By Enrique Tessieri
Some politicians and social workers in this country believe that integration is only possible after an immigrant learns the Finnish or Swedish language. This may be true but there are other factors that play equally important roles in the integration process of an immigrant.
An immigrant will have to pass many checkpoints before he is accepted as a member of Finnish society. How many and what those checkpoints are is open to debate.
Promising an immigrant that he’ll be integrated as soon as he learns the language is a bit like telling a child: “When you grow up you’ll have a wife, children and be successful.”
If language were a panacea to an immigrant’s integration problems, why is social exclusion still a problem among the Romany minority, which have lived in this country for centuries?
Another interesting group we could cite are the Latin Americans of Spain. The majority of them speak Spanish as their mother tongue, they are familiar with Spanish culture, and are even Catholics. Despite their command of the most widely spoken language of Spain and knowledge of the local culture, why do some groups like the Bolivians, Ecuadorians and blacks suffer from high unemployment and social exclusion?
What would you say if a person has lived most of his life in Finland, speaks Finnish as a native but admits: “The worst thing in Finland is that if you have a different religion, culture and language, you are left on the fringes of society. No matter how much you try to integrate you are always left outside.”
Would enrolling in a Finnish-language course be the solution?
The three examples above suggest that integration is a more complex matter than just learning a new language. Attitudes and acceptance by the host society may play equally important roles in the integration process of an immigrant.
One of the reasons why too many politicians and social workers like to speak of integration in simple learn-language terms may be because they are unaware of a wider problem.
As long as we don’t address that side of the integration problem, which is acceptance by the host society, we will never challenge the wider problem of integration effectively.