The European Day of Languages highlighted multilingualism, language equality and continuous learning

In autumn 2021, the European Commission and the University of Helsinki Language Centre organised the main event associated with the European Day of Languages. The official European Day of Languages is celebrated each year on 26 September, which fell on a Sunday in 2021. This day marked the beginning of weeklong celebrations, culminating in the main event on Friday, 1 October. During the week, materials published on the event website highlighted the importance of language diversity as well as viewpoints related to the continuous learning of languages and interaction.

The events organised during the week were targeted broadly at schools, the academic community and all those interested in language learning and multilingual and multicultural understanding and interaction. Partners included the Union of Teachers with Different Languages and Cultural Backgrounds (EKKOL), the Institute for the Languages of Finland, the Finnish Association of the Deaf, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Trade Union of Education (OAJ), the Finnish National Agency for Education, the National Advisory Board on Romani Affairs, the Sámi Parliament, the Federation of Foreign Language Teachers in Finland (SUKOL), Suomenopettajat ry (Teachers of Finnish as a Second Language), the Network of Finnish University Language Centres (FINELC), the Tuglas Society and Äidinkielen opettajain liitto (Association of Teachers of Finnish as a Mother Tongue).

Raising the profile of multilingualism and diverse language skills

The main event highlighted, in particular, multilingualism through various sessions. A virtual panel discussion aimed at experts in the field was organised during the week on the topic ‘Supporting multilingualism in everyday life, the workplace and society’. The aim was to explore ways of enabling multilingualism in language teaching and other teaching and to examine the co-existence of several languages more widely in society. The panellists were Pia Bärlund, Service Manager, City of Jyväskylä; Juha Eskelinen, University Instructor, Master’s Programme in Translation and Interpreting, University of Helsinki; Leena Nissilä, Director, Language Centre, University of Helsinki; Katriina Rapatti, Teacher of Finnish Language and Literature and of Finnish as a Second Language, Lehtikuusi School, City of Vantaa; and Marjo Vesalainen, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Education and Culture. The hosts were Heini Lehtonen, Senior Lecturer in University Pedagogy, and Janne Niinivaara, Specialist in the Development of Teaching, University of Helsinki.

The main event, entitled ‘What do language skills consist of?’, was live streamed from Think Corner. It consisted of short talks by experts regarding the diversity and significance of language skills.

Programme of the main event:

  • Opening remarks, Leena Nissilä, Director of the Institute for the Languages of Finland
  • Welcoming address, Anita Lehikoinen, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Culture
  • Expert talks
  • Language skills and professional skills, Lari Kotilainen, Docent, University Lecturer of Finnish Language and Culture, University of Helsinki
  • Diverse language learning in a linguistically endangered, but reviving community, Annika Pasanen, Professor of Sámi Sociolinguistics, Sámi University of Applied Sciences
  • Language learning requires inclusion, Minna Intke-Hernández, DPhil, University Instructor of Spanish, University of Helsinki Language Centre
  • Concluding remarks, Hanna Snellman, Vice-Rector, University of Helsinki

Some of the talks given at the main event were later published as articles in the Kielikello journal. The Finnish-language articles can be read in Kielikello’s issue 1/2022.


Start learning a new language – At home and in school

Several introductory language lessons were also given on the day of the main event. These 15-minute lessons, open to all and free of charge, provided an opportunity to get acquainted with a new or familiar language in a virtual setting. The participants included university students, school classes and work communities. The exact number of participants is difficult to estimate, but totalled at least several thousand individuals.

The teachers were from the Language Centre and the Faculty of Arts as well as representatives of a cooperation network, and they gave lessons in close to 20 languages, including Estonian, Russian, Finnish- and Swedish-language sign language, Inari Sámi, Skolt Sámi and Northern Sámi, Portuguese, Finnish-language speech communication, Japanese, Chinese, Danish and many others.

The week’s events received excellent feedback: in a survey sent to the participants, 59% responded very positively and 38% responded positively. As many as 94% of the participants said they had learned something new, and 24% had learned many new things.

The shared objective of the panel discussion, the main event and the introductory lessons was to encourage discussion on the importance of multilingualism and demonstrate that it is possible to learn several languages. Heini Lehtonen praised the talks given during the week. According to her, it is important to accept differences in language skills and take them into account in interaction.

Text: Janne Niinivaara