She says it is high time Finns just relaxed and boldly spoke foreign languages.

“Everyone should feel comfortable with their level of language ability and speak the foreign language openly, with confidence,” she says.

More languages than just English

Piirainen also believes it is in everyone’s best interests to learn other languages beyond just English. Finland has few French, German and Swedish speakers compared to the number of English speakers.

“I would love to see Finland’s repertoire of languages expand,” she says.

Piirainen says she doesn’t believe that people in Finland, young children and youth in particular, would be prejudiced against learning Swedish anymore.

“People are welcome to speak any language. If they can’t find the words in English, they can say it in Swedish or German. The point is to try, to want to speak.”

One needn’t be well-travelled or have worked abroad to be internationally-oriented, says Piirainen.

“Making small talk, giving presentations and being able to respond quickly in conversation can be studied in Oulu, too. It is also important to learn how to be a good listener.”

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