Finnish and Swedish

Linguistic rights are based on section 17 of the Constitution. The Language Act contains more detailed provisions on the linguistic rights laid down in the Constitution, and it applies to the Finnish and Swedish languages. Everyone has the right to use Finnish or Swedish before a state authority and an authority of a bilingual municipality. Similarly, a bilingual authority must serve the public both in Finnish and in Swedish and provide information in both of these languages. Citizens of other countries have the same rights as Finnish citizens to use Finnish or Swedish before the authorities. In addition to the acts mentioned above, for example the Act on the Status and Rights of Patients and the Criminal Investigation Act contain provisions governing the linguistic rights.

The main principle is, however, that the authorities are not obliged to use any other language than Finnish or Swedish. Instead, the authority may be obliged to arrange interpretation into a language that the client understands. The client does not, with the exception of Finnish, Swedish and the Saami languages, have a subjective right to use his or her own language before an authority, but the rights are limited to the use of a language that the client understands. The Language Act does not apply to Åland; the provisions concerning language affairs there are laid down in the Act on the Autonomy of Åland.

All authorities are obliged to ensure that they comply with the Language Act in their activities. If you experience that an authority has acted in breach of the obligations laid down in the Language Act, you should first contact the authority in question. The Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Chancellor of Justice are the supreme overseers of legality. If you have experienced or witnessed language-based discrimination, you may contact the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman. Depending on the matter, you may also contact the municipal social services ombudsman, the patient ombudsman of a health care unit, a regional state administrative agency or a higher-level agency, such as the relevant ministry, if you perceive shortcomings in the language use within service provision.

The Act on Knowledge of Languages Required of Personnel in Public Bodies, which is closely connected to the Language Act, applies to both government and municipal employees. Under the Act, authorities are responsible for maintaining the practical language skills of their employees, for example through training. In the recruitment of new personnel, attention should be paid to the actual language skills required in the job. Language proficiency requirements may be set for government officials only by an act or a decree. Local authorities and joint municipal authorities decide on the language proficiency requirements set for their personnel themselves. The Finnish National Agency for Education is responsible for the language proficiency tests and the National Certificates of Language Proficiency.  

Monitoring

The Unit for Democracy, Language Affairs and Fundamental Rights at the Ministry of Justice monitors the enforcement and application of the language legislation and issues recommendations in questions related to the legislation concerning the national languages.

The Strategy for the National Languages of Finland expresses the Government’s desire to preserve two viable national languages, Finnish and Swedish, far into the future and introduces concrete measures that need to be taken to achieve this objective.

Every four years, the Government submits to Parliament a report describing how the authorities have applied the language legislation. The report is intended mainly for decision-makers and authorities, but it contains useful information also for citizens. The Ministry of Justice prepares the Government report, which deals with, for example, advancements and shortcomings in matters related to linguistic rights.

More information

Senior Adviser for Language Affairs Corinna Tammenmaa, tel. +358 2951 50181, firstname.lastname(at)om.fi

Senior Officer Vava Lunabba, tel. +358 2951 50136, firstname.lastname(at)om.fi

Senior Officer Maria Soininen, tel. +358 2951 50067, firstname.lastname(at)om.fi