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For newcomers, everyday interaction is also a way to learn a language

Published on 6.4.2022
Tampere University
Sarjakuvakuvitus, jossa ihmisiä ostoksilla kioskillaTo illustrate the book, the researchers experimented with depicting interactions also as cartoons. Image: Eeva Säilä
Interaction happens not only through language but also by, e.g., facial expressions, gestures, and touch. As many people fleeing the war in Ukraine are now arriving in Finland, it is important to ensure that there is a possibility for everyday interactions between newcomers and the people already living in Finland. A study conducted at Tampere University on adult immigrants’ use and learning of Finnish emphasises integration into the new country in everyday interactions.

There is little previous scientific research on adult immigrants’ Finnish language learning in everyday situations. In their Co-designing social interactions in everyday life project, Tampere University’s researchers wanted to highlight the fact that language is not the only means of interaction.

What makes their study unique is that the researchers analyse interaction and language learning as multimodal action where embodiment and several channels of expression are highlighted. They also analyse learning the Finnish language in everyday life outside formal language teaching.

“Meanings are not only constructed in speech through language, but also bodily by facial expressions, gestures, motion, touch, and the manipulation of objects. Our study reveals the subtle ways in which people understand each other and cope with the complexity of everyday interactions,” says Niina Lilja, lead author of the research and University Lecturer at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences.

The study shows that real-life situations, such as shopping in markets, grocery stores and cafés, are of primary importance in learning Finnish. Language is also picked up in other activities, such as cooking courses, integration training in the construction field or coaching sessions.

Finnish can be spoken in different ways

According to Lilja, it is the responsibility of everyone already living in Finland to create opportunities for newcomers to interact and participate. Learning a new language is always a challenge. It is therefore important to remember that you do not need to know a language perfectly to use it.

“Every language can be spoken in many ways, and interaction can also work well multi-lingually. It is important for people living in Finland to learn to accept that Finnish can also be spoken in many ways,” Lilja emphasises.  

In addition to Lilja, the research group that investigated everyday interactions included Anna-Kaisa Jokipohja, Laura Eilola and Terhi Tapaninen from Tampere University.

The recently published anthology edited by the researchers looks at integration from the perspective of the individual in terms of everyday encounters and interactions. The book is based on the results of the research project.

One of the goals of the study and the book is to increase linguistic tolerance and reduce social inequalities.

“The development of our society can only be sustainable if all language users are included on an equal footing. We wrote the book for researchers, teachers and teacher students who are dealing with Finnish as a second language, but it will also benefit others working on integration issues,” Lilja believes.

The study was funded by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation. Niina Lilja is currently leading the Globalizing construction work and local language practices (GLO-LO) project that investigates language use in the multilingual construction sector.

Further information

Niina Lilja
+358 50 307 0589
niina.lilja [at]


Text: Anna Aatinen
Photo: Eeva Säilä