Clients at Oodi. Jussi Hellsten, © Helsingin kaupunki

From now onwards, better chance for English-speakers to get by in Helsinki

Helsinki is becoming considerably more international and diverse, as about two-thirds of those relocating to the city currently come from places beyond Finland’s borders. In order to sustain the vitality of industry and commerce in Helsinki, the region must be able to attract a substantial amount of additional international skill from abroad. To be able to meet these needs, Helsinki will improve its English-language services by 2021, entailing all its divisions. The improvements will be felt especially in the City’s digital services and in its customer service.

At the outset of 2019, the proportion of residents who speak a foreign language as their native tongue was 15.7 percent of all Helsinkians, and the English-speaking Helsinkians’ share of the whole foreign-language population was 6.6 percent. That is to say, there are slightly over 6,700 English-speaking Helsinkians. It has been estimated that the size of Helsinki’s foreign-language population will grow by almost 100,000 people up until year 2035. Thus according to the estimate, just above one-quarter of all Helsinki inhabitants will be foreign-language residents. Moreover, for many immigrants, English serves as a support language before and as they develop language skills in Finnish or Swedish.

The City will improve the services for immigrants e.g. by regularising the operations of International House Helsinki that is a joint pilot project of the City’s immigrant counselling and several other players. The City will set up a centralised English-language employment, training and housing counselling service at International House Helsinki. In future, English-language counselling regarding employment and education will be provided at the counselling desk of the Employment Service Marketplace, too.

Presentations of daycare centres, schools and educational institutions, the most essential guides as well as registration and application forms for parents and students will be provided in English in future. The student admission and the practices for the implementation of suitability tests will be developed to facilitate for arrivals to apply to English and bilingual training. Helsinki will also endeavour to lobby the government with the aim to enable the passing of even the matriculation examination in English in the future.

The health stations’ appointment scheduling will in future be provided also in English, both online and on the phone. Furthermore, the City aims at providing the customers with important care instructions as well as patient and client records in English, when necessary.

The Culture and Leisure Division will increase the volume of English-language activities, especially for the young and for children. In addition, course registration and multilingual communications will be developed.

As for housing-related issues, a centralised English-language counselling system will be set up. The objective is also for the City’s housing subsidiaries to have English-language web pages in the future.

In addition to increasing the English-language content on the municipal websites and to mending the digital service paths, the City will survey the language skills of staff whose work involves providing service and counselling to clients. The staff’s language skills will be labelled in a clearly visible manner.

Development Agenda for the English-Language Services (pdf)