Are you really from Finland?

In an age when entertainment media is the prevailing way in which people tune into the world, there are a number of effects it has in Finland.

Apart from most children's programmes, foreign TV shows and movies are not dubbed, leaving viewers to read subtitles. Reading skills therefore develop. Viewers also have the opportunity to hear the programme in its original language.
In some cases, because English-language influence has been, and still is, so strong in Finland, it has had a major impact on the fluidity of some Finns' English-language skills: Finnishness in their speech is virtually undetectable, either in their accent or in their colloquial grammar.

There are some Finns who speak English like native speakers, especially like North Americans. Foreign influences, mostly from television, movies or music, can be picked up at an early age.
Student Kari Kylänpää, 25, acknowledges that he was brought up in front of the TV. He remembers hearing English and picking up words around 7, recalling the movies Karate Kid and Beverly Hills Cop.
Laura Kopu, 32, of University of Turku Communications remembers hearing, and eventually singing along to, a Disney record at 5 years old. "There were also lyrics with the record, so I started reading English before going to any language classes," she says.
22-year-old student Niina Heikkilä recalls hearing English at the Wendy House kindergarten at 2-1/2. At the age of 5, she attended Amerikkalainen leikkikoulu (American kindergarten) and at the age of 6, in elementary school, she recalls having an English teacher from the UK.
Both Kylänpää and Heikkilä admit to the large amount of American influence in Finnish media. Heikkilä sees how this has influenced her speech.
"To be honest, I'm more interested in American TV shows than British," she confesses.

After media, being abroad at a young age may also play a significant role. Kopu and Heikkilä have both stayed in the US for short periods of time. After having spoken first with an American accent, Kopu now speaks with an Australian accent ever since having spent over two years in Australia. Kylänpää has never visited the US - only Australia.

While it may be apparent that the style of English in Europe leans towards British, there is no doubt that Americanism is huge, if not greater, in Finland.
Kylänpää believes that English in Finland can go either way and there's no need to show that there's a "Finnish" way of speaking.
"Finns don't have compulsive patriotism in the way they speak English," he states. "My normal speech just tends to be American."

So why are some Finns able to speak so flawlessly that they are always assumed to be from a native English speaking country?
"Pronunciation has always come easy to me. In music, I've always had an ear for tone," Kylänpää theorises. "I've never learned notes. I can play a song just from hearing it."
Even though she is not a musical person, Kopu also believes that she has an ear for picking up sounds.
"English first came to me through music, so I think that has something to do with it" she states. Heikkilä believes that her experience with living abroad at the age of 11 had a profound impact.
"I had to use English to get by. It was the perfect age to learn to adapt and not be afraid to make mistakes."
"I pick up the accent of the people around me. If I lived in Texas, I guarantee that in two months I'd speak just like a native," Kopu laughs


Julkaistu alunperin Turun ylioppilaslehden numerossa 8/2008 (25.4.2008)

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