Use of beginners' books in second foreign language teaching

Dear exchange student,

The language centre of the University of Lapland offers a wide selection of beginners courses in so called second foreign languages or less-taught languages, including German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and Russian. All these courses very much welcome international participants. Most advanced level courses use no books at all, but material produced by the teacher. However, in some of the languages in question, beginners’ books will be in Finnish. Understandably, this has raised questions with our international guests, so I would like to point out a few aspects to consider:

1. For logistical reasons, the only bookstore selling learners’ books in Rovaniemi (Suomalainen Kirjakauppa, at the Revontuli shopping centre) cannot stock books they would have to order abroad. Because of this, we can only use books published in Finland.

2. An alternative would seem to be that each participant order their own book online. Unfortunately, course registration cannot end until a few days before the start of the course. Also, we usually have a number of participants joining the courses at very short notice, even after registration has ended. With delivery time ranging from one to two weeks at the best of times, a large number of participants would not receive their book until the course was well on its way.

3. Above all, though, it should be noted, that learners’ books inevitably target a certain nationality, since the difficulties in learning any one language depend on the learners’ mother tongue and lingual background. This means that even a book ordered abroad is unlikely to target learners of your exact background. With over ninety percent of our students being Finns, we feel it makes sense to use books putting emphasis on their particular needs.

However, none of this should bother you unduly!

We would like you to keep in mind that the biggest part of text in any learners’ book will be made up of obvious instructions, such as “fill in the correct forms” and etc. Also, tables of flexion forms and the like are usually self evident, even without explaining any text. All our teachers will explain Grammar in their own words, and anyone serious about learning a foreign language should buy their own dictionary, anyway. So the biggest part of the books’ text in Finnish will be redundant in any case.

If you decide to participate in a beginners’ course (and we would very much like you to!), simply inform your teacher that you will not be able to follow instructions given in Finnish. They will then pair you up with one or two Finnish participants for the duration of the course. This will both help you deal with the book, and further your social integration at the university.

We hope you enjoy your language studies,

Jörn Severidt
German teacher and contact teacher for second foreign language teaching