Haaga-Helia's Ohinen-Salvén aims to change the way of language teaching to a more diverse and meaningful
Haaga-Helia's Swedish lecturer Maarit Ohinen-Salvén is much liked among the students despite the reputation of the language she teaches. In her lectures, the language is learned in a multidisciplinary way through textbooks, television series, and even Swedish pop music.
Swedish language teacher at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Maarit Ohinen-Salvén, has a busy spring behind her. Last autumn, she was selected to a national expert team of language and communication teachers, whose task is to develop and promote the teaching of languages and communication in Finland.
According to Ohinen-Salvén, the expert team is also about the legal protection of the students. The team's task is to ensure nationwide that every student has equal opportunities to learn languages and achieve a certain level of competence in them.
— Our task is to ensure that there is enough diversity in language teaching and that the teaching meets Finnish standards. Students living in different parts of Finland should have the same chances of learning languages and also identical level in languages.
Ohinen-Salvén is also responsible for coordinating Haaga-Helia's contribution to the language package provided for the international Ulysseus European Univesity. The massive language package includes a total of 36 language courses in up to ten different languages
Despite her busy schedule, Ohinen-Salvén still has time to teach Swedish at Haaga-Helia, and, above all, develop her own lectures and ways of teaching.
Language skills in working life require genre awareness
According to Ohinen-Salvén, a deeper understanding of languages is a common topic of discussion among teachers. Many believe that language skills alone are no longer enough, but that the cultural nuances associated with language must also be recognized.
— The basics are rarely enough, but the understanding of the culture where the language is coming from and also the life it represents are an equal part of learning a new language.
Ohinen-Salvén often compares the development of language skills to building a house. To build professional and work-related language skills, the foundations must be good enough, because the language skills of working life are changing from formal to more functional.
— In that sense, learning a language also requires a certain degree of interdisciplinarity in teaching. One must be able to communicate in working life also with people from other fields, which requires a very special type of genre awareness.
With this, the much-liked teacher means learning through interaction and the culture language represents. During her lectures, she tends to use textbooks, various mobile applications, pop music, and even entertainment from the Swedish television in teaching.
The teacher and the student have a common goal
According to Ohinen-Salvén, learning a language starts by creating a safe learning atmosphere. Especially in the dreaded Swedish language, the level of language skills of the students can vary a lot, which must be taken into account while planning the lectures.
— I try to emphasize in my lectures that I'm not there to demand or judge but to support. In my opinion, it’s very important that the students understand that we have the same goal. I also want them to succeed.
Self-confidence is important in learning a new language. Some of the students might have near-perfect knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, but still, they don’t trust themselves enough to speak the language. At the same time, some others might only know the basics, but they are confident enough to talk and learn through talking.
— It requires skills and experience to identify the students who are hesitant and need more encouragement in learning. In my opinion, many students overthink it because they are afraid of failing or embarrassing themselves. But there are no failures or embarrassments in languages. Only learning.
Typically, Haaga-Helia's Swedish classes have students from very different backgrounds. Some have graduated from high school just months before, while the others may have taken only one compulsory course of Swedish during their time in a vocational school.
Ohinen-Salvén organizes a level test for the students at the beginning of every course. The purpose of the test is to find out the level of Swedish for each student. The results will determine their individual pace of learning, but also the group they are learning with. A preparatory course is required for those who have failed the test.