The online course A Taste of Finnish is primarily intended for international university students coming to Finland, but as it is open to all and available free of charge, it can also help asylum seekers and people relocating to Finland for professional reasons get a taste of the language in their new home country.
“We started to develop an online course for exchange students so that they could begin learning basic Finnish in their home countries, before arriving in Finland,” explains University Instructor Taija Udd, who drafted the course material together with Lecturer Leila White.
Similar online courses are rarely free of charge, or they are only available for a restricted group of users, but A Taste of Finnish is both of a high pedagogical standard and aims for accessibility.
“We wanted to share the learning material freely online so that as many people as possible could benefit from it,” says Udd.
Developed at the Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies, the course comprises ten lessons covering basic Finnish vocabulary, involving situations such as introductions, visiting a café and talking about leisure activities. The lessons also discuss Finnish pronunciation and grammar.
“Students can complete the online course independently, or use it as an auxiliary tool for a course that also involves contact teaching,” Udd states.
In addition to the course, the University has also generated other projects to help beginners learn Finnish. University Lecturer Maria Ahlholm from the Department of Teacher Education has developed the "Suomen kieli sanoo tervetuloa" website together with her students and other volunteers, to help anyone teach Finnish to asylum seekers.
The Kone Foundation recently awarded Ahlholm’s project a grant of €21,100 for making science accessible. In addition to the University of Helsinki, the project involves the Teachers Without Borders network under Finn Church Aid and the Hungarian cultural centre.
The future of A Taste of Finnish is currently uncertain, but the developers have considered expanding the website to cover informal speech and increasing interactivity, for example through assignments that could be handed in.
“Right now we’re just happy that our hard work is done, and we look forward to hearing about new user experiences," Udd says.