The Dolomites & Being Trilingual…

School has started here in the Dolomites after a long summer vacation in this third week in September. We have met many school children during our work/hiking vacation here and have been positively surprised by the fact that they speak excellent English.

In many of these small villages, deep inside high valleys between towering mountains, the local populations are well below 4000 people. In such places, you would not expect that schools would have deep pockets to attract teachers in sufficient numbers. However, children here are not only bilingual, they are also trilingual!

German and Italian are the local languages and almost everybody speaks and writes, and the children are fluent in both.

Sud Tirol has a proud independent tradition and we heard from some visiting Italians from the south that they are not always welcome! However, everyone here speaks Italian, and almost everybody also learns German from the cradle. We are told that the schools have invested heavily in English teachers – a natural consequence when tourism is such and important activity in summer and winter.

We also spoke with business folk, workers and university students. They think nothing of working or studying in Austria, Germany or Switzerland where most people speak German. They also mentioned that they benefit from a constant flow of good workers from these countries who have no problems in finding themselves welcome here. For many restaurants and hotels this is an endless supply of skilled labour at a reasonable cost.

This situation naturally got us thinking about Finland where all Finns are meant to learn Finnish and Swedish from an early age at school because both Finnish and Swedish are Finland’s official languages. However, only 5% of Finns have their mother tongue as Swedish and their numbers are not increasing due to leakage to Sweden and elsewhere, and to inter-marriage with Finnish speaking Finns.

It is also curious that most Finnish-speaking Finns, young and old, see little value in learning and using Swedish, and appear to actively forget Swedish as soon as school or university exams are over! One must wonder at the stupidity of this attitude to refuse to maintain an active ability to use Swedish in daily life.

Job opportunities in both Sweden and Norway are available in the same social and cultural environment as Finland. The physical distance and ease of travel also present no problems. Furthermore such and attitude makes it challenging  for Swedes and Norwegians to visit or work in Finland. Who wants to use their mother tongue only to be met with a silently embarrassed Finn who cannot or will not reply in Swedish!

This only means that there is a double loss of benefits for Finns! 

The Dolomites is a successful laboratory experiment that works so well. It should be an inspiration for Finns to start packing their brains with Swedish and, why not, German too. The two languages are closely related.

Site Footer