Living in two languages in Finland

What's it like to live in a place where people speak two languages? Watch this video to learn what some people in one town in Finland think.

Do the preparation task first. Then watch the video and do the exercises. Remember you can read the transcript at any time.


The people that come here, they speak sometimes Finnish, sometimes Swedish. Sometimes we switch between sentences. Sometimes you forget. Oh, did they speak Swedish, did they speak Finnish? Just speak whatever. 

It's so natural for us to live in a language environment like this.

Living in two languages in Finland.

Well, in areas where you have both Finnish and Swedish speakers, [the] law requires you to have signs in both languages: majority languages on top and the minority language on the bottom.

With a population of almost 50 per cent Finnish and Swedish speakers, Hanko has had to swap languages regularly over the years.

We don't consider it a problem, we consider it more a richness of our culture. So now the majority language [is] Finnish. If more Swedish people move in, the majority language would change, then we would need to change all our road signs. We would do it happily.

Swedish speakers are only five per cent of Finland's population. Still Swedish is an official language in Finland.

Swedish is my mother tongue, then I speak almost perfect Finnish. When we speak Swedish together with friends, we always spice it with Finnish words. Finnish a very rich language and has at least 30 words describing snow, while Sweden has only a few.

Most Swedish speakers live in the south and west of Finland. 

Ekenäs is an 85 per cent Swedish-speaking town in the south.

This Finnish couple was attracted to move here by Swedish culture.

Here are people who only speak Swedish and people who only speak Finnish, but, still, we are, like, managing to have conversations. 

They say everything in Swedish and Finnish and let you as a customer to choose which language you prefer. I grew up in central Finland and my mother tongue is Finnish. I really like this Swedish language. It's kind of round and soft. Ekenäs is a perfect match for me, because here I'm surrounded by the language.

Once moving here we had this inner question that, are we allowed to be here as Finnish speakers? But we have lived here for two years now. People were super welcoming and open for us and they were eager to get to know us. When we go back to our parents' place, where you don't hear any Swedish, I kind of miss that. 

Everybody in the whole world should speak more languages. Without the language you cannot really get into the culture. I hope that kids learn more – maybe three, maybe five, why not six?

© BBC World Service


Worksheet89.12 KB


Average: 4.6 (17 votes)

Submitted by Denes on Mon, 18/12/2023 - 10:07


In my country people usually speak only one lenguage, which is Portuguese. Some individuals can speak English too, but they represent a minority of the population. Nevertheless, to me look like be more interesting when one country have more than one language teached in the school and spoke in the strets.

Submitted by anna3 on Mon, 27/02/2023 - 10:30


In Ukraine, we can also easily switch between two languages: Ukrainian and Russian. However, the official language is Ukrainian. It happened because of the historical reason when we were a part of the Soviet Union. Of course, the situation is changing due to the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Submitted by ionastya on Thu, 09/02/2023 - 13:17


"Still Swedish is an official language in Finland" so there is 1 official language, and sentence 1 in Task 1 should be False. Am I wrong?

Hi ionastya,

The indefinite article ("an official language") indicates that it is one official language but not the only one (if it was the only one, it would be "the official language"). It's a subtle meaning!


LearnEnglish team

This also confused me in the first place. It is a tricky one.
According to the video, Finnish being the official language is taken as a given, considering where you are.
Here "still" means "in spite of", which implies that it's unusual to allocate Swedish as official language, given that only 5% population speak Swedish.

Submitted by mamigencaslan on Mon, 30/01/2023 - 20:58


Finland is the most educated country in the world to learn different languages and speak well according to my knowledge. This makes them so unique. And in order to this, it is not a surprise that they can speak two languages very well and also use both. Also, I have to mention that this diffirences between language and people enriches their culture. Honestly, I would have liked to live in Finland and take my education there as well.

Submitted by Furkanavlar on Wed, 25/01/2023 - 09:04


I agree with the mayor it's a reachness of culture.