Finnish-language courses reveal part of the challenges that migrants face in Finland

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Migrant Tales was happy to see one of our readers and contributors, Stephen Penny, on YLE Suora Linja Monday and Tuesday talking about the challenges some migrants face in learning the Finnish language. While Penny and Emma Kwegyir-Afful offer some good advice on how to improve Finnish-language training, the program raised two important issues that should be investigated further.  

While the host speaks about the importance of Finnish language in integration, he forgets to mention that it’s a two-way process never mind that Swedish is our other official language. This first aspect, in my opinion, reveals an ongoing problem: We speak officially of two-way adaption but the rule and expectation appear to be one-way assimilation.

Are we an inclusive society and do we readily accept people who are different from us?

The other question is how discrimination robs newcomers of employment opportunities. Emma Kwegyir-Afful, a native of Ghana who has lived in Finland for four years, has a degree in nursing from her home country and from Finland as well as a master’s degree in health.

Why is she unemployed?

Kuvankaappaus 2014-3-5 kello 9.32.26

Here’s the question that she raised: Why do they bring white nurses from Spain and directly employ them with only four months of language training? The Spanish nurses learn Finnish at work.

Kwegyir-Afful doesn’t mention “white” Spanish nurses but it would be an interesting matter if ethnic background has anything to do with the matter.

Why does Kwegyir-Afful speak English instead of Finnish on the program raises some questions as well about the effectiveness of the Finnish-language courses she’s taken.

It must be a real blow to self-confidence to be so qualified as her and be unemployed.

Kuvankaappaus 2014-3-5 kello 9.32.59

Penny gave some good advice to newcomers and the authorities.

“You have to own the [integration and language-learning] process yourself and not leave it to Kela or the employment office or to whom ever it may be,” he said, “you have to chase up every day, make phone calls every day and once you start chasing these things and put pressure on certain people, they tend to get done a bit quicker. But it is a frustrating process.”

Penny considered that the Finnish-language program didn’t teach migrants practical things like what type of Finnish you need at work.

  1. JusticeDemon


    At what precise point did Emma Kwegyir-Afful say white nurses? I don’t think she said any such thing.

    This distraction echoes the 1996 Dianne Abbott fiasco concerning Finnish nurses in the UK.

    I suspect that at least part of the problem is that Emma Kwegyir-Afful is overqualified for very junior nursing duties (such as helping to escort patients to and from therapy sessions), but not considered strong enough in other areas such as language for more senior responsibilities (such as administering drug regimens). This calls for flexibility on both sides.

    Stephen Penny is correct in stressing the value of a proactive approach. Laugh and the world laughs with you. Snarl and you get better service.

  2. Enrique Tessieri

    Hi JD, she doesn’t say that but it raises an interesting question. I’m asking that question, which I believe is a valid one.

    • JusticeDemon

      If I remember correctly, there was also a similar and much larger programme to provide pre-departure training and work in Finland for nursing staff from the Philippines.

      Skin pigmentation is not a criterion for inclusion in these programmes.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Thank you for the heads-up, Stephen. Good stuff.