Why Teach Cyrillic Alphabet in Finnish Schools

As the number of Russian speakers will continue to grow, the Finnish mindset about Russians needs to change. There are all kinds of things to be done, and here I make just one practical proposal. Finnish schools should teach every child the basics of the Cyrillic alphabet.

Let me recount briefly some of the moments when the idea has been discussed thus far. This will unfortunately sound very self-centered, as I have not seen the proposal made elsewhere. I will be particularly grateful for any comments on where and how similar suggestions might have been made already before August 2012.

I made the proposal to teach Cyrillic Alphabet for the first time publicly during the World Political City Walk in August 2012. It was during a stop at the museum street Sofiankatu where the municipality of Helsinki has reinstalled old-style street name signs in Russian, Finnish and Swedish.

Over the following months I discussed the proposal in a few talks and interviews, trying to gain a better understanding of the possible reactions. Some discussion followed in Facebook and Twitter (you can find some of it through my public Facebook profile as well as my Twitter account @TeivoTeivainen). I also presented it in Idäntututkimus, the academic journal of Aleksanteri Institute.

I published a short article “Cyrillic Alphabet for Finnish Schools” in Helsinki Times on 2 May 2013. There was some discussion in social media around it, but nothing very visible.

This past week, however, the proposal got more attention. A commentary of mine “Kyrilliset aakkoset tulisi opettaa peruskoulussa” appeared in the opinion section of Helsingin Sanomat. A couple of days later, on 14 June 2013, I was invited to present the proposal in various TV and radio news. It was broadcast at least in the main evening news (starts at 5min,45s), in the Russian language news in Finland (in Russian and Finnish, starts soon after the beginning of the program) and in the YLE radio news (starts at 8min,40s).

As the proposal has been reflected in Russian-language media in Finland, it has also made it to the Finnish-language media in Russia, at least to this editorial of Karjalan Sanomat.

There will certainly be more discussion on the meaning and implications of the rapidly growing numbers of Russian speakers in Finland. My modest proposal is obviously not intended to provide answers to all the questions that will need to be tackled during the coming years and decades. The proposal is compatible with various kinds of scenarios as regards the teaching of languages in Finland.

In particular, I would like to emphasize that teaching the basics of Cyrillic Alphabet does not imply any changes in the current status of Swedish language in Finnish schools. Learning is not a zero-sum game.

Teivo Teivainen

1 thought on “Why Teach Cyrillic Alphabet in Finnish Schools

  1. When I was in Secondary School some boys in my class started to learn the Cyrillic Alphabet in about 1959. Out teacher of Mathematics Yrjö Juve (later he was in the matriculation examination group) became very angry and the boys stopped ti study the letters. Our teacher was very patriotic. On many Sarurdays he was telling our class stories of the WW II. He was very popular and liked.. He made us like Mathematics. Very many of my classmates started to study Mathematis, Physics or the like or went to the Technical University..

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