The two main official languages of Finland are Finnish and Swedish. There are also several official minority languages: three variants of Sami, Romani, Finnish Sign Language and Karelian.


Municipalities of Finland:
  unilingually Finnish
  bilingual with Finnish as majority language, Swedish as minority language
  bilingual with Swedish as majority language, Finnish as minority language
  unilingually Swedish
  bilingual with Finnish as majority language, Sami as minority language

Finnish is the language of the majority, 91%[1] of the population. It is a Finnic language closely related to Estonian and less closely to the Sami languages. The Finnic languages belong to the Uralic language family, so Finnish is distantly related to languages as diverse as Hungarian (a Ugric language) and Nenets (a Samoyedic language) in Siberia.


Swedish is the main language of 5.5% of the population[1] (92.4% in the Åland autonomous province), down from 14% at the beginning of the 20th century. In 2012, 44% of Finnish citizens with another registered primary language than Swedish could hold a conversation in this language.[2] Swedish is a North Germanic language, closely related to Norwegian and Danish. As a subbranch of Indo-European, it is also closely related to other Germanic languages such as German, Dutch, and English.

Swedish was the language of the administration until the late 19th century. Today it is one of the two main official languages, with a position equal to Finnish in most legislation, though the working language in most governmental bodies is Finnish. Both Finnish and Swedish are compulsory subjects in school with an exception for children with a third language as their native language. A successfully completed language test is a prerequisite for governmental offices where a university degree is required.

The four largest Swedish-speaking communities in Finland, in absolute numbers, are those of Helsinki, Espoo, Porvoo and Vaasa, where they constitute significant minorities. Helsinki, the capital, had a Swedish-speaking majority until late in the 19th century. Currently 6.1% of the population of Helsinki are Swedish-speaking and 9.6% speaks languages other than Finnish and Swedish.[3]

The Swedish dialects spoken in Finland mainland are known as Finland-Swedish. There is a rich Finland-Swedish literature, including authors such as Tove Jansson, Johan Ludvig Runeberg, Edith Södergran and Zacharias Topelius. Runeberg is considered Finland's national poet and wrote the national anthem, "Vårt land", which was only later translated to Finnish.

Sami languages

The Sami languages are a group of related languages spoken across Lapland. They are distantly related to Finnish. The three Sami languages spoken in Finland, Northern Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami, have a combined native speaker population of roughly 1,800.[1]


Up to World War II, Karelian was spoken in the historical Border-Karelian region on the northern shore of Lake Ladoga. After the war, immigrant Karelians were settled all over Finland. In 2001 the Karelian Language Society estimated that the language is understood by 11,000–12,000 people in Finland, most of whom are elderly. A more recent estimate is that the size of the language community is 30,000. [4]

Karelian was recognized in a regulation by the President in November 2009, in accordance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.[5]


Although the older generations tend to know Russian as a third or fourth language in Finland due to previous Soviet influence over Europe, in the last decade or two Russian language is being replaced by English language, especially among the younger generations. Finland is placed among the top four countries in the world in terms of fluency of English.[6]

The Russian language is the third most spoken native language in Finland (1%)[7] The Russian language has no official status in Finland, though historically it served as the third co-official language with Finnish and Swedish for a relatively brief period between 1900 and 1917.

Territorial bilingualism

All municipalities outside Åland where both official languages are spoken by either at least 8% of the population or at least 3,000 people are considered bilingual. Swedish reaches these criteria in 59 out of 336 municipalities located in Åland (where this does not matter) and the coastal areas of Ostrobothnia region, Southwest Finland (especially in Åboland outside Turku) and Uusimaa.< Outside these areas there are some towns with significant Swedish-speaking minorities not reaching the criteria. Thus the inland is officially unilingually Finnish-speaking. Finnish reaches the criteria everywhere but in Åland and in three municipalities in the Ostrobothnia region, which is also the only region on the Finnish mainland with a Swedish-speaking majority (52% to 46%).

The Sami languages have an official status in the northernmost Finland, in Utsjoki, Inari, Enontekiö and part of Sodankylä, regardless of proportion of speakers.

In the bilingual municipalities signs are in both languages, important documents are translated and authorities have to be able to serve in both languages. Authorities of the central administration have to serve the public in both official languages, regardless of location, and in Sami in certain circumstances.

Places often have different names in Finnish and in Swedish, both names being equally official as name of the town. For a list, see Names of places in Finland in Finnish and in Swedish.


Knowledge of foreign languages and Swedish as second language in Finland, in percent of the adult population, 2005.
Knowledge of the English language in Finland, 2005. According to the Eurobarometer [1]: 63% of the respondents indicated that they know English well enough to have a conversation. Of these 23% (per cent, not percentage points) reported a very good knowledge of the language whereas 34% had a good knowledge and 43% basic English skills.
Proportions of main languages in Finland 2007.
Number of speakers of the largest unofficial languages in Finland, 2007.
Residents of Finland by native language (2016)[8]
Language No. of speakers (>5,000) Percentage
Finnish 4,857,795 88.27%
Swedish 289,540 5.26%
Russian 75,444 1.37%
Estonian 49,241 0.89%
Arabic 21,783 0.40%
Somali 19,059 0.35%
English 18,758 0.34%
Kurdish 12,226 0.22%
Chinese 11,334 0.21%
Persian 10,882 0.20%
Albanian 9,791 0.18%
Vietnamese 9,248 0.17%
Thai 9,047 0.16%
Spanish 7,449 0.14%
Turkish 7,403 0.13%
German 6,256 0.11%
Polish 5,081 0.09%
Sami 1,969 0.04%
Other 80,991 1.47%

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Population according to language and the number of foreigners and land area km2 by area". Statistics Finland's PX-Web databases. Helsinki: Statistics Finland. 2008-12-31. Retrieved 21 June 2009. [permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Europeans and their languages, situationen 2012 Archived 2016-01-06 at the Wayback Machine., p. 21
  3. ^ "Population according to language and the number of foreigners and land area km2 by area as of 31 December 2008". Statistics Finland's PX-Web databases. Statistics Finland. Retrieved 29 March 2009. 
  4. ^ Burtsoff, Ari. "Karjalaa osaavien yhteisö on suuri". Ksml.fi. Retrieved 23 August 2017. 
  5. ^ Change in the regulation by the president of Finland about European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, 68/2009 27.11.2009 (in Finnish)
  6. ^ "Finland Places Among the Top Four English-Speaking Countries in the World - Finland Today". Finlandtoday.fi. 17 April 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2017. 
  7. ^ "National Survey on the English Language in Finland : Uses, meanings and attitudes" (PDF). Helsinki.fi. Retrieved 2017-08-23. 
  8. ^ "010 -- Language according to age and sex by region in 1990 to 2016". Stat.fi: Statistics – Population structure. Statistics Finland. 2016. Retrieved 7 December 2017. 

External links

Media related to Languages of Finland at Wikimedia Commons