Keeping mother tongues alive



Irina Bokova, former Director-General of UNESCO on the role of mother tongue in education: “Mother languages in a multilingual approach are essential components of a quality education, which is itself the foundation for empowering women and men and their societies.”

With the growth of immigration, multilingualism increases rapidly. Many children at school learn other languages other than their mother tongues. While learning the country of the language you live in is essential, it's also vital for children and their families that their own home or native languages are maintained too.


Mother tongue could play a crucial role in developing the children's own cultural identity since they live in a multi-ethnicity society with people of different languages and cultures. Maintaining their native language helps the children value their culture and heritage, which contributes to a more successful social life and a positive and confident self. Having a strong foundation of the mother tongue could also naturally lead to better academic achievement in the pupil’s future life.


Home language instructions at schools

The Finnish school system integrates and provides the students the opportunity of learning mother tongue or home language (oma äidinkieli tai kotikieli). The teaching and instructions are free of charge and they are organized based on registration.


Therefore, if families are interested that their children learn their own mother tongue language at school, they must apply for it. This occurs when the pupils enroll in school as early as Grade 1 and depends mostly on the parents' decision. However, the registration can also be done at another time by filling a specific separate form for it. The school can give you the form, or one can find it on the forms page of the education sector's website, depending on the city where you live: Helsinki, Vantaa, and Espoo.


Please note that applying for the instruction of own mother tongue is not compulsory. However, if a student has registered for a particular group, they are expected to attend the lessons. The information on the timetable, books and materials, teacher, and the location where the lessons are held, will be separately provided by the children’s own school.


There are many language options available (up to 30 or 40 depending on the city where you live), and there are smaller or bigger language groups. If there are bigger numbers of participants, teaching can be held at the pupil’s own school, otherwise, the children need to go to another school where more numbers of pupils are gathered from different schools for the same lessons. The lessons usually last for one hour and 30 minutes or two hours weekly.

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