Embracing Saami Culture with the Help of Literature

In November 2009, on Universal Children’s Day, a group of Inari Saami teachers, parents and children travelled to the capital to meet Finnish politicians including President Halonen. The purpose was to campaign for more school books in Inari Saami language. An official complaint about the situation was presented to the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman. The situation has gradually improved since but there is still a severe lack of culturally appropriate learning materials for Inari Saami speaking children.

Anarâškielâ Servi ry (Inari Saami Language Association) was established in 1986 by Veikko Aikio, Ilmari Mattus and Matti Morottaja. The Inari Saami language nest was later established because there was a genuine concern the Inari Saami language might disappear and be lost forever. At first learning materials for Inari Saami speaking children were so scarce, the language nest staff had to translate books from different cultures by glueing the new text on books to cover the original story. One might wonder why Northern Saami books were not used as there was already a decent selection of children’s literature available. For an outsider it may be hard to understand that these are two different although closely related languages. The idea would be similar to suggesting to Estonians to start learning Finnish, a bigger language, instead of their own language.

There are more books and materials to choose from in Northern Saami because there are approximately 30,000 Northern Saami speakers. It is the majority Saami language spoken in Finland but also a language spoken in Norway and Sweden, so resources are not limited to Finland alone. There are still only approximately 450 Inari Saami speakers, along with Skolt Saami, it’s still a minority’s minority language amongst Saami speaking people. All three languages are represented in the local school in Inari. I wanted to help with making learning materials for Inari Saami children because my children attended the language nest. The language nest is a total immersion language nursery, where the core work for language revitalisation is done. Below is a link to a documentary telling about the language nest and the language revitalisation work of Anarâškielâ Servi ry. After leaving the language nest the children usually progress to the Piäju, similar to the language nest but for older preschool children. From there the children can progress to school, where they can continue their education in Inari Saami language. As more children progress from the language nest, the number of Inari Saami speaking people has increased since the making of this video: Reborn (YouTube).

I have been cooperating with Anarâškielâ Servi ry to publish bilingual Inari Saami/English children’s books to help the learning materials situation. I write the stories in English, illustrate the books and then they are translated into Inari Saami by Petter Morottaja, the son of one of the main people in the revitalisation work here in Inari. My wife is also Inari Saami and a folklorist, so she is able to help me with the stories. First of all I wrote and illustrated a book for older children called “The Forgetful Squirrel” and was then asked to make books for younger children. The main character of the original book, an Inari Saami boy called Sammeli, was the inspiration for the series of books which tell of him and his adventures in the “Eight Seasons of Lapland”. The books are in Inari Saami to provide much needed materials for the children learning Inari Saami in the language nests and local school. This way there are culturally appropriate learning materials for Inari Saami speaking children, that also offer them the opportunity to learn English. Tourists who speak English can purchase the books from Sámi Duodji, Siida museum, Hotel Kultahovi in Inari and other places including Arktikum in Rovaniemi and online from Anarâškielâ servi ry.

This way they can learn about the local language and culture, and the revenue can help to fund further books and learning materials for the future.

When I was asked to write this blog, I read about the philosophy behind
Culture for All and was proud to contribute to something so worthwhile. I thought about a seminar for the project “Toward a More Inclusive and Comprehensive Finnish Literature” I was invited to attend, hosted by the Finnish Literature Society (SKS). The seminar led to an anthology “Opening Boundaries: Toward Finnish Heterolinational Literatures”, in which I was very happy to be included. It’s wonderful that there is a concerted effort being made to foster and promote the inclusion of immigrants in Finland and to celebrate their contribution to Finnish society. People have different talents, whether they are writers or artists or make a positive contribution to the wealth of the country in some other way. Similarly Finnish people living in other countries can take their ideology and talents with them to a new country, where they have the chance to make a positive contribution to their new environment, whilst sharing and promoting knowledge of their home country. In the acknowledgements, editor Mehdi Ghasemi wrote “Without their invaluable support, the implementation of the project and the publication of this book would not have been possible.”

There is an African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” Without the persistence and endeavour of countless people working for Anarâškielâ Servi ry in the language nest or Piäju, school teachers or kind people providing grants for Inari Saami literature, there would be even less learning opportunities than presently. Chances are the Inari Saami language would have disappeared like other forgotten Saami languages. Even if you just took the time to read this blog, you made a contribution. One more person understands the need for Inari Saami speaking children to have learning materials in their own language.

Lonottâllâm – Sharing, Autumn story (PDF)

The children, who have attended the language nest, Piäju and school in their own language, have now started to make their own contribution to Inari Saami culture. Some have written articles for the digital magazine Loostâš, Wikipedia articles and translated books from other languages into Inari Saami to increase the volume of literature available. Reading about different cultures is a very good way to learn and increase understanding and appreciation of those cultures. If Finnish people had an opportunity to read Inari Saami literature in Finnish, they would have a chance to learn about a language and culture indigenous to Finland, adding to the collective wealth of the country. In the same way that Finnish literature and books from writers of other countries have added to the wealth of Inari Saami literature, Inari Saami children should have the chance to see themselves represented in Finnish culture and shown in a positive light. Usually Saami children only see themselves in adverts encouraging tourism to Lapland. They grow up seeing Saami people shown often unfairly and inaccurately, sometimes even disparagingly, on postcards or comedy programmes from which negative stereotypes can endure for decades.

There is still a chronic shortage of culturally appropriate learning materials for Inari Saami speaking children, and funding for Anaraskiela Servi ry is a constant struggle. If bilingual Finnish/Inari Saami literature was included in the school curriculum, there would be sufficient funding for books, and both Finnish and Inari Saami children would benefit.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child covers essential rights regarding social welfare including political, social, economic and cultural rights. It states that children should have the right to develop to the fullest. Inari Saami speaking children should have the right to learning materials in their own language in their indigenous country, and Finland should give them this opportunity.

A quote from American philosopher William James says: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” It’s very easy though to lose motivation when you don’t feel valued or appreciated. We are all to some extent products of our environment, and when Inari Saami speaking children aren’t represented and made to feel they matter, they are at an immediate disadvantage and consequently may not accomplish their potential.

Finland is often applauded for having one of the most progressive education systems in the world. Supporting Inari Saami language revitalisation and the indigenous children of its country, would give Inari Saami children a voice and a chance to add to the narrative of Finland.


Lee D Rodgers

Lee Rodgers is originally from Manchester, where he worked as an artist before attending university in Manchester and Helsinki. He lives in Inari with his Inari Saami wife and family. He has been cooperating with Anarâškielâ Servi ry, The Inari Saami Language Association to help with Inari Saami language revitalisation. Lee Rodgers has written a series of bilingual Inari Saami/English books based on the adventures of a young Inari Saami boy called Sammeli in the “8 Seasons of Lapland”. For more information please contact rodgerslee9@gmail.com or www.anaraskielaservi.fi.

Kirjasto kutsuu yhteisiin lukuhetkiin – monella kielellä | Libraries invite you to share reading moments – in many languages

[In English below] 

Lasten ja nuorten lukemiseen kannustamiseksi tehdään työtä usealla taholla. Jo varhain aloitettu yhdessä lukeminen on tärkeää. Lukeminen on mukavaa aikuisen ja lapsen välistä yhdessäoloa mutta se myös kehittää lapsen kieltä ja puhetta, kuuntelun ja keskittymisen taitoa sekä sanavarastoa.

Riitta Salin peräänkuuluttaa omassa blogitekstissään vanhempiin kohdistuvaa työtä kun puhutaan oman äidinkielen säilyttämisen ja ylläpidon merkityksestä. Oman äidinkielen opettajat ovat tässä keskeisessä asemassa. Kirjastoilla taas on tarjota aineistoja, joilla voidaan tukea perheen yhteistä lukuharrastusta monilla kielillä.
Suomessa on meneillään useita valtakunnallisia lukemista edistäviä kampanjoita ja hankkeita. Lukuliike on hallitusohjelmaan kirjattu jatkuva ohjelma, jonka tavoitteena on edistää Suomessa asuvien lukutaitoa, lapset ja nuoret edellä. Lukuliike pyrkii laajentamaan lukutaidon käsitettä ja tuomaan esiin monilukutaitoa sekä monikielisyyttä. Tämän vuoden alusta opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö on antanut lasten ja nuorten lukemista ja lukutaitoa edistävien kirjastopalvelujen valtakunnallisen erityistehtävän Seinäjoen kaupunginkirjastolle.

Hyviä esimerkkejä käytännön lukutaitotyöstä on monia mutta tässä voidaan poimia esiin vaikka Niilo Mäki-instituutin Lukumummit –ja vaarit (Reading grandmas and grandpas: seniors reading with children at school). Lukumummi ja -vaari -kerhossa eri kulttuureista tulevat mummit ja vaarit lukevat lapsille kirjoja omalla äidinkielellä. Tapahtuma järjestetään iltapäivällä monikulttuurikeskusten kerhoissa. Lapset pääsevät tutustumaan oman kielen kirjoihin ja oppivat uusia sanoja mummien ja vaarien kanssa. Kerhoja on jo useilla paikkakunnilla eri puolilla Suomea.
Lapsille ja perheille tulee olla lukemista tarjolla eri muodoissa. Perinteinen paperinen lastenkirja on monille se rakkain mutta monikielisten digitaalisten aineistojen, e-kirjojen ja äänikirjojen, tarjonta ja käyttö lisääntyy ja kirjastojen tulee voida tarjota niitä asiakkailleen nykyistä helpommin. Tällä hetkellä kirjastojen e-aineistojen käyttäminen on asiakkaalle haastavaa, sillä ne ovat useilla eri palvelualustoilla. Tämä heikentää monikielisten aineistojen yhdenvertaista saavutettavuutta.

Monessa kunnassa varhaiskasvatus, koulut ja kirjastot ovat jo ottaneetkin käyttöön maksullisen Lukulumo – monikielisen kuvakirjapalvelun (Ruotsissa nimellä Polyglutt). Lukulumosta löytyy yli 300 suomenkielistä kuvakirjaa, joista monia voi kuunnella ja katsella yli 45 kielellä. Kirjat palveluun ovat valinneet lastenkirjallisuuden asiantuntijat. Lapset voivat kehittää niin suomen ja ruotsin kielen kuin myös oman äidinkielen taitojaan. Lapset voivat tutustua samaan kuvakirjaan omilla kielillään.
Pohjoismaat, Norja, Tanska ja Ruotsi, tarjoavat jo yhteistyössä monikielisiä e-kirjoja ja äänikirjoja asiakkailleen World Library –palvelussa. Monikielinen kirjaston on seurannut projektin etenemistä useita vuosia. Toivottavasti Suomen kirjastot voivat liittyä mukaan palveluun lähitulevaisuudessa ja näin saada valikoiman digitaalista aineistoa asiakkaidensa käyttöön.

Tammikuussa 2020 Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö myönsi 250 000 euron avustuksen kansallisen e-kirjaston selvityshankkeen käynnistämiseksi. Helsingin kaupunginkirjaston vetämän hankkeen tavoitteena on parantaa e-kirjojen alueellista saatavuutta ja kansalaisten yhdenvertaisuutta ja tasa-arvoa koko Suomessa. Kun lähitulevaisuudessa yleisten kirjastojen tarjoama laaja digitaalinen kokoelma on kaikkien yleisten kirjastojen asiakkaiden käytettävissä yhdeltä palvelualustalta, myös monikielinen aineisto on helpommin kaikkien saavutettavissa. Selvitystyön raportti julkaistaan helmi-maalikuussa 2021.

Monikielisen aineiston saavutettavuuden lisäksi on vielä kysyttävä miten yhteiskuntamme monimuotoisuus näkyy Suomessa julkaistavissa lastenkirjoissa. Lastenkirjat kuvaavat suureksi osaksi enemmistökulttuuria. Tätä näkökulmaa selvittää Goethe-instituutin lastenkirjallisuuden monimuotoisuushanke. Useassa Ruotsissa julkaistussa lastenkirjassa seikkailee jo monikulttuurisen ja monimuotoisen taustan omaavia lapsia. Lapsen ja nuoren olisi tärkeää löytää kirjoista samaistumisen kohteita, hänen elämästään tuttuja hahmoja ja tarinoita.

Libraries invite you to share reading moments – in many languages

Efforts are being made in many areas to encourage reading among children and young people. It is important to start reading together with the child at an early age. Reading is a pleasant shared activity for an adult and child, and it also develops the child’s language and speech, listening and focusing skills and vocabulary.

In her blog post, Riitta Salin calls for measures aimed at parents in the context of retaining and maintaining one’s own native language. In this regard, native language teachers play an important role. Libraries, on the other hand, can offer materials that can support a family’s shared reading hobby in a variety of languages.
There are currently nationwide campaigns and projects under way in Finland to support reading. The Literacy Movement is a continuous effort laid down in the Government Programme, which aims to promote the literacy of Finnish residents, with a focus on children and young people. The movement aims to expand the concept of literacy and highlight multiliteracy and multilingualism. From the beginning of this year, the Ministry of Education and Culture has assigned the special national responsibility related to library services that promote reading and literacy among children to the Seinäjoki Public Library.

There are plenty of great examples, one of which is Niilo Mäki Institute’s Lukumummit ja -vaarit project (Reading grandmas and grandpas), which involves grandmothers and grandfathers from various cultures visiting schools to read books to children in their own native languages. The events are held in the afternoon in the context of club activities offered by multicultural centres. This introduces children to books in their own language and learn new words together with experienced readers. Many of these clubs have already been established throughout Finland.
Reading must be available to children and families in a variety of forms. Many love traditional printed children’s books best, but the offering and use of multilingual digital materials, e-books and audio books is increasing, which is why libraries must be able to make them more easily accessible to their customers. At present, accessing the e-materials of libraries can be a challenge to customers since they are scattered across multiple service platforms. This hinders the equal availability of such materials.

In many municipalities, early education, schools and libraries have introduced the multilingual picture book service Lukulumo (named Polyglutt in Sweden), which is subject to a fee. The service features more than 300 picture books in Finnish, many of which can be read and listened to in more than 45 languages. The books for the service have been selected by experts in children’s literature. Lukulumo enables children to develop their proficiency in Finnish, Swedish and their own native languages, for example by reading the same picture book in many languages.

The Nordic countries of Norway, Denmark and Sweden have already joined forces to offer multilingual e-books and audio books to their customers through the World Library service. The Multilingual Library has been following the project’s progress for several years. Hopefully, Finnish libraries will be able join the service in the near future and make its selection of digital materials available to their customers.

In January 2020, the Ministry of Education and Culture awarded a grant of €250,000 to initiate a project to investigate the possibility of establishing a national e-library. The aim of the project run by the Helsinki City Library is to improve the regional availability of e-books as well as equality and equal opportunity among citizens throughout Finland. Making the vast digital collections offered by public libraries available to all library customers through a single service platform in the near future will ensure that everyone can access multilingual materials much easier than before. The investigation report will be published between February and March 2021.

In addition to securing the accessibility of multilingual material, we must also ask ourselves how the diversity of our society is reflected in the children’s books published in Finland. Children’s books largely depict the majority culture. This perspective is being explored by the Goethe Institute’s project focusing on diversity in children’s literature. Many children’s books published in Sweden already feature children with a diverse and multicultural background as their protagonists. It would be important for children and young people to discover identifiable things in the books they read, along with familiar characters and stories.


In this photo you see writer Eeva PilviöIn this photo you see writer Riitta HämäläinenKirjoittajat Eeva Pilviö ja Riitta Hämäläinen työskentelevät Monikielisen kirjaston informaatikkoina Helsingin kaupunginkirjastossa. Monikielinen kirjasto on opetus-ja kulttuuriministeriön rahoittama palvelu.

The writers Eeva Pilviö and Riitta Hämäläinen work as information specialists at the Multilingual Library of the Helsinki City Library. The Multilingual Library is a service funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture.


Yhteisöjen ja yksilöiden monet kielet

Koneen Säätiö tuki kieliohjelmassaan 2012–16 monikielisyyttä eri tavoilla, ja monikielisyyden tukeminen on sille edelleen tärkeää. Monikielisyyttä ajatellaan helposti vain yhteiskunnan tasolta, eli että yhteiskunnassa puhutaan useampia kieliä. On se näinkin, mutta ankeimmillaan ajatus voi johtaa siihen, että yhden valtakielen ja englannin kuvitellaan riittävän.

Monikielisyydestä puhuttaessa on kuitenkin koko ajan otettava huomioon yksilöllinen ulottuvuus. Kuvitelma siitä, että yhdellä ihmisellä voi olla vain yksi äidinkieli, oli jonkin aikaa vallitsevana kansallisvaltioiden nousun myötä 1800-1900-luvuilla, ja aiheutti paljon pahaa vähemmistökielille suomalaisessakin yhteiskunnassa. Ajateltiin jopa, että useamman kielen oppiminen jo lapsena on haitallista ihmisille. Vaikka tutkimus sittemmin on osoittanut täysin vastakkaista, yksikielisyyttä ihannoivat käsitykset elävät edelleen. Käsitys elää voimakkaana Venäjän nykyisen hallinnon kielipolitiikassa, joka jatkuessaan voi johtaa suhteellisen nopeasti vähemmistökielten kuolemiseen.

Ruotsissa Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, maan suurin humanististen ja yhteiskuntatieteiden rahoittaja, julkaisi äskettäin vuosikirjan RJ:s årsbox 2019: Det nya Sverige, joka koostui muutaman kymmenen sivun katsauksista eri asioihin. Yksi katsaus käsitteli kieliä, ja sen on kirjoittanut Mikael Parkvall Tukholman yliopistosta. Katsaus on kiinnostava ja sisältää hyödyllistä tietoa. Toisin kuin valtio Suomessa, Ruotsin valtio ei rekisteröi kansalaisten kieliä. Niinpä Parkvall on tehnyt paljon työtä selvittääkseen Ruotsissa puhuttuja kieliä 2010-luvulla; hän julkaisi tuloksiaan kirjassa Sveriges språk i siffror (2015). Selvityksen mukaan suurimpia äidinkieliä ruotsissa v. 2012-13 olivat suomi, arabia, serbokroaatti-ryhmä (Jugoslavian hajoamisen jälkeen poliittisista syistä erillisiksi ajautuneet kielet), kurdi, puola ja espanja.

Kielten luokittelun hankaluus käy Parkvallin katsauksesta ilmi: Ruotsin virallisessa tilastossa tunnistetaan vain yksi saamen kieli, vaikka kielitieteilijät nykyisin erottavat yhdeksän saamen kieltä, joista useita puhutaan Ruotsin alueella. Ruotsin eri murteita ei eroteta toisistaan eri kieliksi, mutta suomi ja meänkieli erotetaan, vaikka moni kielitieteilijä pitää niitä saman kielen murteina. Kuten tästäkin näkyy, kielten luokitteluun julkisessa hallinnossa vaikuttavat aina myös politiikka ja kulttuuriperintö.

Se mikä Parkvallin katsauksesta melko yllättävästi puuttuu, on yksilöllinen monikielisyys. Hän on selvittänyt perusteellisesti ruotsalaisten äidinkieliä, mutta ei puhu lainkaan siitä, millaista yksilöllistä monikielisyyttä Ruotsissa on (paitsi se, että jotain muuta kieltä äidinkielenään puhuvat osaavat tavallisesti myös ruotsia). Hän suhtautuu pessimistisesti monikielisyyden mahdollisuuksiin säilyä. Tässä minua kiinnostaa vertailu antiikin ja keskiajan Sisiliaan, jota olen itse tutkinut. Siellä kaksi kieltä, kreikka ja latina, säilyivät ainakin tuhat vuotta rinnakkain, paikoittain todennäköisesti 1500 vuotta. Kyse oli toki kahdesta korkean prestiisin kielestä, joita molempia käytettiin (eri aikoina) kirkon ja hallinnon piirissä.

On kiinnostava nähdä, miten tilanne kehittyy nykymaailmassa. Joko ymmärretään, että valtiot eivät ole yksikielisiä, vaikka niin usein ajateltiin kansallisvaltioiden muodostumisen aikana? Syntyykö jännitteitä monikielisten suurkaupunkien ja maaseudun välille? Toivon ainakin, että kestävän monikielisyyden arvo yksilöille ja yhteisöille ymmärretään myös 2020-luvulla.


Kuvassa näkyy Kalle Korhonen Koneen Säätiön tiedejohtajaKalle Korhonen on Koneen Säätiön tiedejohtaja, joka oli vastuussa myös säätiön kieliohjelmasta (2012–2016). Hänen taustansa on antiikintutkimuksessa, ja hän on klassisen filologian dosentti Helsingin yliopistossa. 

MONIKIELISYYS – uhkana mahdollisuus?? | MULTILINGUALISM – opportunity from a threat?

[In English below] 

Suomalainen yhteiskunta monimuotoistuu ja samalla monikielistyy koko ajan, varsin nopealla tahdilla.

Varsinkin pääkaupunkisedulla muualta tulleita, muita kuin suomea tai ruotsia äidinkielenään puhuvia on jo liki 20% väestöstä, joissakin Itä-Helsingin kouluissa jo reippaasti yli puolet kaikista oppilaista. Eilen, istuessani bussissa matkalla harrastukseeni, edessäni istuva mies puhui kaverilleen somalia, takana istuvat naiset keskenään venäjää ja vieressä istuva nuori nainen puhelimeen englantia. Tämä on arkipäivää ja tulevaisuuden kuva.

Monikielisyys tarkoittaa myös paljon muuta kuin ympäriltä kuuluvaa puhetta. Suomen peruskouluissa muualta tulleille, muun kuin suomen-, ruotsin- tai saamenkielisille oppilaille, tarjotaan mahdollisuutta oman äidinkielen opiskeluun kahtena tuntina viikossa. Tätä opetusta tarjotaan valtakunnallisesti ainakin 60 eri kielessä. Kyseessä on loistava mahdollisuus, jos sen merkitys vain ymmärretään ja mahdollisuutta käytetään hyväksi.

Oma kieli, äidinkieli, on sydämen, tunteiden, identiteetin ja ajattelun kieli. Kieli vahvistaa kulttuurista identiteettiä, oman kulttuurin tuntemusta ja siteitä omaan kieliyhteisöön ja entiseen kotimaahan. Äidinkieli on myös jokaisen perusoikeus: kaikilla Suomessa asuvilla ihmisillä on oikeus kehittää ja ylläpitää omaa äidinkieltään.

Äidinkieli on se kieli, joka opitaan ensin ja johon samaistutaan. Kaksi- tai monikielisellä on itsellään oikeus määritellä äidinkielensä, ja niitä voi olla yksi tai useampia. Suomen väestörekisteri ei kuitenkaan tue tätä. Syntyvän tai Suomeen muuttavan lapsen äidinkieliä voi rekisteriin merkitä vain yhden ja tämä määrittää kielivalintoja myös koulussa. Toki nykyään äidinkielen voi helposti muuttaa tai lisätä äidinkielen lisäksi toisen kielen asiointikieleksi.

Kieli on tärkeä sekä oman minuuden tiedostamisen että kieltä puhuvaan yhteisöön liittymisen kannalta. On tärkeää, että lapsi oppii äidinkielensä riittävän hyvin, sillä äidinkieli on perusta lapsen ajattelulle ja tunne-elämän tasapainoiselle kehitykselle. Äidinkieli on myös tärkeä väline sekä uusien kielten että kaiken muunkin tiedon oppimiseen ja omaksumiseen. Oman äidinkielen vahva hallinta tukee näin myös muiden aineiden opiskelua.

Olen toiminut viimeisten vuosien aikana uudessa yhdistyksessä, nimeltä Oman äidinkielen opettajat ry. Yhdistys ajaa nimenomaisesti oman äidinkielen opettajien ja opetuksen asemaa, missä onkin vielä todella paljon kehittämistä. Haluaisin kuitenkin peräänkuuluttaa myös vanhempiin kohdistuvaa työtä. Vieraskielisten vanhempien informoiminen oman äidinkielen opiskelun mahdollisuuksista on liian usein edelleen varsin sattumanvaraista: opiskelumahdollisuuksien lisäksi vanhemmat tarvitsevat informaatiota siitä, mikä merkitys oman äidinkielen, joka usein on myös kotona puhuttu kieli, kunnollisella osaamisella on kaiken oppimisen taustalla.

In this image you see teachers of various languages in the same classroom
Eri kielten opettajat samassa luokassa

Opetushallitus toteaa sivuillaan: Vastuu lasten oman äidinkielen tai omien äidinkielien ja kulttuurin säilyttämisestä ja kehittämisestä on ensisijaisesti perheellä. Vastuuta ei kuitenkaan voida asettaa, jos ei varmisteta sitä, että vastuun kantamiseen on riittävä tieto.

Oli äidinkieli tai sen määrittely mikä hyvänsä, olennaista on se, että useampien kielten osaamisen merkitys kasvaa koko ajan. Tulevaisuuden työnteko, varsinkin asiantuntijatyössä, perustuu siihen oletukseen, että tekijä hallitsee useamman kielen, vähintäänkin ymmärrystasolla. Tällöin on hyvä ymmärtää, että kieli on voimavara niin kielen käyttäjälle kuin ympäröivälle yhteiskunnalle.

Suomen kielivaranto ei ole koskaan ollut niin laaja kuin nyt. Tätä olemassa olevaa kielten monipuolista kirjoa ei pidä hukata vaan eri kielten osaajien merkitys on tunnustettava. Yhteiskunnallisesta näkökulmasta katsoen monipuolinen kielten osaaminen ja olemassaolo on rikkaus, joka pitää osata hyödyntää koko kansakunnan parhaaksi. Tällöin monikielisyydestä todellakin kasvaa mahdollisuus.

MULTILINGUALISM – opportunity from a threat?

Finnish society is becoming more diverse and, at the same time, multilingual at a very rapid pace.

In the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, in particular, nearly 20% of the population speak a language other than Finnish or Swedish as their native language and, in some schools in Eastern Helsinki, so do well over half of the pupils. Yesterday, as I was sitting on the bus on my way to my hobby, the man sitting in front of me was speaking to his friend in Somali, the women sitting behind me were speaking to each other in Russian, and the young woman sitting next to me was talking on the phone in English. This is commonplace, and a vision for the future.

Multilingualism also means much more than the speech you hear around you. Finnish comprehensive school offers pupils from other countries, whose native language is not Finnish, Swedish or Sami, the opportunity to study their own native language for two hours a week. These lessons are offered nationwide in at least 60 different languages. It is a great opportunity, if only people understand its importance and exploit it.

One’s own language, mother tongue, is the language of the heart, emotions, identity and thought. Language strengthens cultural identity, knowledge of one’s own culture and bonds with one’s own language community and former home country. Native language is also a fundamental right of everyone: all people living in Finland have the right to improve and maintain their native language.

Native language is the language that is learned first and identified with. A bilingual or multilingual person has the right to define his or her native language and may have one or more of them. However, the Population Register Centre of Finland does not support this. Only one native language can be entered in the register for a child born or moving to Finland, and this also determines language options in school. Of course, nowadays, one can easily change or add a second language as an alternative service language alongside the native language.

Language is important both in terms of awareness of self and in terms of joining a community that speaks the language. It is important that a child learns his or her native language well enough, as the native language forms the foundation for the child’s thinking and for balanced emotional development. The native language is also an important tool for learning and acquiring new languages and all other information. A good mastery of one’s native language also supports the learning of other subjects.

In recent years, I have worked for a new association called Oman äidinkielen opettajat ry (Association for teachers of native languages). The association advocates the status of teachers and teaching of native languages, which still has a lot of room for improvement. However, I would also like to call for work on parents. All too often, informing parents of the possibilities of studying their native language is still rather inconsistent: in addition to learning opportunities, parents need information about the importance of proper knowledge of their native language, which is often also the language spoken at home, as a basis for all learning.

In this image you see teachers of various languages in the same classroom
Teachers of various languages in the same classroom

The Finnish National Agency for Education states on its website: Responsibility for preserving and developing children’s native language(s) and culture rests primarily with the family. However, responsibility cannot be imposed if it is not ensured that sufficient information is available to bear the responsibility.

Whatever the native language or its definition, the essential thing is that the knowledge of the importance of knowing more languages is increasing all the time. Future work, especially in the field of expert work, is based on the assumption that employees know or at least understand several languages. A such, it is good to understand that language is a resource both for its user and for the surrounding society.

Finland’s language reserves have never been as extensive as they are now. This existing diverse spectrum of languages must not be lost; instead, the importance of people who know different languages must be recognised. From a social perspective, the diverse knowledge and existence of languages is a wealth that must be exploited for the good of the whole nation. This will really help multilingualism become an opportunity.



In this photo you see Riitta Salin.Riitta Salin on toiminut pitkään monikulttuurisuussektorilla, niin monikulttuurijärjestöjen kuin oman äidinkielen opetuksen parissa.

Riitta Salin has long been involved in the multicultural sector, both in multicultural organisations and in the teaching of her own native language.


Multilingualism and Polyphony in Immigrants’ Literature in Finland

Immigration and globalization have broadened the definition of Finnish literature that was traditionally defined as a piece of literature written by a Finn in Finnish in Finland for Finns. As a result of immigration to Finland, some immigrants have produced and continue to produce literary works that deal with Finnish culture, society and history in Finnish or several other languages. In addition to their mother tongues, a great number of immigrant authors master different languages and employ them simultaneously in their works. The existence of such works in Finland and their coexistence with Finnish literature have both challenged the traditional definition of Finnish literature and have generated multilingual and polyphonic literature.

The project [on multilingual Finnish literature]…aims to increase the visibility, readability and research on literary works written by immigrant authors in Finland, writing in the dominant or non-dominant languages but know themselves affiliated with Finnish culture, history and society.

At the Finnish Literature Society (Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, SKS, https://www.finlit.fi/en), wherein work is based on an up-to-date knowledge and understanding of the roots of the culture, as well as the contemporary profile of a multicultural and multilingual Finnish literature, we are conducting a project, entitled “Toward a More Inclusive Finnish Literature,” on multilingual Finnish literature. The project, which has started in January 2018, aims to increase the visibility, readability and research on literary works written by immigrant authors in Finland, writing in the dominant or non-dominant languages but know themselves affiliated with Finnish culture, history and society.

The database [on immigrant authors residing in Finland]…will include the information of seventy immigrant authors, such as their updated biographies, list of publications and photos of many of these authors, as well as the views and interviews of some of them.

Since there did not exist any database on immigrant authors residing in Finland, we have spent some time to build the database, which will include the information of seventy immigrant authors, such as their updated biographies, list of publications and photos of many of these authors, as well as the views and interviews of some of them. The database is updated on regular basis as the project proceeds. Right after that, we selected a number of immigrant authors based on their professionality (quality of their published works), activity (quantity of their works) and diversity of nationality for the first round of interviews. We contacted them one at a time, asked those who were interested to send some of their published works to us, and after reading them, we had an in-depth and technical interview rather than a general one. Up to this date, fifteen authors have been interviewed, and the other selected ones will be contacted and interviewed hereafter.

The seminar also familiarized immigrant authors with the activities of the SKS and our co-organizers with a focus on their supportive missions for immigrant authors.

At the SKS, we also organized a one-day literary seminar – entitled “Today’s Literature, Tomorrow’s Literary History: Do Immigrant Authors Transform Finnish Literature?” – in October 2018 in the main building of the SKS. The seminar, which was co-organized by some organizations, including Culture for All and Globe Art Point, gathered a number immigrant authors as well as scholars, researchers and anyone interested in the literature produced by immigrants in Finland. The seminar also familiarized immigrant authors with the activities of the SKS and our co-organizers with a focus on their supportive missions for immigrant authors. In addition, it provided the grounds for us to be acquainted with the potentials of authors and see how we can work together to find a way toward increasing their  visibility and readability.

The anthology [entitled ‘Toward a More Inclusive Finnish Literature’] will include some of the unpublished literary works in different genres by about thirty immigrant authors in about twelve different languages, and this would make the anthology the most inclusive, collective and comprehensive one ever published on immigrant authors in Finland.

We have also planned to publish a multilingual anthology, entitled Toward a More Inclusive Finnish Literature, in 2019. The anthology will include some of the unpublished literary works in different genres by about thirty immigrant authors in about twelve different languages, and this would make the anthology the most inclusive, collective and comprehensive one ever published on immigrant authors in Finland. The publication of this multilingual anthology manifests some aspects of multilingualism and polyphony that exist in Finland, introduces some of the immigrant authors residing and writing here, as well as provides an opportunity for their works to be seen, read and heard.


In the picture you see Mehdi GhasemiMehdi Ghasemi received his PhD in English Literature from the University of Turku, and now he is a postdoctoral researcher at the Finnish Literature Society, the University of Tampere and the University of Turku. He has already published five scholarly books and thirteen papers in peer-reviewed scholarly journals with three more papers in the pipeline. He is also a fiction writer, writing his works in the hybrid genre of noveramatry (a combination of novel, drama and poetry all in one line). He has already published three fiction books, including Flight to Finland: A Noveramatry, How I Became a W Finn: A Noveramatry and Finnish Russian Border Blurred: A Noveramatry, with the fourth forthcoming one, A Farewell to the Earth and Kepler-438b.

Vigdís International Centre for Multilingualism and Intercultural Understanding

The Vigdís International Centre for Multilingualism and Intercultural Understanding (or Vigdís World Language Centre, for short) has been established in April 2017, based on an agreement between UNESCO and the government of Iceland. The primary purpose of the Centre is to raise awareness of the importance of languages as one of mankind’s most precious cultural assets.

The World Language Centre will be an information centre for languages and culture with facilities for research and dissemination. It has an exhibition space and an auditorium. In the first years, it will focus on the language situation of the West Nordic region. In cooperation with other institutes, international scholars and those interested in languages, such a centre will be a significant contribution towards preserving and strengthening linguistic diversity.

The World Language Centre regards it an honour to develop and continue the pioneering work that Vigdís Finnbogadóttir has carried out as the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Languages.

The Vigdís International Centre for Multilingualism and Intercultural Understanding is a UNESCO Category 2 Centre. It counts with an international advisory board that provides advice for preparing and developing the activities of the Vigdís International Centre of Multilingualism and Intercultural Understanding.

The Centre, in cooperation with other institutions in Iceland, now hosts one of world’s largest collections of bi­ and multilingual dictionaries; a donation from Infoterm, based on the legacy of Eugen Wüster (one of the fathers of terminology as a field).

The Vigdís World Language Centre is a part of The Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages at the University of Iceland.

The Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages

The Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages is a research institute working within the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Iceland. The Institute is a research centre for scholars who teach modern languages and cultures, the classical languages and translation studies.

Since 1st October 2001 the Institute has had the honour of bearing the name of Ms. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former President of Iceland, 1980-1996. Ms. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir has been a powerful spokesperson for the importance of language proficiency, both in one’s own native tongue as well as in other languages, and she has made a vital contribution to this field in her career as a teacher, as President of Iceland, and as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations.

The institute organizes yearly a seminar to celebrate the international mother language day; this year (2018) the Vigdís World Language Centre took the lead in organizing the:

International Mother language day symposium 21. 2. 2018:

Dictionaries: Multilingualism, Translations and Terminology 2018


Tema morsmål – support for multilingual education

Tema Morsmål is a website that offers resources to support different mother tongues and multilingual work in child care, mother tongue education and bilingual education in schools.

It offers learning resources in a wide variety of mother tongues for all employees in kindergartens and schools, focusing especially on multilingual staff in kindergartens, mother tongue teachers, bilingual teachers and teachers in special Norwegian schools and for minority language children and parents.

Tema Morsmål communicates current information about native language and multilingualism, both nationally and internationally, from research environments to educational practice and builds networks for the site’s current audiences.

The website’s main language is Norwegian but it has also versions in Arabic , in Dari, in Sorani Kurdish, in Lithuanian, in Pashto, in Persian, in Polish, in Russian, in Somali, in Spanish, in Tamil, in Thai, in Tigrinya, in Turkish and in Urdu.

Somali Nordic Culture promotes reading and writing in Somali

Somali Nordic Culture is an association located in Sweden. It works to increase interest towards Somali Culture organizing events and festivals, activities for children, film and theater presentations and promotes reading and writing in Somali language. Nordic Somali Culture publishes a children’s magazine Carruurterna (Our children) in Somali language that is distributed to more than 100 libraries in Sweden.

The members are reading promoters, students, writers, storytellers, librarians, journalists and artists.


In Swedish

Somali Nordic Culture är en kulturell  och ideell förening som är partipolitiskt och religiöst obunden. Föreningen består av läsfrämjare, studenter, författare, sagoberättare, bibliotekarier, journalister och konstnärer. Somali Nordic Culture grundades 2011 och föreningens verksamhet riktar sig till barn, ungdomar och vuxna och till både kvinnor och män.

Somali Nordic Culture har som syfte:

  • Att öka intresset för den Somaliska kulturen genom att hålla kulturföreställningar, barn aktiviteter, kulturfestivaler och film och teateruppvisningar.
  • Att väcka intresse för det skrivna ordet. Att hålla seminarier om ny utgivna litteratur där man träffar och diskuterar med författarna. Målet är att öka intresset för läsning av böcker på olika språk samt re-censera och diskutera kring dem.
  •  Att utveckla elevers kunskap och förståelse av utbildningen. Vi ordnar läxhjälp för grundskola och gymnasieskola elever. Målet är Att den svensk-somaliska gruppens utbildningsnivå höjs avsevärt för att förbättra förutsättningarna för dem att lyckas i  samhället.
  • Att integrera nyanlända somalier genom samhällsinformation och stöd i tidigt skede för att motverka utanförskap.

Nypon förlag – lättläst också på andra språk

Nypon förlag is a publishing house located in Helsingborg, Sweden, specialized in books that are easy to read (lättläst/ selkokieli). It publishes books mainly in Swedish but also in other languages, either as bilingual or monolingual publications. The languages of the collection  include Arabic, Dari, English, French, German,  Meänkieli, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Somali, Spanish, Swedish and Tigrinya.   

The mission of Nypon förlaget is that all the children have an opportunity to become great readers, develope their language(s), imagination, the pleasure of reading and thus their learning skills.

Learning for Integration: multilingual language cafés, language-specific playgroups for kids, language expert services etc.

Learning for Integration ry promotes the learning of languages and cultural sensitivity of migrant, immigrant and refugee children and youth in Finland and other Nordic countries. It aims to facilitate the new members’ integration into the new culture and the development of a multicultural society. It also supports Swedish learning in Finland.

Learning for integration organizes activities such as the popular language cafés in more than 10 languages, Story time circles, playgroups for kids in different languages and craft and theatre groups. It also offers expert services including workshops for teachers, specific learning materials and affordable but high quality editing, proofreading and translations to NGOs and other organizations working mainly for public good in Finnish, English, French, Russian, Swedish and other languages according to demand.

The multilingual work team of Learning for integration is presented at their website.

Litteraturcentrum Uppsala

Litteraturcentrum Uppsala  is a collaboration of Studiefrämjandet, Kultur i länet, Kulturrådet, Uppsala city, Uppsala regional library and Svenska Pen. Its aim is to support local reading and writing and the regional literary field including a multilingual context. The centre is based in Uppsala, and it is a part of the culture plan of the Uppsala region.

The people involved in the activities of Litteraturcentrum Uppsala use at least the following languages: Swedish, Sami, Arabic, Bengali, Dari, French, German, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Wolof, Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian, Spanish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Estonian, Kokborok, Beluch, English, Tamil, Georgian, Turkish etc.


Anisur Rahman, the project leader for LItteraturcentrum Uppsala describes the work:

“We are interested in both the artistic and social effects of literature. We work locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and have established productive partnerships with several organizations, including literary organizations, local theatres and schools. Our centre is now a platform for both professional and amateur writers in diverse mother languages. It is a meeting point for native, foreign, immigrant and exiled writers. We publish more than a hundred writers a year in our literary anthology from our creative writing workshops every year. We host more than a hundred literary events a year.

Our centre in Uppsala together with Litteraturcentrum in Tranås, Litteratur resurscentrum in Norbotten and similar project in Jämtland-Harjedalen is now Sweden’s international literary checkpoint where we have growing network and exchange with different continents. All are welcome on board to read and write in diverse languages in defense of free word and free thought.”

Anisur RahmanAnisur Rahman is Uppsala’s guest writer 2009–2011 in the ICORN system and currently project leader for Litteraturcentrum Uppsala, Studiefräjandet Uppsalaregion, http://www.litteraturcentrum.se/

Móðurmál – the Association on Bilingualism

Móðurmál (Mother Tongue) is an NGO founded in Reykjavik in 1994 as The Parents of Bilingual Children Association (Samtök foreldra tvítyngdra barna). It supports multilingualism by teaching languages to bi- or plurilingual children and develops structured language programs with clearly defined curricula and goals. It has offered instruction in over twenty languages for plurilingual children since 1994.

Móðurmál offers of has offered teaching in Albanian, in Arabic, in Czech, in Chinese, in English, in Filipino, in French, in German, in Ghanaian Languages Ewe & Twi, in Indonesian, in Italian, in Japanese, in Korean, in Latvian, in Lithuanian, in Nepalese, in Polish, in Portuguese, in Russian, in Serbian, in Slovakian, in Spanish, in Swedish, in Thai, in Turkish, in Ukrainian, and in Víetnamese

Móðurmál has received the following awards:

2008: “Vel að verki staðið” (“For A Job Well Done”) certificate of recognition from the Intercultural Centre for Mother Tongue’s active work on immigrantion issues in Iceland. The award was presented by the President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

2014: Samfélagsverðlaun Fréttablaðsins (The Society Award of Frettabladid) in category From Generation to Generation. The award was presented by the President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

2016: “Foreldraverðlaun Heimilis og skóla” (Parents’ award from the National Parents’ Association) for mother tongue teaching of bilingual children