What are professional language skills

Professional language is not learned on its own at work, but language learning requires input from the workplace and the work community.
Photo: Rainer Paananen. All right reserved.

Six facts on professional language skills

  1. Professional language proficiency means that the employee can handle work tasks in their own field, understands the language used in their occupation and is able to use the language appropriately at their workplace.
  2. Professional language proficiency does not only include the special vocabulary of the profession, but it includes functional language proficiency: the employee is able to use appropriate language in different situations and choose the correct tone and correct words for different situations. In other words, a professional is able to adapt their language to the recipient, situation and communication channel.
  3. However, language courses can only teach students a fraction of the required professional language skills. Instead, students must be able to participate in working life and traineeships so that they can hear and see how professionals act in authentic interactive situations.
  4. As fluent professional language skills are only learned in working life, an international employee or student cannot immediately be required to have excellent command of the professional language. In oral tasks, relatively fluent and natural professional language is usually achieved through 1-2 years of work experience in one's own field (see e.g. Seilonen et al. 2016). Learning written professional language skills requires several years more.
  5. Professional language is not learned on its own at work, but language learning requires input from the workplace and the work community. For example, the language mentoring model developed for the care sector in Sweden (Lyft språket på jobbet) provides good tools for planning language support. You can also search for tips on how instructors, supervisors and the work community can support language learners in developing their professional language skills on the Language Boost website.
  6. Even in English-speaking workplaces that do not require Finnish skills, employees still often hear Finnish in unofficial situations, such as in the break room or at the beginning of meetings. It would be important for employees to be able to participate in unofficial interaction in Finnish, as small talk builds relationships between people and maintains a good atmosphere. Even a small amount of Finnish skills help international students and employees in everyday situations and informal encounters at the workplace. Understanding the Finnish language strengthens the experience of inclusion and helps to integrate into Finnish society. 

Professional language skills vary from sector to sector

The types of activities and situations that are central to professional language skills vary by field, profession and workplace. Graduates from higher education institutions often find employment in tasks that involve a lot of production and processing of information, such as reading and writing texts. Many professions that involve customer service, teamwork and networking require strong linguistic competence and interaction skills. 

In social and health care work, skills in encountering people are important, and sufficient oral and written language skills are also required. In order to be legally allowed to act as a licensed health care professional after graduation, students must demonstrate to Valvira that they have acquired Finnish skills

In some fields, communication situations may be very limited, in which case professional language skills can be achieved by studying interaction, expression, vocabulary and style related to these specific communication situations. 

This page provides more information on how to support students in learning professional language skills. The website presents 1) the work and language training model for English-language degrees, 2) explains what kind of language proficiency is needed in the traineeship, 3) provides instructions for language-aware guidance, and 4) shows in concrete terms how the students can study professional language during the traineeship. 

Read more 

See also: 

  • Language proficiency scale. The Finnish language proficiency scale is an applied version of the scales included in the Common European Framework of Reference for Language Learning, Teaching and Evaluation developed by the Council of Europe. 

Material on language learning

(PDF materials in Finnish, not translated) 

See also

How to guide students in a language-aware manner

Language-aware guidance require cooperation between the subject teacher, the language teacher and the traineeship instructor.

A student and a teacher are talking to each other at the table. There's a laptop on the table.

Traineeship is also language practice

Language-aware traineeship practices support all students regardless of their level of proficiency.

People gathered around a table and discussing.

What kind of language skills are needed at the traineeship

Different workplaces require different language skills. It is important for work places to consider the language proficiency required in the work tasks in advance.


Language exercises during the traineeship

Language exercises during the traineeship support the learning of professional language.


©2023 Eveliina Korpela, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

Professional language skills website, produced by Eveliina Korpela, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY). The material can be found at kielibuusti.fi. Photos: All rights reserved.

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