Level 4 – Shaping a new normal
In your growth so far as a Language Catalyst, Levels 1 to 3 have been all about starting the conversations, asking good questions and trying out different options – both one-to-one and in groups. The next level grows naturally out of these diverse explorations, as you find practices and arrangements that work well and move towards making them the default option in particular contexts.
We can think of this as making ‘language agreements’, just as working life involves making agreements on many other aspects of workplace culture and practices. Language agreements, whether between two people, a team, or a whole workplace, can really help to make sure that Finnish learners are getting regular opportunities to practice Finnish, and for you as a Language Catalyst, they can be a great way to expand to a wider group some arrangements that have worked really well between you and one or two other colleagues.
Below are some examples of simple but powerful language agreements:
For those whose Finnish level is still fairly basic, having regular but short and informal opportunities to practice can be an effective way to build their language skills on the job. Between two or a small group of people, for example, the agreement could be that the first five minutes of the coffee break are in Finnish. This simple goal should not be too much of a strain for either party, and going beyond the five minutes can give a sense of achievement for the learner and push them a little further.
If expanded to a larger group, or even to the whole workplace, this same idea can be implemented by having a designated ‘Finnish Table’ in the break room, where people who want to practice Finnish can sit and where native speakers will go if they see a Finnish learner there who doesn’t have anyone to practice with.
Another great space for regular and informal language practice is in that 5–10 minutes when people are gradually gathering in the meeting room or logging in for a conference call. A simple agreement can be made that this time is generally used for speaking Finnish, and that the native speakers make sure they direct questions to the Finnish learners to encourage them to speak.
The partnerships you have already been developing with individual colleagues may already look a lot like what is sometimes referred to as ‘kielikaveritoiminta’, or language buddy activities. A language buddy is a native or advanced speaker of Finnish who voluntarily agrees to support a Finnish learner with their Finnish learning and integration into life in Finland in a variety of ways, both at work and also outside of the workplace. They may, for example, invite the learner for a sauna evening, introduce them to other Finnish speakers, or take them on a trip into the Finnish forests.
If you’ve experienced for yourself the power of this kind of support, it is just a small step to pull together a group of workmates interested in being a language buddy for a Finnish learner and then let other international employees in your organisation know that this great opportunity is available. Kielikaveritoiminta is a simple idea which requires little administration – but can have a big impact.
Although these articles have mostly focused on spoken communication, a wealth of different language agreements can also be made for emails and other written communication.
The members of a team could agree, for example, that anyone can send emails or reply to emails in either Finnish or English. This can provide good reading practice for Finnish learners, and where needed they can use machine translation technology or other online resources to help with any parts they don’t understand. Finnish learners could also write their replies in a mix of English and Finnish. This can provide an excellent learning opportunity by immediately using some of the vocabulary they learnt from the sender’s Finnish email in their partially-Finnish reply.
These are simple examples aimed to show how simple agreements can have a big impact. More complex agreements could relate to, for example, the multilingual meeting arrangements discussed in the previous article (link here). If one of these seems to work well for most meetings, it could be written up as the default language mix for work meetings in a particular team or even across the whole workplace.
While the power of these agreements is precisely in not having to discuss and re-agree them each time, it is important to also stay flexible as well – exceptions can be made where needed, and it is helpful to review from time to time how well the agreement is serving both the people involved and the tasks of the job.
By playing your part in shaping language agreements at your workplace, you are already going a long way to facilitate language learning, raise language awareness, and improve overall communication. In the following article we take your catalytic powers to the highest level, where you get to play your part in building long-term structures and policies at your workplace for language awareness and support for Finnish learners.