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"Our strength lies in quality and competent teachers," Leena Evesti, Planning Officer at Language Services (left) and Seija Korhonen, Head of Language Services point out.

High-quality language teaching

Sören Viktorsson

 

How would you feel about language tuition, offered by highly experienced teachers and tailor-made just to meet your needs and those of your colleagues? This is one of the services offered by Language Services, a profit-making unit within the University of Helsinki Language Centre.

There are many reasons for wanting to study a foreign language. One might be  that life in a foreign country becomes so much more interesting and stimulating if one makes a sincere effort to learn the language. Not to speak of the increased opportunities to mingle with the locals over a beer...

"Although we offer up to 30 different languages, our emphasis is very much on Finnish. Actually, when we started up ten years ago, the first courses were Finnish for foreigners," says Seija Korhonen, Head of Language Services.

At this point one might already feel inclined to ask why there is a need for language tuition offered not by the regular university departments but a special centre.

"The answer is quite simple. We don't educate professional linguists. That's a task for the university's language departments. Our purpose is to provide language tuition for more practical needs. One of them is to meet the requirements of the university employees in their work."

"Another is to provide high-quality language teaching for the public," Leena Evesti, Planning Officer at Language Services explains. The open-enrolment language courses, arranged by Language Services, are open to anyone and do not require admission to the University of Helsinki. A Finnish course consisting of 50 hours costs 780 marks.

70 percent of the students are women

"If one can speak of a typical student on a course like this, it would be a well educated female, aged 30 to 40 and from a neighbouring country, maybe Russia. As a matter of fact, about 70 percent of our students are women.Or a language lecturer from abroad teaching at the University of Helsinki who might feel the need to learn a bit of Finnish," Seija Korhonen points out.

Do you get any funding, for instance, from the state? "No, not at all. Our unit's language training business is strictly commercial and we are supposed to make a profit. For instance, our profit in 1999 enabled the Language Centre to invest in a multimedia classroom."

How big a profit Language Services made last year remains a business secret. But Seija Korhonen is eager to underline that 'profit' is by no means a bad word in today's university world.

"The general trend is that more and more departments open up towards the world surrounding them and also try to make some money."

Finnish for foreigners is not, of course, the only open-enrolment course offered by Language Services.

"Finland is gradually becoming more and more multi-cultural and, therefore, we face new challenges. In the near future, we might see the need to offer, for example, Spanish courses taught in English for people living here who have not mastered Finnish," says Leena Evesti.

Tailor-made courses are popular

About 3, 000 people annually take part in language courses arranged by Language Services. The majority of the courses are tailored language training for the private and public sectors, including private tutoring.

"Tailor-made courses for the university staff, commissioned by the Personnel Department, are extremely popular. I am talking, for instance, about the course 'Conference Presentation'," says Leena Evesti.

"We cover everything from big companies with many students to small family-owned enterprises with very special needs. The customers are often ministries, consulting firms or banks," says Seija Korhonen.

The most common language is, no doubt, English. But if a Finnish company suddenly gets, for instance, a Japanese business partner, Language Services can arrange tailor-made tuition in Japanese language and culture.

The second most wanted languages are Finnish and Swedish. "The need for Swedish has increased dramatically in recent years, mainly due to mergers between big companies like the Finnish Merita and Swedish Nordbanken," Seija Korhonen points out.

What other languages are popular?

"French, Russian and, to some extent, German." Tailor-made tuition is normally given to groups of 2 to 10 students (if it is not private tuition, of course). The teacher normally goes to the company or organisation where tuition takes place. Teachers are mostly native speakers, and the standards required are high.

"They should not only be good pedagogues, but also be knowledgeable about working life in general. This kind of tailor-made tuition is often required by special groups, such as lawyers, and then the teacher should be able to grasp the subject-area, to some extent, and provide the appropriate, related vocabulary," Leena Evesti explains.

Tailor-made language training at companies and institutions is, as a rule, paid for by the employer. Is it then really worth it, for instance, to give Finnish language training to employees who stay in Finland for only a few years?

"Definitely. It is, in fact, possible to learn good Finnish within a reasonably short time. I know of an Englishman who studied a year and learnt Finnish so well that afterwards he was actually able to negotiate in Finnish," says Seija Korhonen.

Even if it is possible to learn a foreign language well, one might (like the author of this article) face situations where there is a need to be perfect, such as writing an article or a dissertation in English. For such situations, Language Services offers language revision.

"It's quite common that a whole dissertation is written in English, since the writer also wants it to be read outside Finland. Then, of course, it's very important that the language is revised by a native English speaker," Seija Korhonen emphasises.

Almost 100 people work for Language Services as teachers, language revisers, translators, etc. In spite of tough competition, Seija Korhonen is confident about the future.

"Our strength lies in quality and our competent teachers." In five years, will Japanese or Chinese be among your major languages? "Well, Finnish and English will certainly still be the most popular languages. But we constantly read the business papers in order to be up-to-date with the new trends, " Seija Korhonen concludes.

Sören Viktorsson is Swedish journalist and student of Chinese at the University of Helsinki