Idea of adopting English as service language resurrected in Helsinki

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Idea of adopting English as service language resurrected in Helsinki

Pedestrian in snow-covered downtown Helsinki on 22 February 2022. (Mikko Stig – Lehtikuva)

THE IDEA of adopting English as a service language has re-emerged in Helsinki, the capital of Finland.

“Counselling related to founding a business, finding employment and many basic services is inaccessible to many residents of Helsinki. The reason for this is the lack of convenient service languages,” reads a proposal submitted by Alviina Alametsä, a councillor representing the Green League, in February.

“Multilingualism has significant economic benefits in spite of its costs. Linguistic accessibility would facilitate, for example, the retention of international talent and students in Finland.”

Mayor of Helsinki Juhana Vartiainen (NCP) last summer floated the possibility of declaring the capital an English-language city in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat. He told the newspaper last month that he is excited about the new proposal, reminding that the city continues to need international talent and must strive to be functional also for them.

“I’m strongly in favour of Helsinki being a city where you can get by also in English,” he stated.

A similar proposal, however, was submitted in 2018 by Mari Holopainen, a councillor for the Green League. Holopainen is one of the 17 councillors who voiced their backing also for the more recent proposal.

“The times and mood can change in politics. When we collected the signatures, we noticed there’s support for the proposal,” Alametsä told Helsingin Sanomat.

In 2018, most of the criticism arose from the costs associated with the proposal. Designating English as a service language would not only lead to a sharp increase in translation costs, but also create new costs in administration, city-state collaboration and staff training, the city noted in its response four years ago.

The chairpersons of the largest political groups on the council remain unsure about the proposal.

Daniel Sazonov of the National Coalition agreed that services should be more readily available in English. “But I don’t think it’s worthwhile in a size of this size to translate every thing to English,” he added.

Also Reetta Vanhanen of the Green League drew attention to the costs associated with the proposal, viewing that expedience is important. “The promise of smooth English-language services would have to be realised everywhere;” she said to Helsingin Sanomat.

The City of Helsinki has recently decided to increase intake into English-language basic education in a bid to support the settling of foreign-language talent in the city. Vartiainen said it is particularly important that it is now possible to apply to English-language basic education throughout the school year.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT


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