Modern Foreign Languages teaching in Finland’s world-leading education system

David10 months ago2 min read

Our Previous blog posts have demonstrated how Sanako has built their language teaching technology business on globally-renowned Finnish learning models. Finland’s approach to language teaching is similarly innovative and offers some invaluable insights for language teachers globally.

This blog post looks at how Finland promotes language teaching and learning nationwide and shares some inspirational examples of classroom best practice from one of the Finland’s leading language teachers.

Most importantly, the Finnish education system places a high priority on language teaching, starting young by integrating language learning into early years education. It also aims to provide pupils with a wide language repertoire, and to create a welcoming and encouraging attitude towards learning languages.

Finnish basic education includes four different language routes  beyond each learner’s mother tongue - two of which are compulsory and two optional. The A1 syllabus is mandatory, usually begins in the 3rd grade (9 to 10 years), and the language of choice is usually English. (From January 2021, students will begin studying English from Grade 1). The A2 syllabus includes an optional language, usually French, Spanish, German or Russian and begins in grades 3–6 (9 to 13 years).

The B1 syllabus is the other mandatory language course. It begins in the 6th grade (12 to 13 years of age) and usually focuses on the second national language, i.e. Swedish or Finnish. B2 is an optional foreign language such as Spanish, German, Russian or French. This begins in grades 8 (14-15 years) and is delivered according to available teacher expertise.

A core National Curriculum is in place for all language teaching. This must be followed, but municipalities retain the ability to tailor content and the languages studied to local requirements. Where necessary, teachers with particular language specialisms may be required to teach a class of students from different schools to meet demand, which is often done remotely using Sanako Connect. Other methods are available but Sanako Connect is a dedicated language teaching system with many advantages for enhanced language learning.

The difference between multilingualism and plurilingualism is well recognised in Finland and the benefits of each very much appreciated by schools and employers alike.

Finnish language teaching and learning will receive a further boost with the introduction of the new lukio curriculum. This will see language teaching being embedded into different subject areas. Teachers are positive about the benefits of helping to foster cross-curriculum between colleagues and raising the importance of language learning in a whole-school context and sharing exercises.

Beyond formal education, the Finnish authorities also recognise the value of children learning different languages (other than Finnish or Swedish) to native-speaker standard. Funding has, for example, been made available to give children of immigrant or mixed linguistic background extra lessons in other languages they may speak at home. More than 50 languages have been taught through the scheme. Russian, Arabic, English, Estonian, Chinese and Spanish are widely studied, as well as the languages of significant immigrant communities including Albanian, Somali and Vietnamese.

Heini Syyrilä
Heini Syyrilä

So given this broad context, how are teachers actually delivering high-quality language teaching in Finnish classrooms? We spoke to Heini Syyrilä  to find out more - she teaches German and Swedish at primary, secondary and upper secondary school in Hattula and was named National Language Teacher of the Year in 2017.

According to Heini, the vast majority of language teaching in Finland is delivered via textbooks or their digital equivalents and we need to reinforce live speaking and listening activities. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has forced “teachers to learn how to deliver their teaching digitally”. Heini notes from her experience of teacher training that “there is still lots more to understand given the number of digital language teaching resources available.” She therefore stresses that teachers should build a detailed knowledge of these materials, so that they can choose the most pedagogically relevant tool in every situation.

In particular, Heini continues, many of these digital resources reflect a traditional, national focus on written exercises and their predominance in language assessment. Teachers should also carefully consider which resources are best suited to support teaching of the latest (2016) curriculum, which shifts the focus more towards oral and communicative language skills. It’s important, she stresses, for teachers to respond to this change by using “a variety of different exercises and tools to show what students really know and understand.”

It is recognised that live speaking & listening  with classmates and the teacher is a key part or learning a language and makes it more fun for students, allowing them to demonstrate what they have learned. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic schools have been forced to find a way to do this both in class and remotely (blended learning), thus ensuring continuation of our teaching. We use a combination of Sanako Reactored, Sanako Connectand Sanako Pronounce Live. It was deemed important to continue this live interaction rather than individual digital learning, which has had a positive impact on outcomes.