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Interview with Finnish Instructor - Noora Helkiö

This spring semester, Noora Helkiö joined the Finnish program in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies as a teacher trainee. She is currently working on her Master’s degree in Finnish Language at the University of Helsinki with a minor is Pedagogical Studies in Finnish as a second language. The IAUNRC recently talked with her about her teaching experience in Finland and her experiences as a Finnish language instructor at Indiana University.

This is not Helkiö’s first experience teaching the Finnish language to non-native speakers. For the past three years, she has been teaching Finnish to both university students and adult immigrants in Helsinki.  In 2015, Helkiö and other graduate students in her cohort at the University of Helsinki developed their own teaching method for spoken Finnish, which they named Toisto-Metodi. “Toisto literally means repetition, which is vital when you are starting a new language,” said Helkiö. “Through this method, you become accustomed to hearing the language, and one of the main goals of Toisto-Metodi is to get the pronunciation right from the beginning.”

Helkiö said the concept was created during the fall semester of 2015, when she was enrolled in her pedagogical studies in Finnish as a Second Language class.  At the same time, Europe was experience an influx of refugees and many were making Finland their new home. Helkiö and several of her colleagues wanted to help the new arrivals assimilate to Finland through language acquisition. They wanted to develop a program that volunteers– without a teaching background– could use to help the emigrants, and thus, Toisto-Metodi was born.  She said the method relies solely on pictures and speaking skills so that even the illiterate can learn.  Keeping it simple is the key.  “First, we teach the vocabulary and then after that, we teach structure,” Helkiö said.  “It’s similar to how a child learns: They listen and repeat. We begin with very simple vocabulary and then go from there.”

The concept quickly became popular, and what began at the university as a student project caught on with volunteers at refugee integration centers both inside Finland and in other European countries. Helkiö said the method was showcased at universities in France and Norway, and that she and several of her colleagues were given a spotlight on the popular Finnish talk show Puoli seitsemän. “They were interested in our methods, so we explained to them what Toisto-Metodi is about,” she said about her TV experience. She stated that the volunteer program is ongoing and has continued to expand over the past two years.  It has received funding from outside organizations and the number of study sessions has increased due to the program’s success.

Helkiö been teaching all levels of Finnish, from beginner to intermediate.  She assists Elisa Räsänen, the new Finnish lecturer in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies.  Together, they compile materials for their courses and have been planning events for both the spring semester and the upcoming fall.  “This year, Finland is celebrating its 100th birthday, so there are going to be a lot of events happening in Finland in the fall,” Helkiö said.  “There will also be a celebration here at IU.”

Even though Helkiö’s time at IU is only for one semester, she said it has been a wonderful experience.  She said she has been excited about teaching her classes to American students and that the opportunity has been instrumental in positively contributing to both her professional and personal development. She has enjoyed the experience so much that she says she hopes to stay longer.  “I want to stay in Bloomington. Everybody here is so nice and I love the academic atmosphere,” she said. “It drives me to accomplish and try new things."