Level 3 Remixed – Survival skills for Finnish meetings
The previous article in this series offered some ideas for how to open the discussion about language use in workplace meetings and explore options for increasing use of Finnish in different ways. At this point, it’s worth pausing to make sure you don’t overstretch yourself. Having broken free of those language learning myths, and with your catalytic muscles growing by the day, you wouldn’t want to convince your Finnish workmates to switch the meeting to mostly Finnish and then suddenly feel … rather out of your depth.
Of course, none of these language experiments are irreversible – you can always just change back to more English use if needed. But by developing your ‘Finnish meeting survival skills’, you might not need to. Here are some of the main things to consider:
There’s plenty you can do before the meeting to improve your chances of staying afloat. Make sure you have the meeting agenda in Finnish, and check that you understand the main words and phrases connected with the topics to be discussed. There are also various words and phrases that are connected more generally with the meeting process, particularly if it is a more formal meeting. It’s worth looking out for these and learning them well, because they can help you keep your bearings as the meeting proceeds.
Just as important as good preparation is having someone chairing the meeting who understands how to keep things learner-friendly. Here you can make suggestions on what would help you – just as you have perhaps already done in your one-to-one language partnerships. Indeed, a lot of these suggestions would relate to the things covered already in Level 2, just in a group context. Summarising and transitioning are particularly important in this setting – by summing up simply the things that have been agreed and then introducing each new topic, the meeting chair can help you a lot in keeping up with the discussion.
In addition, there are things specific to the group context which the chair should pay attention to. Minimising overlapping speech, when two or more people are speaking at the same time, will definitely make it easier for you to follow what’s being said. Keeping the tempo right is important too – by leaving small pauses before moving on and checking if anyone has anything to add, they can make it much easier for you to collect your thoughts and make that comment in Finnish (or ask that question) before the opportunity passes.
It’s important to keep in mind what has already been said in the previous article about the power of parallel language use. It’s natural to ‘lock in’ to one language or another, answering in Finnish if the question was in Finnish. But there is no use in being rigid about this. For you as a learner, one of the most valuable aspects of taking the plunge and switching to mostly-Finnish meetings is the immersion listening experience you will get, hearing how Finnish is used in group contexts to discuss all sorts of things that relate to your daily work. You will still benefit from this even if you need to regularly switch to English in your own comments and contributions in order to express yourself well enough for the task in hand.
You may particularly find your blood pressure rising if you’ve set yourself up to present in Finnish on a particular topic or project. Again, it’s worth considering options for a more gradual approach – this time by pairing up with a Finnish colleague who is also familiar with the topic. First time round, for example, you have your colleague do the presentation, with you adding some further thoughts after or during their presentation. Next time round, the presentation responsibility could be split half-and-half, with your colleague still there to support you with your part if needed. Eventually, you could yourself be doing the full presentation, but still with the same colleague there in case you need some help.
Language technology is developing at an astonishing rate. In particular, the combined advances in speech recognition and machine translation mean that there are now workable solutions available for automated simultaneous translation in meetings, and particularly for translation into English. Such tools are worth exploring for both in-person and remote meetings. Having the translation available in text form on, for example, a tablet located next to you can give you the option of using this where needed – and simply ignoring it when you are understanding and interacting smoothly in Finnish.