The results in a nutshell

The results of the survey show that Finns appreciate above all their own first language and are confident that it will not lose its vitality. They also consider themselves more or less monolingual despite the fact that the country is officially bilingual and that English has gained a relatively strong foothold in the Finnish society.

At the same time Finns also admit that they need English language skills. They are interested in English and use it frequently in different contexts, such as work and travel, and they encounter English often in their daily lives. Many Finns also consider their proficiency in English as at least a moderate one.

Finns’ attitudes towards learning English are positive, and especially young people and people of working age are expected to know English in the future. However, English is not the only language Finns want to study and learn, but they consider it important to know other languages, too. In particular Mandarin Chinese and Russian were mentioned as important languages of the future.

There are differences among Finns

When the results were examined in more detail in relation to different social and demographic groups, the overall picture of Finns’ views about English became more nuanced, and also differences emerged. Depending on the respondent profiles with respect to their answers on their proficiency in and uses of English, three groups could be identified in the data.

Most Finns (78 %) – belong to the group of people who have studied English for several years and whose proficiency in it is at least relatively good. They do not, however, use English much in their daily lives. This is the group we labeled as “the haves” – for them English is an important foreign language which they use if need be.

The second group (6 % of the respondents) we categorized as – “the have-nots” – as people who basically do not know English or need to use it. They have studied English for five years at the most, their proficiency in it is poor, and they do not use it at all.

The third group (16 %) is formed by Finns who have fully adopted English as one of the languages in their repertoire. This group consists of individuals who have studied English at least ten years, who estimate their language skills as good, and who use English frequently.

Survey_haves, have-nots

The percentages of “have-nots”, “haves”, and Finns who have fully adopted English in the total population.


Using and knowing English is connected to life styles and identities

The two extremes – “the have-nots” and Finns who have fully adopted English differ from each other with respect to their age, place of residence, education, and occupational background.

“The have-nots” mainly consist of older people who live in the countryside, who have little education, and whose work can be characterized as manual labour. The persons who have fully adopted English are typically younger people who live in the cities, who are highly educated, and who work in managerial or expert positions.

The life style of these two groups also differs significantly: “the have-nots” typically lead a more or less traditional monolingual life in which the local place of residence and national culture are of great importance.

The persons who have fully adopted English, on the other hand, typically have a more urban multilingual and multicultural lifestyle reflecting global cultural flows and involving active mobility.

Using and knowing English creates a social divide

The results of the survey thus show a clear divide between generations, rural and urban areas, and different occupational groups. They also indicate that for a small minority of Finns English can already be their “third domestic language”, but for the majority it still is primarily a foreign language, even though English is a part of Finnish everyday life and work in many respects.

Using and knowing English is connected to being a part of the society

Using and knowing English also contributes to agency: it seems likely that the Finns who do not know or use English are not as well prepared to manage in modern society or to succeed in working life as those who know English better.

However, it might be that when today’s young Finns who know English well, grow up and enter the job market, the situation will be less polarized. In other words, in the future most of them will have a good proficiency in English and can cope with it in everyday and work settings.

At the same time, the social divide related to knowing English may shift to a new location: in the future it may be found between the Finnish majority who has fully adopted English and the immigrants for many of whom English is an additional language to be learnt along with the language/s of their new home country.