Spelling the names of berries at a marketplace, patronising a café – who wouldn’t like to learn a new language while wandering about an unfamiliar city? In the Finnish language course of the Helsinki Summer School, students accompany the course assistants on visits to locations all around Helsinki.
“The intensive course, which is targeted at bachelor's degree and master’s degree students, offers in less than three weeks the content of a regular three-month course. The students will learn numbers, greetings, ways to initiate conversation and a lot about Finnish culture and customs,” says Päivi Vetsch, the teacher of the course from the Language Services in Language Centre of the University of Helsinki.
Vetsch has taught Finnish as a foreign language for close to 30 years. The course available in the summer of 2019 is her fourth time teaching at the Helsinki Summer School. The intensive course is intended for international master’s degree students beginning their studies in the autumn.
“The summer course is special in many ways. The students are young, smart and motivated. All of them are embarking on a new stage in their lives, which infuses the course with an ambience of excitement.”
In Helsinki in beautiful and atmospheric August, students will get their introduction to a city and country where they will stay for at least two years.
“Two years is plenty of time to learn a new language,” Vetsch says.
The summer course offers the opportunity to make friends and provides knowledge about Finnish culture
Alongside language, the Finnish course discusses Finnish customs. Students familiarise themselves with Finnish food, transport, celebrations and other aspects of Finnish culture.
At the Helsinki Summer School, they will also learn about the culture of the University of Helsinki.
“I begin with teaching the customs of the University, such as the fact that teachers can be approached without hesitation and that the teaching is relaxed. I also tell them to address me as Päivi and not, say, Ms Vetsch.”
Mai Hattori, a student of social psychology, completed Vetsch’s course in the Finnish language in the summer of 2018. Hattori had studied Finnish also previously but thought revision would do no harm.
“I took the course since I wanted to practise my Finnish before starting at the University and to meet other master’s degree students. I’m still in touch with a couple of my course mates.”
Vetsch believes the Finnish course brings new international students from different faculties together.
“To begin with, they get new friends from outside their own field.”
Language helps in making it in the city and getting to know the locals
Even though Finns are proficient in English, knowing the Finnish language makes everyday life easier. The basics help in initiating conversation and understanding local customs.
Finns may be reticent, but Vetsch encourages students to talk with them. A couple of words in Finnish is a good start.
“I want to learn Finnish to get to know Finns better,” Hattori explains.
Her spouse is a Finn, but language skills also help in making new acquaintances.
What Hattori gained from the course was confidence in both the basics of grammar and spoken language. According to her, there was a lot of conversing in Vetsch’s course, while the teacher herself talked in Finnish from the get-go.
“I maintain an unbroken dialogue in my courses. From the first class onwards, I ask the students small questions, such as ‘What is your name?’ or ‘Which country are you from?’” Vetsch says.
In the intensive course, the students complete plenty of spoken assignments. In the summer, Vetsch employs a more visual approach in her teaching, as the class can be taken outside to visit various destinations.
“I give the same final examination in all of my introductory courses, but the Helsinki Summer School students do just as well and even better in it compared to the students of other courses.”
Not having started their other studies yet and having an encouraging atmosphere ensures, for once, enough time for language studies.
“Teaching in the intensive course was good. I’ve also taken another course in Finnish, but in the summer course the teaching was more professional and inspiring,” Hattori says.