Why are there so many English speakers in Finland?
Living in Finland, it is surprising that the majority of people are able to speak English without issue. Not only students, but cashiers at the local supermarket, old ladies, my friend’s parents, a passerby that I asked directions from… and in each case, they are able to speak fluidly with no accent.
Its quite mysterious. In Japan, even students who are diligently studying English may have difficulty speaking. For us Japanese, achieving a natural speaking speed and natural accent require a significant amount of work. The pronunciation of Finnish is similar to Japanese pronunciation, and so I would think that the difficulty of learning the English accent would be shared. However, the Finnish seem to have no problem speaking English well, while the Japanese have great difficulty. I have been jealous of this fact each time I have had an opportunity to speak English with the Finnish.
After meeting so many people who could speak English fluently, I finally asked my local friends why this is true. All of them responded that it is most likely a result of English TV shows being aired in English, with Finnish subtitles. They all watched these as children growing up. I was surprised at first, as I have trouble following the English subtitles, and the scene often changes while I am reading. When my friends first mentioned this as a reason, I was skeptical…however, as all of them were answering seriously, I suppose it must have some truth.
If you think about it, it makes sense as the children are being exposed to and becoming used to English sounds and pronunciation from a young age. In comparison, children in Japan rarely hear English spoken in everyday settings. It took myself a long time before I was able to clearly comprehend all of the sounds used in English pronunciation. If I think of this, the advantage provided by growing up accustomed to these sounds is huge. In particular, having this learning take place in the form of TV shows provides plenty of motivation for children to want to understand the language.
The other day, this topic came up during the coffee break at work. When I mentioned that English programs in Japan were all dubbed over into Japanese, I was told that it was not just Japan, and that other countries with mostly dubbed media had trouble learning English. Listening to the countries given as examples, I could only agree. As a serious suggestion, how about stopping dubbed programming in Japan, and only subtitling in Japanese? Perhaps in 10 years we will have great English speakers, similar to Finland.
※Image Source : Taken from the show The flying doctors, broadcast on YLE Finland