How Finnish-as-a-second-language courses relegate people to second-class status

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Even children who are born in Finland but whose parents aren’t Finns are sent to S2 (Suomi toisena kielenä) language courses. One student, who attended for three years S2 Finnish-language courses, claims that such courses won’t help him succeed at university.

 Moreover, what does it mean to be part of an S2 program in a racialized country like Finland that labels even naturalized Finns as “people with foreign background?”

“The problem is that S2 teaches you basic Finnish for the workplace but doesn’t help you to learn how to write essays when you go to university,” said the former student, who attended S2 courses in the 7-9 grades. “This means that you’ll end up doing menial low-paying jobs all your life because your writing skills aren’t up to par.”

The mother of a child, who was put in an S2 class when he started school because his parents were born abroad, expressed concern about how such classes would affect her son.

“I had the feeling that there must be something wrong with my child because he’s not in a normal Finnish-language course,” she said. “I had a long discussion with the teachers and they decided to put him in a normal Finnish-language course.”



It’s clear that one matter is labelling you as an outsider because you are “a person with foreign background” but the other is to reinforce your Otherness by literally undermining your language skills by not developing them enough but to only serve low-income and low-skill jobs in the future.

“One thing that I’d change with the S2 program is to integrate children in normal Finnish-language courses with a teacher assistant,” the former S2 student said. “The reason why foreigners are placed in S2 courses is part of a system of how Finnish society makes and keeps you as a second-class citizen.”