The multilingual past of Finland is visible in the language skills of Helsinkians. The official minority language Swedish can be seen in for instance street names and packaging, and often heard while walking down the street. The majority of Helsinki-dwellers speak English in addition to their mother tongue of Finnish or Swedish, often along with some other foreign language such as German, French or Spanish.
The metropolitan region has many inhabitants who have a mother tongue other than Finnish or Swedish. In addition to the official languages and English, common languages you might hear walking around are Estonian, Russian, Somali and Arabic, as well as some Kurdish, Chinese, Farsi, Albanian and Vietnamese.
Everyday living in English
Helsinki is an attractive city internationally and defined by a high level of know-how. It is easy to get by in the capital no matter what your language background. Those not yet comfortable in Finnish need not worry as public agencies offer services in English and Swedish almost without exception. Many city services, such as kindergartens and schools, also function in a variety of languages in addition to the official ones.
Leisure activities can also be pursued in English in Helsinki. Libraries are free and open for all and offer a wealth of English-language literature, and restaurant and café staff throughout the city has a good command of English.
The plentiful cultural and arts services in the city from museums to cultural centres offer a lot of non-Finnish programme and events. Organisations such as IESAF offer self-organised activities to immigrants in the city.
Helsinki is a good place also for those who don't speak Finnish. The majority of services is available in English, and you can even apply for jobs without knowing Finnish.
Language training starts early
Many Helsinkians use several languages in their work. A focus on a wide set of language skills starts early. These days students start with their first foreign or second local language (Finnish or Swedish) already in the first grade. Helsinki has kindergartens operating in many languages, at the present moment at least in Swedish, English, Spanish, German, French, Russian and Sámi.
The city administration is also investing heavily in diverse language proficiency. The City of Helsinki's strategy for 2017-2021 lists an aim of doubling the amount of English-language education and the availability of early childhood education in English, as well as the addition of language immersion opportunities.
The internationalisation of Helsinki is also visible in language focuses in schools. As an example, the offering of Chinese classes in schools is currently being added.