Immersion in Finland
Immersion in Finland is an optional multilingual teaching programme, which generally exists for children who do not have the immersion language as their mother tongue. Immersion is based on the assumption that second language learning takes place most effectively through meaningful communication.
The type of programme offered in Finland is early total immersion. This programme begins at the earliest at the age of three and at the latest in pre-school education, and lasts until the end of basic education. The most conspicuous feature of immersion is that the instruction in the initial stage is mainly given in a different language than the pupils’ first language; in other words, the pupils are taught for instance mathematics and biology in the immersion language. The amount of instruction given in the first language and other languages gradually increases, so that when the pupils reach grades 5–6, half of the teaching is conducted in the immersion language, and the other half in the pupils’ first language and in other languages. The amount of instruction in the immersion language has to be at least 50% of the entire programme, and in Finland, the immersion language is usually Swedish.
Separate teachers teach in the immersion language and in the pupils’ first language, which means that each teacher only speaks one language with the pupils. The teachers in the immersion language serve as important language models for the pupils, and it is important for the pupils to hear and use the immersion language in different functions and different situations. The pupils are encouraged to use the immersion language from the very beginning. However, the classroom situations are often bilingual, since the pupils use both languages in parallel during the first years in particular.
The aim of immersion is for the pupils to reach functional proficiency in writing and speaking the immersion language, while at the same time developing their first language.The immersion pupils also acquire considerable familiarity with the culture of the immersion language, in addition to being part of their own culture. The immersion programme complies with the national core curriculum in terms of the educational aims for the content-areas prescribed in the curriculum.
The first immersion group in Finland started in Vaasa in 1987. After that, groups were initiated in several different places in Finland, often on the initiative of parents. In 2017, immersion in the domestic languages was offered at 112 units in 23 of the 311 municipalities in Finland.