Tania Rodriguez-Kaarto

Aalto University

Finnish language acquisition among highly educated immigrants

This research has focused on phenomena caused by the immigration rise of the last two decades. Immigrants coming to Finland (highly- and low-skilled-) are expected to “integrate themselves” into Finnish society. However, “unemployment rate of immigrants is three times that of the majority population” (Ministry of Employment and Economy in Finland, 2012, p. 1), and “a high level of education does not protect foreign-background residents from unemployment as efficiently as it does the domestic population” (Statistics 2013, p. 24).Finnish government offers various educational programs to aid immigrants—currently 5.2 % of the population—in language acquisition and cultural assimilation, but the programs’ efficacy in improving high-skilled immigrants’ job opportunity has been questioned. This research aims to uncover what impedes the high-skilled immigrants’ transition from intermediate level to advanced level language skills; explore future instructional design solutions that help with social integration and acquisition of adequate language skills among foreign population to better their chances for cultural assimilation and in job markets.

Initial findings in this research report that (i) current teaching materials vary from heavy emphasis on grammar to more suitable solutions involving general cultural information; (ii) instructors’ role is also crucial in the transition from basic to advanced levels in language training since strict teaching styles may overrule what intermediate level learners need the most: comprehensible/communicative input optimal to the learner’s current level, and lack of awareness of what immigrant should know regarding cultural communication.

For this, the research has looked into solutions for teaching materials with low cognitive loads based on voluntary reading and effective visual design, adaptive-interactive text for personalized comprehension lessons, participatory storytelling platforms for personalized topics, and involving the whole community as a learning environment for more practice opportunities.   The exploratory stage of the project is close to completion and the future solutions start to be visible. The search for solutions has steered the focus onto the development of tools that draw from a variety of fields (Semiotics, Visual studies, Applied linguistics and Second Language Acquisition Theories) to augment the acquisition and use of Finnish for working purposes.