Do People Speak English in Finland?

Finland is a Northern European country that shares a border with Russia, Norway, and Sweden. Helsinki, the country’s capital, is located on the Baltic Sea. Helsinki is home to a sea fortress called Suomenlinna, a trendy Design district, and numerous museums that date back to the 18th century.

Finland’s population is about 5.4 million people. Out of the total population about 70% or 3.8 million Finnish people speak English. This is high and is a common feature of northern European countries. These people tend to be wealthier, more educated and live in cities. The younger people in Finland also tend to speak English better than the elderly. 

As you travel in Finland, how easy can you rely on your English skills to get by? For tourists who wish to explore Finland’s natural beauty, then travelers can view the Northern Lights from the Arctic Province Lapland, a vast wilderness with national parks and other natural wonders. As you explore the Finnish countryside, will you find yourself lost among only Finnish speakers.

English Use in Major Cities in Finland

Helsinki – Finland’s capital was established in 1550, and its lengthy history makes it a year-round tourist destination for many international visitors. Helsinki lies on the Finnish Sea. Mannerheimite, the city’s main thoroughfare, is flanked by institutions like the Natural Museum which traces Finnish history from the Stone Age to the present. Finland’s Parliamentary House and Kiasma, a modern art museum, are located on Mannerheimite. Two other tourist destinations that you should visit while in Helsinki are Kruununhaka, a harbor on the Finnish Sea, and Uspenski Cathedral, also located on the harbor.

Oulu – Oulu is Finland’ s fourth largest city, and it is situated on the shores of the Bay of Bothnia. It is believed to be an urban getaway with nature, and it is considered as one of Europe’s only “living-labs” as it is a meeting point of business and technology. Oulu is one the only European cities to experiment with technology such as NFC tags and ubi-screens on a community-wide scale. Oulu’s most famous export is the Air Guitar World Championships, and home to one of Europe’s best ice hockey teams.

Turku – Turku is a city on Finland’s southwestern coast at the mouth of Aura River. The region was originally called Finland, which later became the name for the entire country. As Finland’s oldest city, Turku was the country’s most significant city for hundreds of years under the rule of the Kingdom of Sweden. Finland and Turku gained independence after the Finnish war when the Russian Empire gained control of the city and moved the capital to Helsinki. Many government institutions remained in Turku until a great fire in 1827, when most of the governmental institutions relocated, along with the Turku Academy, which became Helsinki University.

Tampere – Tampere is an inland city located in Finland’s western region. Tampere is often ranked as one of the more popular cities. Tampere was established by Gustav III of Sweden as a marketplace on the banks of the Tammerkoski channel. Four years later the city was granted full rights on October 1, 1779. At this time, the city was geographically very small, only situated around the rapids from where the city received its name. Tampere is located between two reservoirs, Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi, and the height between the two lakes differs by 59ft, so the the rapids have been a significant source of electricity generation.

Espoo – Espoo is the second largest city in Helsinki, and it is part of the Finnish Capital Region along with cities of Helsinki, Vantaa, and Kauniainen. As in much of Finland, Espoo has a thriving science and research community. Aalto University is based in Espoo plus other international companies like Nokia, HMD Global, Neste, Orion Corporation, and video game developers Rovio and Remedy Entertainment. Espoo is officially bilingual. About 83.6% of the population, and Swedish is spoken by 8.3% with another 8% speaking different languages. With that said, since Espoo is home to research institutions and multinational corporations, then you should not have a problem encountering other English speakers in Espoo.

What Languages are Spoken in Finland?

Finnish – Finnish is the official language of Finland. Finnish predominates nationally, while Swedish is spoken in some coastal regions in the west, south, and the autonomous region of Åland, Finland’s only mono-lingual Swedish speaking territory. Finnish is part of the Uralic language family, so it is only one of four official European Union languages that are not of Indo-European descent. 93% of Finns can speak a second language, so let’s look at some other languages that are spoken in Finland.

Swedish – Approximately 290,747 people in Finland speak Swedish which equals about 5.31% of the country’s population. Around 92.4% of the Swedish speakers come from the autonomous Åland region. Swedish is a sub-branch of Indo-European languages, so it is closely related to German, Danish, English, and Norwegian Until the late-19th century, Swedish was the official language of Finland’s administration and other institutions.

Russian – With approximately 69,614 speakers, Russian is the third most spoken language in the region. Due to the presence of the former Soviet Union, older Finnish generations are more likely to have competency in Russian. The language though is not as popular with younger generations, who commonly learn English in school. Even though Russian does not have an official status in Finland, Russian has traditionally been considered as the the country’s co-official language. Together with the Swedish and Finnish languages, Russian was considered one of the official languages from 1900 to 1917.

English – English is spoken widely in Finland, but not as widely as other Scandinavian countries. Just under three-quarters of Finns report being able to speak English, although many of them speak English fluently, which in itself is a high proportion and compares favorably with most other non-Scanidinavian countries.

Estonian – Most Estonians in Finland are Finnish by birth, with family that immigrated from Estonia. After Russians, Estonians are the second-largest group of Finnish immigrants. Estonians have long worked alongside Finnish people especially in Helsinki. Prior to 1990, immigration from Estonia was low, but after the Soviet Union’s collapse, immigration from Estonia to Finland increased drastically.

Is English necessary in Finland?

As a tourist, traveling around Helsinki or other Finnish city, you should have no problem traveling around with English. Visitors commonly report that there is no need to use Finnish since English is spoken almost anywhere that you need to go.

A 2012 survey reports that around 70% of Finns speak English. Neighboring countries like Sweden and Norway have higher English skills with as high as 80% of Swedes or Nords speaking English. Nevertheless, English competency in 70% of the Finnish population is more than adequate to give visitors a pleasant time traveling around Finland. While traveling around Finland, do not expect to strike up an in-depth conversation with everyone. While English competency rates are high, most Finns tend to speak Finnish amongst themselves. That partnered with low-levels of Western media saturation lead to lower English competency rates.

As a local, learning English is not necessary, but many teenagers and young professionals probably choose to educate themselves in the English language. For an example, I came across a story by Troy Woodson on LinkedIn. Woodson recounts a story that he encountered while traveling on a train. On the train some Finnish teenagers talked about Star Wars, and Woodson remarks at the ease of their conversation and the code-switching, moving between English and Finnish, that happened with ease during the conversation. Woodson also remarked that the Finnish teenagers looked like they were having fun while chatting in English. It’s not necessary to learn a second language as a local, but learning a second language can broaden a person’s understanding of the world.

English Teaching in Finland

Finland is a bridge between Europe and the Far East. As a former part of the Russian Empire and the Finnish language is part of the Uralic language family, so there are some differences from Europeans. Finland considered by some to be off the beaten path, so there are plenty of opportunities for those seeking English teaching jobs.

Finns are reported to be the happiest people in the world. A UN report ranked Finland as one of the happiest countries in the world. When working and living in Finland, there are many sports that you can try, or weird competitions like the World Air Guitar Championship, Swamp Football, or Mobile Phone Throwing. One great pride for Finland is that schooling is entirely free, even at the university level.

Finland has an education system that consistently ranks highest in the world. Due to its higher rankings and standards, finding a teaching job might be more competitive, so any teaching experience is beneficial and makes you more desirable to a school. In addition to the public school, there are quite a few private language training schools where you can teach. English is still in high demand within the business community, so it is possible to find a job teaching Business English.

In order to teach English in Finland, you need a bachelor’s degree and a TESOL/CELTA qualification with European Union citizenship preferred. Teaching is extremely competitive in Finland, so experience and qualifications will give a necessary edge to your job search.

Living in the World’s Happiest Country

For two years in a row, Finland is ranked as one of the world’s happiest places to live. Finland is a very small country. The Finnish population only comprise about 0.07% of the world’s population, but even a small country can be the world’s happiest country. In the world’s happiest countries index, four of the five countries are Scandinavian countries.

First, the education system is of the highest quality, and teachers are offered the highest training. That was a common thing that I read that most professions receive the highest training possible. With a country that values educating its citizens, then it is understandable that Finland should rank high in that regards.

Finland has some beautiful nature and scenic spots. That the Finnish love exploring outdoors, from the 40 national parks to the islands in the Baltic Sea. Finland is sparsely populated, so there is plenty of space to utilize and roam around. That even private land is accessible, but be careful when foraging for mushrooms or berries.

When not roaming the countryside, you can spend the winter months in the library. Literacy is important, and the library is an important cornerstone of the societal fabric. At the library, patrons can do schoolwork, or practice their hobbies. It is a safe place for all.

In addition to education, nature, and literacy, health care for all is viewed as the right thing to do. Education is available to everyone, even those who are not Finnish. Health care is also affordable, so if you injure yourself while in Finland, you can go to the hospital and not have to worry about it costing a lot of money.

Finland is also a great place to live because there are no major safety issues. While crimes naturally occurs at lower levels in the cities. Once you travel outside of a city, then you do not have to worry about petty crime. The World Index reports that Finnish people are some of the most trustworthy and authentic people. Finnish people appreciate straightforwardness and authenticity.

Even though it is a smaller country, the people’s authenticity offers multitudes through public health, education, nature, and other issues. If you are looking for a place to relocate, then I would consider Finland as a highly desirable place to live. With its host of school – public and private – there should be no shortage of teaching opportunities, and as a home to multi-national corporations you can find employment even if teaching is not really your thing.

Final Thoughts

So that is about it for English speaking in Finland. This country is a truly fantastic place. If you are planning a holiday you should be just fine if you don’t speak Finnish. That being said, if you are planning to spend longer there then you should pick up some basic local language.

It will greatly enhance your experience in the country. Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

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