Why Are Finnish Fluent in English?

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Why Are Finnish Fluent in English?

By Kim Se-jeong
Staff Reporter

The Finnish foreign language education system is one that Korean parents and the government may only dream of.

At the end of a nine-year primary education program, Finnish students can leave the school competent in speaking English, whereas for Koreans, speaking English is a distant hope no matter what kind of degree they have acquired.

The English education in Finnish schools is considered to be a successful case and is cited by Korean education experts.

Finnish Ambassador to Seoul Kim Loutonen said the focus on practicality in the curriculum has led the success.

''Foreign language instruction gives pupils capabilities for functioning in foreign language communication situations. The task of the instructions are to accustom them to using their language skills and educate students in understanding and valuing how people live in other cultures,'' he said.

The ambassador himself can speak six languages. Other than Finnish and Swedish that are official languages in Finland, he began learning German, French, Spanish and English all at school.

In particular, he began to learn English when he entered upper secondary school, equivalent to the seventh grade of the Korean system.

''Teachers (only) spoke English. If you had questions, you had to ask it in English. In the beginning (level), especially, you learn to speak without knowing much grammar,'' the ambassador said. This is still the same after several decades.

One interesting point is that there are, even now, no native speaker in a classroom ''All English teachers are Finnish, and they speak English the whole time, except when they have to explain grammar.''

He was assessed through written tests, but his speaking ability was tested separately during the semester, the ambassador explained.

''Oral skills are evaluated on a regular basis, therefore pupils are encouraged to participate actively during class, for example in the form of discussions and group work,'' he said.

In Korea, English education in schools has been a target of criticism for its lack of practicality.

"As far as I understand, learning English in Korea focuses on grammar and rote learning, which is not the focus in our system,'' the ambassador said.

In Korea, it is rare for a Korean English teacher to speak English the whole time in a class. As to fill the need of oral fluency, schools hire native speakers. Yet, their lack of training in education and teaching skills has recently surfaced as a problem that needs to be addressed.

However, in Finland, the quality of the instructors does not pose a problem.

''In Finland, all teachers are required to obtain a Master's degree and initial teacher training includes teaching practice,'' he said. English-language teachers have to major in English philology to qualify.

He then shared of an incident during a meeting with Korean-English teachers, which gave him a negative impression on the value of Korean-English teachers.

''If I had deviated from the text I handed out in advance, they didn't seem to understand,'' he said. "Even those who have good degrees from foreign schools didn't seem to communicate very well.''

President-elect Lee Myung-bak has pledged to amend the English education system as part of the educational reform so that students can obtain an adequate English ability through the school system in South Korea.

The number of Korean students going abroad for English has continuously increased, marking a record high each year. In recipient countries, Korean students account for a substantial size in the international student body.

As a non-English speaking country, Finland is among the least favorite destinations for Korean students looking for an English education.

Finland is a Nordic country located in Northern Europe. It borders with Sweden to the west, Russia to the east, and Norway to the north.

Finnish, dominantly spoken throughout Finland, is in the Altaic language family, the same as Korean.

The number of students going from Korea to Finland was recently reported between 130 and 150, the ambassador said. They are mainly university students on exchange programs with sister universities in Finland.

The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1973.

skim@koreatimes.co.kr
By Kim Se-jeong
Staff Reporter

The Finnish foreign language education system is one that Korean parents and the government may only dream of.

At the end of a nine-year primary education program, Finnish students can leave the school competent in speaking English, whereas for Koreans, speaking English is a distant hope no matter what kind of degree they have acquired.

The English education in Finnish schools is considered to be a successful case and is cited by Korean education experts.

Finnish Ambassador to Seoul Kim Loutonen said the focus on practicality in the curriculum has led the success.

''Foreign language instruction gives pupils capabilities for functioning in foreign language communication situations. The task of the instructions are to accustom them to using their language skills and educate students in understanding and valuing how people live in other cultures,'' he said.

The ambassador himself can speak six languages. Other than Finnish and Swedish that are official languages in Finland, he began learning German, French, Spanish and English all at school.

In particular, he began to learn English when he entered upper secondary school, equivalent to the seventh grade of the Korean system.

''Teachers (only) spoke English. If you had questions, you had to ask it in English. In the beginning (level), especially, you learn to speak without knowing much grammar,'' the ambassador said. This is still the same after several decades.

One interesting point is that there are, even now, no native speaker in a classroom ''All English teachers are Finnish, and they speak English the whole time, except when they have to explain grammar.''

He was assessed through written tests, but his speaking ability was tested separately during the semester, the ambassador explained.

''Oral skills are evaluated on a regular basis, therefore pupils are encouraged to participate actively during class, for example in the form of discussions and group work,'' he said.

In Korea, English education in schools has been a target of criticism for its lack of practicality.

"As far as I understand, learning English in Korea focuses on grammar and rote learning, which is not the focus in our system,'' the ambassador said.

In Korea, it is rare for a Korean English teacher to speak English the whole time in a class. As to fill the need of oral fluency, schools hire native speakers. Yet, their lack of training in education and teaching skills has recently surfaced as a problem that needs to be addressed.

However, in Finland, the quality of the instructors does not pose a problem.

''In Finland, all teachers are required to obtain a Master's degree and initial teacher training includes teaching practice,'' he said. English-language teachers have to major in English philology to qualify.

He then shared of an incident during a meeting with Korean-English teachers, which gave him a negative impression on the value of Korean-English teachers.

''If I had deviated from the text I handed out in advance, they didn't seem to understand,'' he said. "Even those who have good degrees from foreign schools didn't seem to communicate very well.''

President-elect Lee Myung-bak has pledged to amend the English education system as part of the educational reform so that students can obtain an adequate English ability through the school system in South Korea.

The number of Korean students going abroad for English has continuously increased, marking a record high each year. In recipient countries, Korean students account for a substantial size in the international student body.

As a non-English speaking country, Finland is among the least favorite destinations for Korean students looking for an English education.

Finland is a Nordic country located in Northern Europe. It borders with Sweden to the west, Russia to the east, and Norway to the north.

Finnish, dominantly spoken throughout Finland, is in the Altaic language family, the same as Korean.

The number of students going from Korea to Finland was recently reported between 130 and 150, the ambassador said. They are mainly university students on exchange programs with sister universities in Finland.

The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1973.

skim@koreatimes.co.kr


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