Languages of Finland

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Languages of Finland
OfficialFinnish (1st: 87%, 2nd: 13%)
Swedish (1st: 5%, 2nd: 44%)
Minorityofficially recognized: Sami, Romani, Finnish Sign Language, Karelian
ImmigrantRussian, Estonian, Arabic, Somali, Kurdish, Albanian, Persian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Turkish, Spanish
ForeignEnglish (70%)
German (30%)
French (10%)[1]
SignedFinnish Sign Language, Finland-Swedish Sign Language
Keyboard layout
Basic Finnish/Swedish
KB Sweden.svg
Finnish Multilingual
KB Finnish Multilingual.svg
Source[1] (

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, 86.9% of the population in 2020.[2] 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 (an Ugric language) and Nenets (a Samoyedic language) in Siberia.


Swedish is the main language of 5.2% of the population in 2020[2] (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.[3] 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 5.9%[4] of the population of Helsinki are native Swedish speakers and 15% are native speakers of languages other than Finnish and Swedish.[5]

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.


The English language is spoken by most Finns. Official statistics in 2012 show that at least 70% of Finnish people can speak English.[6]

In 2021, Juhana Vartiainen, the mayor of Helsinki, proposed declaring Helsinki an English-speaking city.[7]

Sami languages[edit]

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 2,004 in 2019.[2]


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 there are 5000 first language speakers in Finland but the size of the language community is 30,000.[8]

Karelian was recognized in a regulation by the President in November 2009, in accordance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.[9] This is the Karelian language which has several dialects, and not a Karelian dialect of the Finnish language.


The Russian language is the third most spoken native language in Finland (1.5%).[2] 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[edit]

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,[10] 63% of the respondents indicated that they know English well enough to have a conversation. Of these 23% (percent, 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

93% of Finns aged 18–64 can speak a foreign language, and 78% can speak two or more. 2,184,000 or 66% can speak both Swedish and English, while 1,003,000 (30%) can speak German and English and 882,000 (27%) Swedish and German.[11]

Residents of Finland by native language (2020)[12]
Language No. of speakers (>5,000) Percentage
Finnish 4,811,067 86.94%
Swedish 287,871 5.20%
Russian 84,190 1.52%
Estonian 49,551 0.90%
Arabic 34,282 0.62%
English 23,433 0.42%
Somali 22,794 0.41%
Kurdish 15,368 0.28%
Persian 15,105 0.27%
Chinese 13,778 0.25%
Albanian 12,664 0.23%
Vietnamese 11,562 0.21%
Thai 10,553 0.19%
Turkish 9,492 0.17%
Spanish 9,151 0.17%
German 6,841 0.12%
Ukrainian 5,961 0.11%
Polish 5,695 0.10%
Romanian 5,680 0.10%
Tagalog 5,315 0.10%
Sami 2,008 0.04%
Other 83,477 1.51%
Residents of Finland by language family (2019)[13]
Family No. of speakers Percentage
Finno-Ugric 4,877,161 88.27%
Germanic 320,016 5.79%
Slavic 102,161 1.85%
Afroasiatic 57,844 1.05%
Indo-Iranian 47,804 0.87%
Romance 24,802 0.45%
Sino-Tibetan 13,760 0.25%
Turkic 11,651 0.21%
Austroasiatic 11,459 0.21%
Tai 10,243 0.19%
Niger-Congo 8,841 0.16%
Austronesian 5,678 0.10%
Dravidian 4,036 0.07%
Baltic 3,884 0.07%
Greek, Latin 1,716 0.03%
Japonic 1,617 0.03%
Caucasian 932 0.02%
Other Indo-European 12,141 0.22%
Other Asian 958 0.02%
Other 8,588 0.16%
Residents of Finland by second language (mixed results)
Language Percentage
Finnish 97.45%[14]
English 70%[6]
Swedish 34.11[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ La langue française dans le monde 2014 (PDF) (in French). Nathan. 2014. pp. 13–19. ISBN 978-2-09-882654-0. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 April 2015. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "Väestö". Statistics – Population structure. Statistics Finland. 2020. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  3. ^ Europeans and their languages, situationen 2012 Archived 2016-01-06 at the Wayback Machine, p. 21
  4. ^ "Helsinki Population 2021 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs)". Retrieved 2021-06-20.
  5. ^ "Decrease in the number of persons speaking national languages as their native language accelerated". Retrieved 15 December 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Europeans and their languages". Special Eurobarometer 386. June 2012. p. 21. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  7. ^ "Helsinki Mayor: English could be the capital's language | News | Yle Uutiset".
  8. ^ "Etusivu Kielitieto Kielet Karjala".
  9. ^ Change in the regulation by the president of Finland about European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, 68/2009 27.11.2009 (in Finnish)
  10. ^ "Eurobarometer". Retrieved 2021-06-20.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Befolkning 31.12. efter Område, Språk, Kön, År och Uppgifter". Tilastokeskuksen PX-Web tietokannat (in Swedish). Retrieved 2021-06-20.
  13. ^ "Väestö 31.12. muuttujina Maakunta, Kieli, Ikä, Sukupuoli, Vuosi ja Tiedot". Tilastokeskuksen PX-Web tietokannat (in Finnish). Retrieved 2021-06-20.
  14. ^ a b "Most popular languages in Finland · Explore which languages are spoken in Finland". Retrieved 2021-06-20.

External links[edit]

Media related to Languages of Finland at Wikimedia Commons