The relationship between background factors and non-native children’s proficiency test results in formal Finnish

Mia Halonen

Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä, Finland Research Institute for the Languages of Finland, Finland


In my presentation I will discuss how background factors might explain details of non-native children’s proficiency suggested by a proficiency test. I will focus on different types of factors, like the mother tongue, the time lived in Finland, school grades and certain culture-specific phenomena, e.g. a high appreciation of oral language skills in Somali culture. The study is part of a project “The roles of the first and second language to achieve bilingualism in Finnish elementary schools”, funded by the Academy of Finland. We are currently investigating the children’s proficiency in formal, mainly written Finnish and the relationship between the test results and the background information.

The data of the study consist of language proficiency tests of 61 approximately 12 years old pupils in the 6th grade from 4 Finnish elementary schools. The test used in the study is called Kike, “Kielellisen kehityksen diagnosoiva tehtäväsarja”, which could be paraphrased as ‘Series of exercises for diagnosing language proficiency’. It was published in 2005 by the Finnish National Board of Education. It consists of six parts: grammar, vocabulary, comprehension, reading, writing and speaking. The test is accommodated to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, and it contains tests for levels A1, A2 and B1. The guidelines for the National core curriculum for basic education state that non-native Finnish speakers at the 6th grade should be approximately on level A2.

The background of the informants varies much regarding e.g. the country they come from, the mother tongue and the reason for the immigration. The diversity reflects the character of immigrant situation in Finland more generally; the immigrant population in Finland is still small, in 2006 approximately 150 000 (the total population being a little over 5 million). The three biggest groups quantified by mother tongue are Russians (40 000), Estonians (15 000) and Somali speakers (9000). In my data most of the informants are Russian and Somali speaking. They are often second generation immigrants, born in Finland. The rest are speakers of many different languages: Estonian, Kurdish, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Portuguese, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese, Ibo or English. These children were more often born outside of Finland.

As a macro-level analysis, I will first present the quantitative test results of the entire group of the pupils studied. I will then move to the micro-level analysis of the results of individuals and show how the profiles of the pupils differ from each other. The pupils with the same over-all quantitative proficiency level may differ from each other when a specific area of language is looked into. For example, especially some Somali speaking informants showed extremely high proficiency in listening comprehension as compared to the other areas and to the average proficiency of the non-natives. I will discuss phenomena such as this in the light of the knowledge we have of the background of the children.

Session: Paper session
Bilingual Education 2
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 08