The Language Ambassadors project, led by Jaan Siitonen, promotes the study and learning of Swedish in Finnish-language schools. The project has gained great popularity and is constantly expanding.
What is Swedish useful for me? Can I ever even learn it?
Do I have to?
Many Finnish-speaking young people may be thinking about these questions in their minds. Then help and a new perspective on their thoughts can be obtained from the language ambassador. They are a kind of motivators designed to inspire and support the learning and learning of the Swedish language.
They began to appear more and more in the Swedish language lessons of Finnish-language schools three years ago. There are now more than 110 language ambassadors in Finland. Each of them has a unique story about how he or she has learned Swedish and what surprising opportunities it has opened up for him or her in life.
“We have made over a thousand visits since April 2019. We have visited about 230 schools ranging from elementary school to college. We are all over Finland, and now, made possible by remote visits, we can make visits anywhere, ”says the Executive Director. Jaan Siitonen, which is the size Language Ambassadors project initiator.
Language ambassadors has gained great popularity in a short time.
But how did the Finnish-born Master of Political Science, who wrote an approbatur in Sweden and treated it with a hesitant attitude in Sweden, become a Swedish-speaking master of political science, whose main job is now to encourage others to learn Swedish?
“In high school, I was sure I would never use Swedish in my life. However, I decided to face my prejudice and go to the army in Dragsvik. I thought that after that experience, I would be able to oppose the Swedish language with a good conscience when I know what I am talking about, ”Siitonen says.
However, the enthusiasm and motivation to learn the language struck as soon as Siitonen entered the barracks area.
“As a beginner, I learned words so that when I heard a word, I wrote it down and looked at the meaning in a dictionary. I had a beginner’s book full of different word lists. ”
At the beginning of was very difficult, and Siitonen also faced some bullying. “This is an army, and no language course,” one novice muttered to him once.
Siitonen wanted to learn the language by speaking and always insisted that everyone speak Swedish to him.
“I was also annoyed because they didn’t want to listen to my Swedish. I didn’t let it bother me. I also met some really wonderful people who helped and were happy that I had come there and wanted to learn the language. ”
In the final stages, Siitonen already led his own group in Swedish, and after the army, he applied to study at Swedish-language educational institutions in Helsinki. In Arcada and Svenska social- och kommunalhögskolan, language skills developed enormously.
From 2010, Siitonen began to visit schools independently.
“I contacted Swedish teachers in the Helsinki metropolitan area and asked if I could come tell my own story so that students would not make the same mistake with Swedish as I did.”
Language Ambassadors project was born when its background organization, the National Languages Association, received three years of funding from the Svenska kulturfonden.
Siitonen says that their goal is to make language ambassadors a permanent addition to school language teaching and to give all teachers the opportunity to order a language ambassador for their course.
“We see that there is a strong need for this, so great a flood of feedback from teachers has come.”
According to Siitonen, a big reason for the project’s popularity has been that teachers and ambassadors have a lot of freedom to plan the content of the visit together, think about a theme, for example, and also take into account the students’ linguistic level.
“I have received a lot of feedback from teachers: they appreciate being able to influence the content of the visit themselves. Each language ambassador has a very unique story of their own. Tailoring is a good thing, because then you will be able to make the visit look like your own. ”
Major some of the ambassadors are Finnish speakers who have learned Swedish.
Since 2020, Finnish-Swedish ambassadors have also been present, who in turn visit Finnish-language schools in Finnish classes, for example in Ostrobothnia.
“There is a terribly great need to motivate the Finnish language in Swedish-speaking schools, especially in Swedish-speaking areas.”
And now in December, another pilot is about to launch. In it, Swedes who have moved to Finland, for example, study here in Swedish, visit their home country and tell about Finland and how they moved here.
One of the biggest challenges in the project has been activating students in visiting lessons. Efforts have been made to influence this, for example, by having ambassadors write a letter to students in which they tell their own story briefly. Based on that, students can prepare a few questions in advance.
Today Saturday is Swedish Day (svenska dagen), which celebrates the right of Finnish Swedes to use the Swedish language in Finland.
According to Siitonen, the myth of young people’s negative attitude towards the Swedish language is not true. In 2019–2021, language ambassadors collected feedback from teachers (220) and students (7,700). According to the feedback, only 2–10 per cent of students had a negative attitude towards Sweden. For example, 15 per cent of the respondents were either very much or quite interested in studying in the Nordic countries.
Jonna Kotivesi is one of the newest language ambassadors. He held his fifth visit on Wednesday to Espoo Kuninkaantie High School, whose students had a lot of questions for Kotivesi.
Your home water says he is inspired as an ambassador by the opportunity to inspire and encourage students to believe in themselves. To learn a language, he says, it takes repetition, intrinsic motivation, the courage to speak and understand that it’s okay to make mistakes.
Home Water itself studied long Swedish at school and felt good about reading and writing Swedish.
“But I couldn’t and really didn’t dare talk about it or understand anything when I heard Swedish. I was really shy and had low self-confidence in the language and didn’t even come to use it, ”she says.
High school after that, however, Kotivesi went to Stockholm as an au-pair, and suddenly Swedish came from every tute every day. When he exposed himself to the language, he was forced to learn.
“It was awful at first. At times I had a face in red, ashamed when I said wrong and I made mistakes all the time. Self-confidence grew a lot in the first few months. I got the reassurance and that’s how it started to work. ”
Home water eventually lived in Sweden for five years. Among other things, he studied sports science at the University of Gothenburg. In August, she moved back to Finland with her Swedish spouse.
“I’m trying to tell the students that if someone like this from Lahti can learn Swedish, so can you.”
Jaan Siitonen says that with his proficiency in Swedish, he has learned to question his prejudice.
“If I was 100% wrong about Swedish in high school, am I wrong about other things as well?”
He would like people to be able to have an open mind about the usefulness of the Swedish language.
“It would be best if as many people as possible said ‘I don’t know what Swedish is good for me, but I’m curious to find out.'”
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