Mandatory Swedish

From Academic Kids

Mandatory Swedish is a compulsorary school subject in Finland, wherein the Swedish language is taught. The official term is toinen kotimainen kieli in Finnish, or det andra inhemska språket in Swedish, which would translate to "second domestic language". Among Finns the derogatory term pakkoruotsi, literally "compulsory Swedish", or even "forced Swedish", is often used in reference to this imposed tuition, revealing the loaded bitterness in what is perceived as a Swedish yoke.



In Mainland Finland both domestic languages, Finnish and Swedish, are mandatory subjects for pupils in primary and secondary schools – and exams. The autonomous Åland Islands (pop. 26.000) have only one domestic language, Swedish, and its inhabitants are not forced to learn Finnish. For the 92% majority in Finland who speak Finnish, this means they have to learn the language of their Finland-Swedish fellow countrymen. This of course also means that the Swedish-speaking minority is obliged to study the Finnish language to the same extent.

The reasons given for this arrangement are that both languages are official languages of Finland and part of the Finnish culture. The compulsory Swedish is also justified by that Finland will be closer to the Nordic Union by mastering Swedish, since Swedish is quite similar to both Danish and Norwegian. Critics of the system claim that most people don't have, or in any case have a limited natural contact with Swedish-speaking people. Supporters claim that mandatory Swedish improves relations to the Nordic countries and supports an improved learning of other Germanic languages, such as English and German. Supporters also maintain that mandatory Swedish is necessary to ensure that all citizens can interact with governmental institutions in their own language and thus not create language-barriers between the two languages, while opponents claim that this can be ensured by other means. It is the view of some opponents that this could actually be achieved better if those who do learn Swedish did so of their own free will.

The status of Swedish as an official language in Finland is protected by Finland's Constitution and to some degree supported by international treaties according to which Åland is to remain exclusively Swedophone. The political party representing the Swedish speakers, the Swedish People's Party, has successfully been a minor partner in most Cabinets since Finland's independence.


Swedish teaching for all pupils in primary education was introduced in the 1970s, until then it had only been required in secondary and tertiary education. Governmental service is, since the end of the 19th century, offered in both domestic languages; therefore employees must be proficient in both Finnish and Swedish. The reform was based on a political ambition to strengthen the ties with the Western world through Scandinavia, and to show that Finland was still a part of the Nordic countries, and not an Eastern Bloc country. It also sought to improve social mobility by ensuring that a bad decision on language in the early school years should not become an obstacle for applicants to the civil services.

In the upper secondary general school all the students learn at least two foreign languages, one of which is the other domestic language (Swedish or Finnish). The Finnish speakers take Swedish, and vice versa. Practically all the students took English, either as a compulsory or an optional language; 44 per cent took German and 21 per cent French. [1] (

Some who oppose mandatory Swedish claim that it has also influenced to the fact that Finns know foreign languages somewhat less than Swedes, Norwegians and Danes. Supporters maintain that such a claim is an oxymoron and that Scandinavians find it easier to learn eg. German and English, because they belong to the same group of Germanic languages. Finnish, a Finno-Ugric_language, is very different from most languages spoken in Europe. This, the supporters claim, is also why the Swedish-speaking Finns are better at mostly German and English, although they spend significantly more time learning Finnish (from 3rd grade) than the Finnish-speaking spend learning Swedish (from 7th grade) and, consequently, less time learning foreign languages.

Students' opinions

In many cases, pupils have negative expectations towards learning Swedish, which tends to reflect back in the social interaction between pupils and teachers, which creates a negative learning environment, which in turn further contributes to negative attitudes towards the Swedish language, the Swedish speaking minority in general, and Sweden as a country. Some argue that such negative attitudes founded in the formative school years might contribute to negative attitudes in the adult population. The attitudes of pupils and adults alike are partly expressed by prejudices which perceive the Swedish-speaking minority as wealthy snobs, which is a historical recollection of the times when the educated and landed class in Finland was Swedish-speaking, neglecting the history of the Swedish-speaking peasantry.

There has also been a lot of critisism of the methodology used to teach Swedish and the lack of competence among many of the teachers.

Sentiments toward mandatory Swedish vary. Many prominent politicians (both Finnish- and Swedish-speaking) whole-heartedly support mandatory Swedish in schools, while others oppose it. There have been numerous petitions and other similar campaigns arranged by some dedicated grassroot organizations to pressure the lawmakers, but to date, they have had no significant impact on the established policy and have not attained a great deal of momentum. Thus, while the ongoing national debate is often heated and passionate, the backing of the compulsory Swedish in schools still remains strong enough for the government not to consider a change of policy.

It is noteworthy that mandatory Swedish is supported by the main political parties in Finland, the National Coaliton party, the Centre, the Social Democrats and the Left Alliance. However, the requirement to take Swedish (or Finnish for the Swedish-speaking) as part of the high school final exams was recently abolished as part of a larger educational reform by the centrist government, which maintains its view to preserve mandatory Swedish.

Opposition to mandatory Swedish can, however, bear a stigma of bigotry, although most people recognise that sentiments against the mandatory subject of Swedish do not necessarily indicate any sentiments against the Swedish-speaking population.


There are those who believe that the new anti-racism directive EC (2000/43) ( may put an end to the practice to force Finns to possess attributes of an ethnic group. "In very limited circumstances, a difference of treatment may be justified where a characteristic related to racial or ethnic origin constitutes a genuine and determining occupational requirement, when the objective is legitimate and the requirement is proportionate. Such circumstances should be included in the information provided by the Member States to the Commission." Thus the present Finnish way to demand minimal skills in Swedish from all educated people and public servants is against the directive, they maintain.

See also

da:Pakkoruotsi de:Pakkoruotsi fr:Pakkoruotsi sv:Pakkoruotsi fi:Pakkoruotsi

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