When I earlier wrote about Aalto University’s decision to only offer their Business School’s MA-level instruction in English, I predicted a lively debate in Finland’s major newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. But since then, only one opinion piece has been printed on the issue. The edition of 24.2.2013 contained a letter by Maria Pekkala and Matti Rudanko, a professor in Aalto’s School of Business.
Their opinion piece is measured and reasonable. On one hand, they recognise the necessity of English skills in a globalised world, and they also acknowledge that English has already been a part of business education for some time, partially because the equivalent material often isn’t available in Finnish. But their main point isn’t primarily about language – it’s the need for Finland to invest in the development of its own society.
If a Finnish student can no longer do MA-level research in her own mother tongue in the premier business school in Finland, what is the impact on the broader Finnish society? This is the key issue raised by Pekkala and Prof. Rudanko. Moreover, they point out that a solid knowledge of Finnish is still an important skill that is sought by Finnish employers. And finally, aren’t there areas of Finnish business that ought to researched – in Finnish?
Academic writing & language loss
It doesn’t matter what your first language is, writing at an academic level of formality and precision is a skill that must be developed. I wonder what the impact would be if Finnish business students no longer have the opportunity to write a major piece of research in their mother tongue. The process builds a combination of critical thinking and the structuring of arguments that is deeply connected to the language used. These are professional skills that will continue to be of value in Finland.
But there’s also the question of language loss if Finnish students are not encouraged to develop expert linguistic competence in their own field, in their own first language. This is not to say that Finns will forget how to speak and write Finnish, but it means the language could cease to be a vehicle for high-level research and scientific discourse, which impacts the broader society. I think this is the opinion letter’s core point, and one that Finnish institutions should keep in mind as internationalisation fever heats up.
You can read the full opinion piece (in Finnish) on Maria Pekkala’s blog.
No interpreters for Aalto University
Also in the earlier post on Aalto University’s Business School decision, I mentioned an odd quote reported on YLE’s English-language website. They quoted Aalto’s vice rector Martti Raevaara as saying that “Foreign professors will teach in English and maybe [sic] instruction can be interpreted and translated”. Of course the idea of UN-style interpreters in the classroom is absurd, so I asked YLE – the Finnish public broadcaster – for a clarification.
As befits a publicly funded institution, YLE ignored my request. So I contacted vice rector Raevaara myself to find out what he really said (and he replied promptly). As I thought, the English version is a mistranslation of the original Finnish story. Instruction by foreign professors can’t be interpreted or translated, and this was a point being made about the existing situation, not the way things will be in the future. Raevaara was making the point to illustrate that English was already well-established in the business program.
As of today, YLE’s English-language news website still carries the story with its misinformation attributed to Raevaara.