Level 1 – Start the conversation

If you've settled into a norm of just using English at work, it can feel difficult to talk with colleagues about speaking Finnish at work. Read on for a few tips for getting the conversation started.
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Photo: Kalle Kataila. All rights reserved.

If you’ve read the article Why become a language learning catalyst?, you’re hopefully already convinced that you can be a catalyst for shaping multilingual awareness and multilingual practices at your workplace. Or at least, you’re willing to give it a try because you’d just like to actually use your Finnish more and develop your language skills in and through your work.

Let’s get down to the details then, starting with the simple but vital step of starting conversations with your workmates about using Finnish at work.

Talking about speaking (and not speaking) Finnish can be a delicate matter. If you’ve been on this language-learning journey for some time, you’ll probably already know that it can be an emotional ride that connects deeply with one’s sense of belonging, professional competence, and identity.

So you might, for example, be holding back from asking a Finnish colleague to speak Finnish with you because you don’t want to bother them with your (in your opinion) slow speech and grammatical errors – when actually they would love to help you learn, and would themselves prefer to be speaking Finnish. On the other hand, they might also be holding back from asking if you’d like to speak Finnish because they don’t want to put you in an awkward position if you’d rather not – when actually you most definitely rather would!

Someone here needs to make the first move, or else it’s easy to end up in a situation like the one uncovered in a recent study of hospital employees: The native Finnish speakers at the hospital were ready to help the non-native workers and wanted them to be bolder in asking their language-related questions. The non-native speakers wanted this help, and wished that the native speakers would more often correct their language. Both wanted more talk about language – they just wanted the other one to take the initiative.

How, then, do you get that conversation going? Here are a few options:

If you get started with some of these question suggestions, you’ll most probably also come up with a few of your own. And while the focus of the questions offered has been on speaking Finnish together, the same variety of creative ‘language partnerships’ can be agreed for written communication as well. All the different messaging and discussion channels of digital working life offer great opportunities for language practice on-the-job.

It may seem that most of these conversations are mostly aimed at simply boosting your own Finnish learning and use – and therefore not particularly catalytic behaviour. But even at this first level, these one-to-one or one-to-few conversations can be having significant knock-one effects: Your Finnish-speaking colleagues may learn to speak clearer and consider helping others with their Finnish, and your English-speaking colleagues may get inspired by your example to also step up their use of Finnish at work.

Other articles in this series:

Kuvituskuva
Become a language learning catalyst
Two students are walking in the corridor. They are smiling.
Become a language learning catalyst
Smiling adults are chatting over a coffee break.
Become a language learning catalyst
Kuvituskuva
Become a language learning catalyst
Kuvituskuva
Become a language learning catalyst
A woman is sitting in a beanbag and she is surfing on her mobile phone.
Become a language learning catalyst
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