Statistics of the month: Most basic education pupils in Finland learn two languages


Most basic education pupils in Finland learn two languages. The number of pupils choosing optional languages has decreased.

In Finland it is compulsory to study two foreign languages during basic education. One of these is the second national language, Swedish or Finnish. In addition it is possible to study optional languages.

The education providers, most commonly municipalities, decide on which languages they offer as compulsory languages. The education providers also decide on whether they offer optional language studies and what the offered languages are.

The timing of the language studies is the following:

A1 First compulsory language – generally from grade 3
A2 Optional language – grade 5 at the latest
B1 Second compulsory language – grade 7
B2 Optional language – generally grade 8

Nearly 80 per cent of the pupils in basic education study two languages. Most commonly English is the first compulsory language (Table 1).

Table 1. Percentage of pupils studying the first compulsory language (A1) per language in grade three in 2000-2013

English 89,1 90,1 90,5 90,3
Swedish 1,5 1,1 1,0 1,0
Finnish 5,2 5,5 5,2 5,3
French 1,1 0,8 0,9 1,2
German 2,2 1,4 1,3 1,2
Russian 0,2 0,2 0,2 0,3
Spanish * * * 0,2
Sámi 0,0 0,0 0,0 0,0
Other 0,0 0,0 0,1 0,1

* Until 2010 Spanish included into category "other".

Some twenty per cent of the pupils study three foreign languages (Table 2). In the last ten years, the number of pupils studying optional languages has decreased. One reason is that the education providers have offered less opportunities for optional studies. The economic situation has clearly also had an influence.

Table 2. Number of languages pupils studied in basic education 2010-2013 in grades 7-9 (lower secondary education)

None* 0,6 0,6 0,5 0,5
1 language 1,1 1,1 1,1 1,0
2 languages 79,1 78,6 78,6 78,8
3 languages 18,6 19,0 19,4 19,2
At least 4 languages 0,6 0,7 0,4 0,5

* Students with individual learning plans (SEN)

The popularity of German as an optional languages has decreased significantly in the last 10 years. Russian and Spanish have become slightly more popular as choices. Russian is a clearly more choice in the municipalities which receive a lot of visitors from Russia. For example in Lappeenranta nine per cent of the pupils study Russian as their first compulsory language and as much as 16 per cent as an optional language at primary level. Later, at lower secondary level of basic education, the most popular language at this level is German, followed by French.

Most basic education pupils in Finland learn two languages. The number of pupils choosing optional languages has decreased.