Kaisa Leino
Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä
Sari Sulkunen
Department of Language and Communication Studies, University of Jyväskylä

Language and Literacy

Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. At the beginning of 2016, Finnish was the native language for 89 percent of the country’s nearly 5.5 million inhabitants. Swedish was the first language for approximately 5 percent of the population.1 Finland’s constitution stipulates that these two national languages are equal throughout the country with respect to dealing with authorities and schooling.

The indigenous population of Finland, which uses Sami languages, lives in northern Finland. Fewer than 2,000 people (less than 0.1 percent of the Finnish population) are Sami speakers.2 With their language rights protected by law, this population has the right to cultivate and develop its own language and culture. Other autochthonous minority languages in Finland include Finnish Romany, Finnish sign language, Finland-Swedish sign language, and Karelian.3 Approximately 6 percent of the population has a foreign background. The most common languages among these people are Russian and Estonian.4

Finnish and Swedish are languages of instruction for all educational levels and school subjects. Usually Finnish or Swedish is the language of instruction, but some upper secondary vocational institutions and universities are bilingual. Sami is the language of instruction in some basic and upper secondary general and vocational institutions in Sami speaking areas.5

Finnish people are active readers and users of public libraries. There are public libraries in every municipality (311), and in 2016 there were 744 libraries and 137 mobile libraries in Finland. In 2016, the lending totaled 87.5 million items (16 per capita), the annual number of library visits was 49 million (9 per capita), and e-books were used 400,000 times (not including electronic newspapers, magazines, or journals).6 In addition, there are almost 200 newspapers published, of which one-fourth is published at least four times a week. 7