Embargo 23 September 2022
Our language skills are narrowing – a functioning society needs language experts
Language experts have an important role in promoting peace and democracy, but there will soon be a shortage of skilled professionals.
Friday 30 September is the UN’s International Translation Day. In Finland, the day is celebrated on 23 September with a seminar. The European Day of Languages is also celebrated on 26 September. We have good reason to celebrate, because specialists in communications between languages and cultures have a key role in building peace, common understanding and interaction.
Language is a means of democracy: when information is available in your native language this increases inclusion in society and democracy. In crisis and conflict situations what we say is important but also how we say it. Language is also the foundation of all civilisation.
Since the 1990s, the number of native languages spoken in Finland has almost tripled to 160, but the number of people studying foreign languages other than English has decreased at all levels of education. Opportunities for learning languages have been limited by various cost-reduction measures. Thus, the only foreign language spoken by a growing number of Finns is English, which is why the need for expert roles related to language is increasing in society.
We need experts in language and culture, such as translators, interpreters and other specialists in international communication processes, in the business community and in society’s various organisations, to establish connections through language barriers. We need these experts to develop artificial intelligence, accessibility and language use, to promote equality among citizens, to secure the functions of society and good governance and to influence the development of society in many different ways.
Although language specialists are important for Finland, their value and expertise is not always identified let alone acknowledged. There should be competition for the expertise of the top language specialists in working life in the same way that there is competition for technology specialists, for example, in many sectors.
We are witnessing a worrying decline in the number of experts in languages and cultures and the related communications, such as translation and interpretation. However, there is still considerable language potential available in Finland. For example, we have a large number of young people who speak languages that are rare here but that are widely spoken around the world, and this resource should be made available for our society. Therefore, we encourage young people to study languages and forge a career for themselves in languages. Once we recognise all the opportunities that expert knowledge of languages can offer to individuals, businesses and society as a whole, the future career opportunities of language students will be broad and international.
Linda Ahlblad, Chair, Kites Language Cluster Finland
Sirpa Alkunen, Chair, The Finnish Association of Translators and Interpreters (SKTL)
Erik Miller, President, Finnish Language Service Providers (SKY)
Suvi Seikkula, Chair, Language Experts
Tel. +358 50 576 2553
Kites Language Cluster Finland
Tel. +358 40 866 8669
Finnish Language Service Providers (SKY)
Tel. +358 40 0766 991
The Finnish Association of Translators and Interpreters (SKTL)
Tel. +358 44 344 5205