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Elisa Räsänen Interview

Elisa Räsänen is the new Finnish lecturer in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies.  She holds an undergraduate degree in Finnish Language and Literature and a masters degree in Teaching Finnish as a Second and Foreign Language from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. 

When it comes to teaching language, Elisa is hands-on. And if she can’t find the texts or materials to supplement her lessons, then she makes her own.  This is something she has done in the past and continues to do, both for her current students at IU and students she taught in Finland and at the University of Toronto.  She says it is imperative that her students have these resources available at their fingertips.

“A lot of materials for Finnish language learning are developed for people who are studying the Finnish language but who also live in Finland,” she said.  “For example, when I was in Finland, I could grab a newspaper in the subway and if I found something connected to my lesson, I could show it to the students. Students in Finland could also study street signs or go to IKEA to study furniture vocabulary but here, we have to rely on technology to bring students those similar experiences.” For that reason, Elisa has created various materials which include an instructional booklet that is being used in the University of Toronto’s Finnish Studies Program. At IU she continues to create tasks in which students have to go online and use different resources in Finnish.

Elisa has taught Finnish to a large variety of learners, from 7th grade native Finnish students to non-Finnish university students. Prior to her appointment as the new Finnish lecturer at IU, Elisa was teaching both Finnish language and Finnish cultural and work life skills to adult immigrants in Helsinki and in Imatra.  It was a job she said was rewarding. “I’d always wanted to work with adult learners of Finnish and when immigrants come to Finland, they need the language skills to settle and to find employment,” she said. “Because it’s so important, they often have a very high level of motivation.” She said the last group she taught had 21 students, and almost all of them were from different countries around the world.  “I learnt so much from them every day,” she said.

This is not Elisa’s first time teaching Finnish at IU. During the 2013 – 2014 academic year, she was a Finnish Fulbright Foreign Language and Culture Teaching Assistant.  She developed teaching material independently and together with the lecturer and organized extracurricular activities outside of the classroom so that students could practice their newly acquired language skills, including coffee hours, a monthly Finnish movie night, and a Finnish Independence Day celebration. These are things she is continuing in her new lecturer role, with the addition of a new Finnish Culture class that she will introduce in the spring semester.

Elisa says there are many reasons for students to learn Finnish, outside of it possibly being their heritage language or the language of their friends and family.  Many students of Finnish are, in addition to the language, fascinated by Finnish culture and Finnish or Nordic way of living. There are a lot of cultural and technical innovations that are coming out of Finland, and a grasp of the language can help students follow these phenomena. Elisa can list a number of additional reasons.  “Our education has been ranked best in the world. Finnish people have been very influential in many different fields, and a student might want to study the language of their idol(s). There are for example a lot of people who are interested in Finnish music, especially heavy metal,” she said.  “Finnish skills might be helpful when seeking for employment. Also Finland is an official EU language.” Elisa said Finnish language is also interesting to students in linguistics because Finnish is a non-Indo European language that still uses the Latin alphabet.

While she is here, Elisa hopes to see the Finnish program continue to grow.  She hopes to do this through networking and social media, in addition to spreading the word around campus.  “I’m trying to get more visibility to the program. For example, we now have a Facebook site,” she said.  “I would also like to continue to collaborate with the other Finnish studies programs in the US to continue developing materials for our programs.”