In Finland, the events called ‘Language Cafés (Kielikahvila)’ are often held at public libraries. Finnish Language cafés have especially provided immigrants and refugees with opportunities to speak Finnish. This article aims to describe why these Finnish Languages cafés have been held continuously, based on a field survey taken in March, 2016.
Participation observation, interviews with librarians, volunteers and participants were implemented at four HelMet (Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries) libraries: Itäkeskus, Rikhardinkatu, Pasila and Tapiola.
Through this investigation, I observed the following:
1 The significance of using public libraries
First, it is easy to access. This contributes to an increase in participants and volunteers. Secondly, the participants and volunteers can simultaneously use other library facilities and services (i.e., general book section, Finnish language textbooks, community events, multilingual library, etc.) while visiting the Cafés. Thirdly, the staffs participate in the Cafés as part of their institutional obligations. Staff involvement make the activities more stable and public. Fourth, holding these events at open spaces in the library lets many general users notice the Language Cafés, as well as the presence of immigrants and refugees. Finally, the library̕s movable bookshelves, desks, chairs, and other facilities also help to make places for Language Cafés.
2 The style and the Content of the Cafés
First, there are various forms of the Language Cafés, such as a teacher-centered lectures, individual instruction, dialogue practice, and a combination of lectures and groupwork. Some participants attend several Cafés, among a number of choices offered. Secondly, the Cafés are not only for teaching Finnish language. At each Café session, topics on Finnish lifestyle knowledge are taught, including explaining Finnish Easter traditions (e.g.: pussy willow plant). Participation in the Café is also an opportunity to learn Finnish culture. Thirdly, it is mentioned that both libraries and private sectors are engaged in this activity. However, even though a Café is run by a private sector, the use of all library facilities is free, and they can gain the maximum cooperation from the library, such as lectures on equipment and provisions of tea and confectionery.
3 How participants and volunteers benefit from the activities
It is not easy to grasp the whole picture because the effects of Language Cafés vary across individuals. However, participants seem to get more than conversation learning from Cafés (e.g.: motivation for language learning, better living information, friends and acquaintances in similar circumstances, connections with Finnish society and people). It was also revealed that volunteers not only participate in the Cafés for his or her own pleasure to help minorities, but also acquired knowledge about foreign cultures from the participants. However, the greatest achievement of the Language Cafés is that some of those who once participated in the Café have gained sufficient Finnish language skills to return to the Cafés by working as coordinators at the libraries several years later.
The reasons above help explain why Finnish Language Cafés have continued to hold close ties with the public libraries in Finland.