Kun Suomi putos puusta kaikki kävi äkkiä /
When Finland fell from the tree, everything happened quickly /

ei nähty itse sikaa eikä edes säkkiä /
No one saw the pig or even the poke /

kun Suomi putos puusta maito oli milkkiä /
When Finland fell from the tree, milk was milkkiä /

pilkkisaalis pakasteita, yöt bläkkiä /
Ice fishing catch frozen, nights bläkkiä /

kun Suomi putos puusta kaikki kävi kovin äkkiä
When Finland fell from the tree, everything happened so very quickly

Ismo Alanko – Kun Suomi putos puusta (1990),
translation SL

The rapid transformation of post-war Finland from a culturally homogeneous, primarily agricultural society into an urban, industrialized society, increasingly open to influences from the West has given rise to a range of critical responses. The song by a Finnish rock artist cited above is a good example of such critique: it not only explicitly criticizes the changes taking place in Finnish society but also comments on them in a more indirect and subtle way, illustrated partly in its language choices. For example, the lyrics build up a contrast between an old, but slightly modified proverb (“you shouldn’t buy a pig in a poke”) and such English words as milkkiä (‘milk’) and bläkkiä (‘black’). The juxtaposition of the old agrarian proverb and the morphologically domesticated English words conveys the sense of bafflement felt by many Finns in the face of the changes taking place in society. In addition, these language uses nicely illustrate the sociolinguistic change taking place in Finland whereby English, traditionally studied as one among other foreign languages, is gaining ground in the everyday lives of many people, and typical reactions to this change. For example, the song indirectly questions why anyone would want to refer to such a thoroughly mundane substance as milk with an English term when a perfectly acceptable Finnish word exists. And, yet, for many people such uses of English are becoming increasingly functional or evocative as means for communication.

The presence of English has indeed grown steadily from the beginning of the 20th century. Along with its increased visibility, its status has changed dramatically. The period from the 1960s to the 1980s – a period of major social, cultural and economic change – was particularly important in this process. In the early 1960s English was primarily regarded as a foreign language, almost exclusively for use in communication with foreigners. By the 1980s it had become a language that practically everyone studied at some point during their schooling. And by the 2000s, English had become not only an indispensable vehicular language in international interactions, but also a language used in many domains and settings within Finnish society, either as an intra-group language or as an additional language alternating and mixing with Finnish or Swedish.

The increased impact of English on communicative practices has not gone unnoticed within Finnish society. Indeed, it has provoked a great deal of discussion and debate, both among language professionals and the general public. In these discourses it has often been depicted in explicitly negative terms: it is seen by some as a threat, comparable to a destructive natural force or a disease, threatening to corrupt or obliterate the national language/s and culture (Leppänen & Pahta, forthcoming). Debates of this kind often recycle protectionist value judgements, adopting arguments from more general discourses related to English as a global language. On the other hand, English has also been seen in public discussions as a positive force – regarded as an agent of progress and empowerment that is absolutely indispensable for Finns if they are to interact in a credible way with the world outside Finland’s borders.

While these sociocultural and sociolinguistic changes and language ideological debates are familiar to Finns, there is relatively little research evidence on the particularities of the increased presence of English, and what Finns think of them. True, there have been qualitative case studies focusing on the role of English on such specific settings as the media, education, and business, plus some discursive investigations of learner attitudes to English (e.g. Hyrkstedt & Kalaja 1998; Haarman & Holman 2001; Moore & Varantola 2005; Taavitsainen & Pahta 2003, 2008; Leppänen & Nikula 2007; Nikula 2007; Leppänen et al. 2008; Louhiala-Salminen et al. 2005). Nevertheless, no systematic quantitative study has so far been conducted on Finns’ English language skills, their uses of English, or their views and attitudes concerning English.

The study reported in this volume attempts to answer this call for generalizable research information: it spells out and explains the findings of a nation-wide survey which sought to determine what Finns think about the increasing visibility of English in Finland, including its impact on their lives and on society as a whole. More specifically, the present report describes the findings of a national survey conducted in 2007 by our research group1 in the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, in collaboration with Statistics Finland. The findings of the survey have previously been published in Finnish (Leppänen et al. 2009a).

In order to contextualize the survey findings, this report first sketches the current language situation in Finland and, via an account of the history of English in Finland, describes the processes through which English entered and spread within Finnish society from the beginning of the 20th century to the early 2000s. In addition, there will be a brief account of the Finnish language education system and the general language policies adopted. Before the actual breakdown of the study results, the rationale and organization of the present survey will be presented, with reference made also to previous studies conducted on uses of and attitudes to English as a foreign or second language.

1.1 The language situation in Finland

Since 1922 Finland has been an officially bilingual country with two national languages, Finnish and Swedish. Out of the 5.3 million citizens, 90.7 % speak Finnish as their first language and 5.4 % speak Swedish. There are also several minority languages, including three different Sámi languages, Romani and the Finnish Sign Language, each of which has a considerably lower number of L1 users. For instance, only 0.03 % of the population speak Sámi as their mother tongue. (Statistics Finland 2010b). However, many of the speakers of these minority languages are bilinguals, having either Finnish or Swedish as their first language.

Finland is gradually becoming a multilingual society: according to the Ministry of Justice (only in Finnish) 120 languages are currently spoken in the country. During the last twenty years the number of foreign language speakers has steadily increased. In 2009, speakers of Russian made up the largest group with c. 52,000 L1 speakers, comprising up to 25 % of all foreign-language speakers. Speakers of Estonian formed the second largest group with c. 24,000 speakers, while speakers of English (c. 12,000) came in third place (Statistics Finland 2009). These figures clearly show that the immigration of English-speakers into the country is not the primary cause of the increased presence and impact of English in Finland – rather, we must look at the interplay of a number of factors.

1.2 Gradual spread of English in globalising post-war Finland

The growing significance of English in Finland is, indeed, an effect of several factors bound up with more general changes in post-war Finland, in parallel with increasing globalization. These factors include modernization, urbanization, technologization, and internationalization within society as a whole, all of these having impacts on business, trade and working life, as well as important educational reforms led to more effective foreign language teaching. New channels of information technologies, and cross-border cultural flows became more evident. Also significant was the changed political situation after the Second World War. There was a gradual but distinct turn towards the western world, along which Finnish society became more open to European and American values, politics, and culture – with the English language as a symbol of modern westernisation. In addition to these influences, the role of English has been shaped by the linguistic homogeneity of the country. Despite the fact that Finland is officially bilingual and has several minority languages, in practice the linguistic foundation of the country has largely been monolingualism. The majority of Finnish-speaking Finns have been able to manage by using only their first language in all areas of life, and most Swedish-speaking Finns are proficient in Finnish, too. Hence, unlike the situation in many other bi/multilingual countries where different linguistic groups have needed a vehicular language to communicate with one another and to participate fully in society, Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking Finns have had no need for such an additional language2.

To illustrate the multi-faceted processes sketched above, Table 1 lists some key changes in Finnish society, culture, politics, and language education from the 1920s to the early 2000s. These have in one way or another prepared the way for the popularity of English in Finland.

TABLE 1 The gradual growth in the popularity and importance of English in Finnish society from the 1920s to the early 2000s

The gradual growth in the popularity and importance of English in Finnish society from the 1920s to the early 2000s

The gradual growth in the popularity and importance of English in Finnish society from the 1920s to the early 2000s

The gradual growth in the popularity and importance of English in Finnish society from the 1920s to the early 2000s

The gradual growth in the popularity and importance of English in Finnish society from the 1920s to the early 2000s

The gradual growth in the popularity and importance of English in Finnish society from the 1920s to the early 2000s

The gradual growth in the popularity and importance of English in Finnish society from the 1920s to the early 2000s


As Table 1 shows, both the popularity and the importance of the English language in Finland have grown steadily over the past 90 years. Macro-level supra-national and societal changes, meso-level changes in language education policies, and the micro-level language uses of social groups and individuals have all contributed to the trend whereby English has gradually become the foreign language most desired, needed, studied, and used by Finns. To take one example, the westernization of society has made it possible for Finnish broadcasting companies to acquire films and TV series in English, and these same companies have made language political decisions to choose subtitling rather than dubbing – thus granting Finns unmediated exposure to English on a daily basis. This has meant that Finns have been able to listen to the English spoken on TV as it is spoken in the characters’ countries of origin. For some, English programmes have even provided an informal way of learning English, in the same way as the internet now presents opportunities for language learning (Koskela et al., forthcoming). The recent introduction of domestic programmes where the primary vehicle of interaction is English (e.g. Koskela 2005) and its increasing use on the internet and in digital gaming have also contributed to the de-estrangement of English (e.g. Leppänen 2007, 2009; Leppänen & Piirainen-Marsh, 2009; Jousmäki 2011; Peuronen, forthcoming; Kytölä, forthcoming). These various media have undoubtedly enhanced Finns’ language awareness and shaped their attitudes towards English considerably.

1.3 Language education and language education policy in Finland

Finns study many languages. One reason for this is that as speakers of two relatively small languages, Finns need foreign languages to be able to communicate in international contexts. Another reason is the official bilingualism of the country: Finns are generally used to studying languages other than their first language. In addition, foreign language teaching has a long history in Finland: foreign languages have been taught ever since the establishment of the Finnish educational system (Latomaa & Nuolijärvi 2005: 144). A fourth and more recent reason is related to the multilingualism advocated by the European Union: the EU Language Policy suggests that all EU citizens should learn to speak at least three EU languages. The three languages include one’s mother tongue and two foreign/second languages. The Finnish education system is currently structured to accommodate the EU language recommendations.

Despite the investment in teaching and learning many different foreign languages, it is nevertheless also true – as Table 1 shows – that from the 1960s onwards English has gradually become the most popular and widely studied foreign language in Finland. The growth in the popularity of English as a school subject was, in fact, assisted by the nation-wide educational reform of the 1970s, which established the comprehensive school as the core of the Finnish educational system. Instead of the earlier diversified school system – consisting of (1) middle schools focusing on the teaching of languages and a range of humanities, social studies and natural science subjects, and (2) schools preparing for vocational education – a unified comprehensive system was created. This system was made compulsory for all children of the same age group, who go through the system together, from the age of 7 to the age of 16.

Currently, the Finnish education system (Ministry of Education and Culture, b) consists of four stages, with the completion of each stage making students eligible for the next level. The first two stages include pre-school education for six-year-olds, followed by “basic education” (i.e. the comprehensive school attended by all children aged 7 to 16). Upper secondary education forms the third stage. This means either a general upper secondary school or a vocational school. The education in the upper secondary schools provides students with general knowledge in a wide range of subjects, and it culminates in the national matriculation examination. Vocational schools, for their part, prepare students for particular occupations. The fourth stage is the higher education provided by universities or polytechnics. In general, students who want to enter these educational institutions need to have a diploma either from a secondary school or a vocational school.3

The introduction of the comprehensive school brought changes to the Finnish language education system, especially in terms of which languages were taught and how long they were studied. Prior to the reform, only some students – mostly in the lower and upper secondary school and the university – had the chance to study foreign languages in addition to the two national languages. After the reform, the teaching and learning of foreign languages became obligatory for all. Currently, the teaching of the first compulsory language begins in grade 3 at the age of 94. The first compulsory language (the “A1 language”) can be, for example, English, French, German, or Russian as a foreign language, or Swedish/Finnish as a second language. In practice, however, the A1 language most commonly selected by students and offered by schools is English (see Table 1 and Statistics Finland 2010a).

The A1 language is studied extensively during the school years, and the learning target is independent, functional proficiency in that language. More specifically, the target level required for the grade of “good” in the A language (after compulsory education involving six years of A1 language studies) is, according to the criteria of the Common European Framework of Reference, a high A2 in writing and speaking, and B1 in understanding.5

If they so wish, students can also begin to study another foreign language (an optional “A2 language”) in grades 1–6 of the comprehensive school. In principle, they can aim at the same level of proficiency in their A2 language as in their A1 language. (Latomaa & Nuolijärvi 2005: 186–187.) In grade 7 comes the second compulsory language which students have to take in their curriculum, namely Swedish/Finnish as a second language (a “B1 language”), or else English if it has not been chosen in grade 3. In addition, the students have the possibility to select another optional language in their language studies (a “B2 language”) in the comprehensive school.

Once students enter the upper secondary school they are obliged to study the two languages chosen during the comprehensive school, with an additional opportunity for a third, optional language (a “B3 language”). One of the two compulsory languages continues to be Swedish/Finnish as a second language. (Latomaa & Nuolijärvi 2005: 186–187.)

The past twenty years have also witnessed substantial investments in language teaching and learning in Finland, partly due to EU language policy recommendations, and partly to national developments in language education policy. One noticeable change has been investment in the teaching of different subjects via English in comprehensive, vocational, and university education (Nikula & Marsh 1997; Tella et al. 1999; Lehti et al. 2006), made possible by the Education Act of 1991 (Lehti et al. 2006). Recently, pre-school education, too, has been given the possibility to use English (or other languages) as a language of instruction.

The overall picture is that during their school years Finnish students study at least two compulsory foreign/second languages in addition to their first language, plus an optional third foreign language. The number of languages can be even higher, depending on whether the schools themselves have the resources to provide students with all the opportunities that the education system allows for at different stages.

The highly systematized language policies adopted in Finland have played a crucial role in how Finns view foreign languages, and especially English6. The emphasis laid on language education in recent decades, and the policies that make foreign language study possible, have been highly successful in terms of English. Largely thanks to effective language teaching and students’ long-term investment in studying English, English proficiency is generally high – a fact underlined also by recent international surveys on the language proficiency of Europeans (Takala 1998; Eurobarometer 2006)7.

1.4 Background of the survey

The survey largely builds on qualitative research conducted by the members of our research team on the uses and functions of English in different domains and settings within modern Finnish society. It has also been partly influenced by previous surveys conducted outside Finland; these have had the purpose of investigating the relationship of individuals and social groups to English in different countries and linguistic situations around the world. In this section, these two main background aspects will be briefly described.

1.4.1 Survey as a part of a multi-dimensional research programme

The present survey is part of a multi-dimensional research programme which also involves a range of qualitative studies covering selected settings of language use. Such studies have given indications that English is entering, spreading within, and shaping societal domains and settings in various ways. However, due to their nature as case studies, they have provided little information on how these changes are generally perceived. Thus, the present survey can usefully complement the diverse findings emerging in this qualitative work. At the same time, the insights gained in these qualitative studies have crucially helped our research team in identifying and designing the goals and contents of the survey. Figure 1 summarizes the overall programme of the research team:

The overall research programme

FIGURE 1 The overall research programme


The overall agenda of the research team has consisted of three major dimensions. Firstly, it includes close qualitative analyses of language choices and uses in certain domains and contexts that are closely bound up with on-going sociolinguistic changes in Finland – our particular focus being on those domains/contexts in which the presence, visibility, and significance of English has clearly increased in the last few decades. Figure 2 describes these focus areas of our work:

Uses and functions of English in globalizing Finland

FIGURE 2 Uses and functions of English in globalizing Finland


These studies have shown how individuals and social groups draw on English, and how they use it in communication. Attention has been given to the functions and meanings of these uses in discourse, social interaction, and a range of institutional contexts. At the same time, the uses of language identified in such case studies have been considered to be indexical of more general discursive and socio-cultural practices and processes, such as globalization, internationalization, mediatization, and transcultural flows (see e.g. Leppänen & Nikula 2007).

The second core component of the research venture has consisted of investigations of public discussions on language/s in Finland (see e.g. Leppänen & Pahta, forthcoming). Here we are concerned both with debates that might contribute to societal and institutional language policies, and with everyday, grassroots language policing (Leppänen & Piirainen-Marsh 2009).

The third area of investigation – within which the present study is situated – takes as its aim to investigate what Finns think of English. This is a nationwide endeavour, but the findings can also be used to shed light on the views of specific social groups (e.g. young people vs. old people; city dwellers and country dwellers, etc.) and on specificities relating to particular contexts of language use (e.g. leisure time vs. work).

1.4.2 Key findings in qualitative studies

The three research dimensions described above feed into one another in a number of ways. As our qualitative studies have been crucial in setting the scene for the survey, a brief account of some of their key findings is in order here.

Firstly, our studies have shown how English is taken up, used and regulated as a resource in social interaction and meaning-making in diverse ways, within different settings and domains, (see e.g. Leppänen & Nikula 2007; Leppänen et al. 2008)8. Another recurrent observation in these studies has been that the situations in which Finns encounter and draw on English in present-day Finland are typically of three kinds: in some situations it is used as a vehicular language by interactants who would otherwise not have a shared language, while in others it functions as an “intracultural” means of communication between language users who may or may not share a native language. In still other situations English serves as an additional resource in bilingual communication. Furthermore, it appears that in some contexts English is becoming a phenomenon which occurs as a matter of course. Indeed, English often seems to offer means of expression and communicative resources similar to those offered by the mother tongue. In particular, in the language uses of young people, especially in relation to certain media, English may be one of the everyday languages that Finnish young people (or at least some of them) need and use without experiencing the communication as distinctively “foreign”. In addition, the use of English is often connected to identity work: people either index their expertise through their choice of English or indicate their membership of particular social groups, or both.

Overall, on the basis of these studies it appears that the spread of English is not a one-directional process of English taking over Finnish society, but rather a process in which English is taken up and made use of by Finns in a variety of ways, in order to serve their own discursive, social, and cultural purposes. In other words, instead of arguing that Finns are/will be forced to use English to get by in their professional and/or everyday lives, on the basis of our investigations it appears that Finns are becoming increasingly aware of the roles and functions of more than one language in their lives. Moreover, as has been shown also in many other bi/multilingual contexts, Finns will be able to select, switch between, and make use of the languages and their variant styles in ways appropriate to the situations, settings, and discourses at hand.

The picture that has emerged from our previous studies on the contact situations in which English has a role, and on the forms and functions of English, is thus not a unified one. Indeed, the more we have looked into different language contact settings, situations, and phenomena, the more context-dependent and complex they appear, and the more difficult it becomes to make sweeping generalizations about what English really “is”, both as a global and local language, and what its impact may be on individuals, groups, communities and society. The factors at work belong both to the local grassroots level and to wider social, cultural, institutional, technological, and economic processes. Another point to note is that while our previous qualitative studies have shed light on the specific ways in which Finns draw on and make use of English in different communicative contexts, they have somewhat limited relevance, in so far as they have mainly focused on selected settings and domains, and are thus not capable of representing Finnish society as a whole. Being aware of this, we saw that a more systematic evaluation of the overall sociolinguistic situation in Finland was called for – hence the motivation for the national survey presented in this volume.

1.4.3 The present survey and surveys elsewhere concerning the role of English as a second/foreign language

The design of the present survey was influenced to some extent by surveys conducted elsewhere concerning the relationship of individuals and social groups to English. These surveys have been carried out in a variety of countries and linguistic situations around the world. In ways similar to our research, the studies in other countries have typically concentrated on contexts where English was not originally a language spoken in the society in question, but in which its use has significantly increased for various reasons. To place the present survey in the context of such a research tradition, Table 2 gives an overview of selected survey studies. This overview is not meant to be exhaustive, but it does focus on the studies which were particularly helpful and which assisted us in various ways in the design of our survey. The table includes information on the country in which the survey was conducted, the role of English in the country (EFL or ESL9), the year of the survey, the focus of the survey, the survey method, and the number and characteristics of the respondents.

TABLE 2 Previous survey studies on the role of and attitudes to English

Previous survey studies on the role of and attitudes to English

Previous survey studies on the role of and attitudes to English

Previous survey studies on the role of and attitudes to English


Table 2 shows that most of the previous studies have examined the respondents’ relationship with and attitudes to English, its use in different situations, and its broader significance in society. In addition, it highlights the fact that the target population in surveys of this kind has often been young people and/or students, either because young people’s language has been argued to predict most clearly more general sociolinguistic changes, or simply for economic reasons – including the fact that students are relatively easy to recruit as informants. What it also displays is that quite a few of the studies have been aimed at a rather small target population; thus, with the notable exceptions of the Danish and the Hong Kong studies, their results are not representative of an entire society.

As Table 2 indicates, four of the larger studies were conducted in European countries. In the same way as in Finland, in these countries English has traditionally had no official status, but where its influence has increased significantly in recent decades. One of these was a survey conducted on the status of English in Denmark by Preisler (1999). The study had two parts. The first part focused on a target group formed by Danes aged over 18, and the second on members of five subcultures (death metal, hip hop, rock music, computer enthusiasts, and amateur radio enthusiasts). With the exception of the radio amateur enthusiasts, all the subcultures were regarded as youth cultures by the researcher. The survey focused on Danes’ English skills, plus their uses of and views on English in relation to their profession, education, lifestyle, identity, and hobbies.

Another, considerably more extensive, survey was conducted in Germany, the Netherlands, and France at the start of the 2000s (Berns et al. 2007). In principle, English has a similar foreign language status in all three countries, but there are great differences in the frequency of English language skills and the acceptability of use (see also Pietiläinen 2006). One of the aims of the survey was to study the extent and importance of English language use within the globalizing processes taking place in Western Europe. As in a good many of the other studies, the researchers in this study were particularly interested in young people’s relationship to English, and in the effects of different media on this relationship. The study differed from the others in that it also looked at how family background relates to the use of media and the use of English. It further examined the types of contact that young people have with English, their language attitudes to English, and the level/nature of their English skills.

The third large-scale European study was conducted in Hungary in the 1990s and again at the start of the new millennium, with young Europeans as the target group (Dörnyei et al. 2006). The study was conducted in three phases, in 1993, 1999, and 2004, and it addressed teenagers’ language attitudes to and motivation for language studies in post-communist Hungary. This was a social situation in which language attitudes and the motivation for language studies were in a state of radical change. The study was not restricted to relations with English alone, since it included other foreign languages as well (German, French, Italian, and Russian).

The European Union has also surveyed the language proficiency of member states’ residents (Eurobarometer 2001 and 2006). Underlying the survey is the aim of the European Commission to encourage language learning, promote multilingual economy, and ensure that all EU citizens have access to EU legislation, procedures, and information in their own language. In the latest survey, a total of 28,694 people in 25 member states aged 15 years and over were interviewed and asked about their mother tongue, the languages known to them, and the level of their language skills. In addition, the survey sought information on how and where Europeans use languages and how motivated they are to learn languages.

Outside Europe, yet another large-scale survey was conducted in Hong Kong in the 1980s (Bolton & Luke 1999). This was a door-to-door poll with a wide-ranging focus (in this respect similar to the present study). In addition to the status and significance of English in Hong Kong, it concentrated on the respondents’ language and dialect, their degree of bilingualism (Chinese and English), and on how many of them used and needed English in working life, and for what reasons. As far as we know, prior to the present study, the Hong Kong survey was the only one to look at the views and uses of an entire geographical entity, not just persons from a particular subgroup or culture.

The survey reported in this volume had aims that were in many ways similar to several of the studies described in Table 2. For example, as the majority of these studies (Pütz 1995; Preisler 1999; Friedrich 2000; McEntee-Atalianis & Pouloukas 2001; Dörnyei et al. 2006), it aimed at diagnosing the respondents’ language attitudes in the face of English as a global language – one whose impact is increasingly felt within particular societies, triggering fears of a shift in or attrition of the local language/s. Like the studies by Tse (1985), Bolton & Luke (1999), and Berg et al. (2001), it aimed at collecting systematic information on the respondents’ actual encounters with and uses of English, and – as in the study by Schmied (1990) – on the functions and forms of English. Furthermore, like Berns et al. (2007), we were interested in discovering how respondents evaluate their proficiency in English and the factors influencing it.

As in Kamwangamalu (2002), the survey reported here was also interested in exploring the phenomenon of code switching, and respondents’ attitudes towards it. This was because, as indicated by many of our previous qualitative studies (see e.g. Leppänen & Nikula 2008), code switching appeared to be a recurrent linguistic phenomenon in many communicative situations in modern Finland. Hence, it was considered to be one of the phenomena that had to be examined in the survey. Finally, our survey is in line with previous surveys (Tse 1985; Friedrich 2000; Kamwangamalu 2002; Dörnyei et al. 2006; Berns et al. 2007) which have chosen to rely on questionnaires rather than interviews – despite the fact that interviews would have yielded more in-depth information. In addition to these studies, the findings of the survey can be compared and contrasted with the findings of our previous qualitative findings; these give fairly detailed insights into how Finns relate to English in specific everyday and professional contexts.

At the same time, there are substantial differences between our survey and many of the surveys that have been conducted elsewhere. Most importantly, unlike many of the studies mentioned in Table 2, the present study aimed at gaining a representative cross-sectional view of what the citizens of an entire nation think about English, and what it means to them. Furthermore, while many of the studies described in Table 2 focused primarily on some aspect of the respondents’ relationship to English (e.g. attitudes, motivation, proficiency), the present survey aimed at gaining as holistic a view as possible. Note also that the target group of our study included a wide range of respondent groups: people who do and who do not know any English, men and women, young and old, people from different parts of Finland, people living in cities and in the countryside, and people with different educational backgrounds. In this way we aimed at gaining an overall view of how Finns generally regard English and their relationship with English. Finally, as was already pointed out above, the present survey built on our research team’s long-term qualitative work, and was designed to complement the findings of these qualitative studies.

1.5 Key aims of the survey

The present nationwide survey on English in Finland was conducted in late 2007. The key questions in the survey were Finns’ attitudes to English, their self-evaluations of their English skills, the type and extent of their studies, and their accounts of the ways in which they use English. Thus, the aim of the present survey was to obtain a generalizable picture of Finns’ English skills, their uses of English, and how they view English.

A core aim of the survey was to obtain detailed, systematic information on the sociolinguistic situation in Finland, Finns’ attitudes towards and relationship with English, and the situations and contexts in which Finns, for one reason or the other, are in contact with English.

The specific themes addressed in the survey were the following:

  • the role and functions of English in Finland
  • studying and knowing English and other foreign languages
  • Finns’ active uses of English
  • seeing and hearing the English language in the linguistic landscape of Finland
  • attitudes to English
  • uses of and attitudes to code switching
  • the future of English in Finland

The questions relating to English were grouped into six categories:

1. Languages in the respondents’ lives
This section, entitled Languages in Your Life in the questionnaire, covered the respondents’ general linguistic background: their mother tongue, possible bi- or multilingualism, and the role of different languages in terms of studies and uses, including also language contacts in the respondents’ environment.

The section aimed at forming an overall picture of the role played by languages in the respondents’ lives, and, in particular, of how English fits within this picture. Here we wanted to discover which foreign languages the respondents knew and how these languages were used and studied, before moving to more specific questions concerning English. We were mainly interested in getting an overall view of the respondents’ language backgrounds and the general contexts in which they encounter foreign languages. The aim was to gain information on how language studies and changes in society may be affecting Finns’ language repertoires.

2. English in the respondents’ lives
This section focused on English, and investigated its significance in the lives of the respondents. One of the main goals here was to determine where the respondents encountered English in their own everyday environments and in the more general linguistic landscape (see e.g. Gorter 2006) surrounding them. Secondly, we were here interested in the ways in which the respondents evaluated different varieties and accents of spoken English, and what they thought about the position of English both in Finland and elsewhere. A further important goal here was to investigate the respondents’ attitudes to English when used by Finns and when used by native speakers of English. The questions were inspired by the varied (both positive and negative) public and scholarly reactions evoked by the spread of English in Finland (Leppänen & Nikula 2008) and elsewhere (Crystal 1997; Skutnabb-Kangas 2003; Phillipson 1992).

In addition, this section included questions surveying how Finns view the increased use of English in certain institutional contexts, considering for example content-and-language integrated education, and those multi-national corporations in which English has recently gained a foothold. This phenomenon has given rise to concerns that English will end up displacing the local languages in the contexts in question (see e.g. Virtala 2002; Leppänen & Pahta, forthcoming).

3. Studying and knowing English
Section (3) focused on the respondents’ previous English studies and their self-evaluations of their English language skills. The respondents were asked, for example, how long they had studied English, how they viewed their skills in different areas of English, whether they felt their English skills were adequate, and where they had acquired their English skills. Our aim here was to gain information on the extent to which the respondents learn English both in English lessons and everyday contexts, for example at work and in their leisure activities. This aspect is motivated particularly by recent qualitative studies (e.g. Nikula & Pitkänen-Huhta 2008; Luukka et al. 2008) which have indicated that English is increasingly learnt by Finns outside formal education.

Finns are generally seen as having good language skills, and languages have traditionally been a major part of the school curriculum (Pöyhönen 2009). However, encounters with English and learning experiences in English are no longer restricted to formal learning environments only (Leppänen et al. 2008; Nikula & Pitkänen-Huhta 2008; Piirainen-Marsh & Tainio 2009a, 2009b). Language skills are likely to have an effect on how much the language actually gets used, and possibly also on attitudes towards the language in question. Thus, we considered it important to study the respondents’ own evaluations of their skills. It should be noted here that our investigations covered persons who do not know English in addition to those who do (cf. Preisler 1999; Pitkänen-Huhta & Hujo, forthcoming) – in this way we aimed to get information also of respondents who consider their proficiency in English to be limited or non-existent.

In our survey, self-evaluation was used as the method for mapping respondents’ language skills. No other means of evaluation could have been used with the heterogeneous group that constituted our sample population. Note here that self-evaluations can be considered a valuable and reliable method of collecting information on language skills (Blanche & Merino 1989; Oscarson 1997; Ross 1998), and that they have frequently been used in large-scale studies on language skills (e.g. Eurobarometer 2001, 2006; Hilton et al. 1985).

4. The respondents’ uses of English
Section (4) aimed at getting a detailed view of the respondents’ uses of English, no matter how limited or minimal they might be. It included a range of questions surveying the respondents’ uses of English both in leisure time and at work.

The motivation for the questions in this section included, first of all, a wish to find out what kind of differences, if any, there might be between productive use (writing, speaking) and receptive use (reading, listening), and between oral and written use. Guided by findings in previous studies (see Leppänen et al. 2008; Luukka et al. 2008), we selected a number of key contexts for the use of English, namely (i) internet use and game-playing in free time, (ii) computer-mediated communication, (iii) reading professional literature, and (iv) customer contacts in working life. In addition, the respondents were asked to evaluate their personal English uses, and to identify their reasons for using English. Finally, we wanted the respondents to compare themselves as users of English and users of the mother tongue; hence we wished to determine why they use English, and how they view their use of English and themselves as speakers of English.

5. English alongside the mother tongue
This section focused on how the respondents reacted to communication in which English and the mother tongue mingled and alternated. In addition, the questions aimed at finding out how often, in what kind of situations, and for what reasons the respondents themselves mixed their mother tongue with English in their speech and writing.

The questions here were inspired by the fact that code switching is often a central and varied phenomenon in bi/multilingual settings – such as increasingly exist in Finland (Gardner-Chloros 2009; Auer 1999; Myers-Scotton 1993; Heller 1988). While Swedish–Finnish code switching – in particular by Swedish-speaking Finns – has been studied a great deal, there is much less research-based information on Finnish–English (or, for Swedish-speaking respondents, Swedish–English) code switching (but see Piirainen-Marsh 2008; Leppänen 2008; Leppänen et al. 2009b).

Another reason that we were especially interested in learning about Finns’ attitudes towards code switching is that there has been a great deal of concern in Finland (see e.g. Hiidenmaa 2003) that code switching to English may threaten the integrity and purity of Finland’s national languages. It was therefore worth including in the survey items to elucidate whether or not Finns generally agree with this view.

6. The future of English in Finland
The last section of the questionnaire asked respondents to speculate on what the language situation in Finland might look like twenty years from the survey, in 2027. They were asked to predict what the status of English might be in the future, which age-groups, professions, etc. would have to be able to speak English, and in what respects Finns would miss out on something if they lacked skills in English. In addition, the respondents were asked to predict which language might compete with English for the status of the most important international language.

We hoped that the respondents’ answers to this section would shed more light on their language attitudes, and also show whether or not they considered themselves – or people like themselves – as part of the future they depicted in their answers. Following suggestions put forward by, for example, David Graddol (1997), we thought that asking about respondents’ scenarios for the future might give insights into their ways of thinking about language and globalization – in particular views on how the changes brought about by globalization might influence the role and status of English in Finland.

Asking about respondents’ views on the future was also motivated by the possible effects of cultural and economic globalization on individuals, social groups, and entire societies. So far, English has been a crucial form of capital in the globalized world, allowing cross-border mobilities and flows of information and culture (Pennycook 2007; Blommaert 2010). However, it may be that in the future English will not be such a self-evidently useful language, and that other languages may challenge its global significance (Graddol 2006). Underlying the questions here were the kinds of concerns voiced by many previous scholars, arguing that English is taking over entire domains of Finnish society (research, for example), and that for someone with limited English skills it would therefore be difficult to participate fully in society (Latomaa & Nuolijärvi 2002; Leppänen & Pahta, forthcoming; Hakulinen et al. 2009).

1.6 Relevance of the survey

The present survey has relevance as an example of a study which aimed at gaining systematic information on what a nation facing rapid sociolinguistic change thinks about the increased visibility, uses, and impact of English in a context in which English originally had no official status. For many, English has become an issue: for example, it is a recurrent theme in public media discourses. The presence of English has caught the attention of laymen, as testified in the data of our study, but it has also caught the attention of those involved in official language policies and planning. As of now, language laws and statutes do not, however, make any mention of English. It could be argued, however, that given a sociolinguistic situation in which the role of English has changed radically, knowledge of what the nation thinks about English is essential for any serious reassessment of language and language education policies.

The findings generated by the present survey in terms of language education policies and language policies cover a wide spectrum: they range from society as a whole to institutions, businesses, companies, families, and individuals. They offer research-based information which can contribute to the revision of existing policies and to decision-making. However, the findings undoubtedly reflect changes taking place in many other parts of the world which are, like Finland, witnessing the growing influence of English throughout society, and in all institutions and social groups.

As a study of people’s perceptions of and attitudes to English, the present survey is exceptionally well-placed to offer information. Compared to many survey studies conducted elsewhere, it is much wider in scope and can thus provide multi-dimensional and generalizable information on how different social and demographic groups regard English and its impact on various domains within society. Through its careful and balanced design, the survey can also yield a great deal of information about specific social and demographic groups, and the contexts of language use. Furthermore, as discussed above, when integrated with the findings from qualitative studies on sociolinguistic changes in Finnish society, the survey can contribute to a multi-dimensional picture of the role of English in these changes. Overall, as part of a mixed-method research programme, the survey has a vital role as a canvas against which the specific insights provided by qualitative studies can be examined.


1 The study was conducted by the Jyväskylä research group of the Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG). The unit is a joint research venture of the universities of Helsinki and Jyväskylä, and is funded by the Centre of Excellence programme of the Academy of Finland (2006–2011).

2 For more details on the historical developments and how they have influenced the language situation in Finland, see e.g. Latomaa & Nuolijärvi 2005; Taavitsainen & Pahta 2003, 2008; Leppänen & Nikula 2007.

3 For more information on the Finnish education system, see Ministry of Education and Culture, a.

4 It has recently been suggested that the teaching of the first foreign language should start as early as the second year of primary school.

5 The A2 level requirements: “Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.” The B1 requirements: “Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.”

6 The Finnish educational system has a high reputation internationally, as supported also by the excellent results achieved in the PISA tests (Kupiainen et al. 2009).

7 In terms of the study of other foreign languages the picture is currently less positive. This is an issue that is under intense debate among both the general public and educational policy makers. For example, it is argued that the fact that it is compulsory for Finns to study the other national language (Swedish in particular) inhibits the study of foreign languages other than English.

8 For a complete list of these case studies, see Varieng Jyväskylä publications at http://www.jyu.fi/hum/laitokset/kielet/varieng/en/publications.

9 The terms EFL and ESL were used in many of these studies in a fairly straightforward manner to describe the role of English in the contexts under investigation. However, it should be noted that these terms are, in fact, problematic in the sense that they are too categorical and general. The terms give little indication of the variations and nuances in the ways English is used within many of the contexts investigated.

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