Internationalisation in organisations

2. Multilingualism in organisations

Multilingualism refers to proficiency in more than one language. In student organisations, this might mean using English or other languages in the activities in addition to Finnish and/or Swedish. Multilingualism does not meant that you have to have a perfect command of foreign languages. In practice, many of us already are multilingual as almost everyone has some level of proficiency in other languages than just their native language.


The University, society and labour market have already long been moving towards an increasingly international future, and this can also be seen in student communities. The number of international students and thus the need for multilingualism will continue to increase in the future, too. International students also enrich organisational activities, and it is important to provide them, too, with opportunities to participate in organisational activities.


Multilingualism may seem complex and demanding, and you might think that it is too much of a hassle to take international students into account. However, you should have a flexible attitude towards multilingualism: You do not need to change entirely into English, for instance. Instead, the goal is to enable parallel language use and to make it possible for people who speak different languages to take part in the activities. The key thing is for people to be able to communicate in a language that suits them and for them to be understood. Everyone does not need to speak all languages – the people involved in your organisation can support and help one another according to their own language proficiency.


How can organisations start promoting multilingual activities?


  1. Establish your organisation’s starting point. What language or languages do you use right now? What languages would you like to use?
  2. Apply the steps toward language awareness in the workplace of the Language boost project. The steps will help you reflect on your organisation’s multilingualism and ways to promote it in small steps.
  3. Take the demands on your resources into account. Multilingualism takes time and requires you to develop your operating methods. For this reason, we do not recommend forcing the change. Instead, you should try out different things and discuss what works for your organisation and what your resources allow.
  4. Be flexible and avoid perfectionism. You may have different needs in different situations. You cannot and need not do everything perfectly.
  5. Let people work on their language skills. Your members may want to improve their language skills. Do not automatically change to English if someone does not speak fluent Finnish. Instead, ask them which language they want to use in the conversation. Do not correct another person’s English unless they have asked you to do so.