Sign language as a mother tongue

Sign language can also be taught remotely (Learning and consulting center Onerva)

Generally the term mother tongue is used to refer to the first language a child learns. It isn’t always necessarily “the language used by the mother” but can be some other language learnt from the environment. This is the reason why it is also referred to as the first language. A child can learn several languages simultaneously, which is referred to as bilingualism or multilingualism. There might be differences between how well these languages are mastered, and one of the languages may be more developed than the others. It is important to notice that with multilingualism, concerning both spoken and signed languages, the language use may change depending on the life situation and the situation where the language is used.

When a child’s mother tongue is a sign language, it is important that he or she is allowed to use this language and receives education in his or her own language. Below is a listing of National Administration guidelines about sign language as a mother tongue.

Sign language in the population register

If the language primarily used by the child is sign language, it can also be notified to the population register as the mother tongue.

When recording the child’s first name, information about the mother tongue is added into the population register. It is possible to change this information later by notifying the Local Register Office or using an ID card and online banking access codes in the Population Register Centre’s Check Your Registered Data! service. (Population Register Centre)

Mother tongue can be easily changed using the same form that was used to make the initial notification, and there is no need to explain the decision, but it does require consent from both parents.

According to the Local Register Office there are only a few dozen people in Finland who use the Finnish or some other sign language as their mother tongue. It would make the promotion of interests easier if sign languages were more visible in the Local Register Office information, so all families where both parents are deaf, or at least one parent uses sign language, should consider which language to report as the child’s mother tongue. The language used during official visits does not need to be the mother tongue.

Sign language in the curriculum

”A person who uses sign language is deaf, hard of hearing, or a student with normal hearing who uses the Finnish sign language as the mother tongue. He or she has learned sign language as the first language, and is the language of which he has the best command, or which he uses the most in everyday life. When teaching students who use sign language, the general pedagogical and learning objectives are followed and applied to the sign language culture. The language of instruction is the Finnish sign language. Alongside it, Finnish or Swedish is used in teaching as the language for reading or writing.”

Learn more >> The basics of the comprehensive school curriculum 2004, p. 33

Sign language as a mother tongue -instruction

”The syllabus of sign language as a mother tongue follows the structure, objectives and content of Finnish as a mother tongue syllabus for the applicable parts. The overall objective of sign language as a mother tongue instruction is to strengthen the student’s identity and self-image as a sign language user and a member of the sign language community in an environment that uses spoken languages. The objective is that he or she will develop the readiness for bilingualism or multilingualism and the ability to encounter the cultures of other communities. A good command of sign language is the foundation on which are built the study of Finnish, of other spoken languages, and versatile communication and learning skills.”

Learn more >> The basics of the comprehensive school curriculum 2004, p.87

Interpretation services

”A student in the comprehensive school or upper secondary school shall have the opportunity to study sign language as a mother tongue. The pupil and the student are entitled to interpretation services if the language of instruction is other than sign language. In such cases the municipal educational administration will pay for the interpretation services instead of Kela. Kela is only responsible for interpretation during visits.”

Learn more >> The rights of people using sign language in the instruction of the mother tongue

Finnish as a second language – in the matriculation examination

”The test in the mother tongue can be a test based on the Finnish or Swedish as second language if the candidate’s own mother tongue is not Finnish, Swedish, or Sami, or if the candidate uses sign language as mother tongue or first language. As a result also those who were born deaf or became deaf early on can replace the mandatory mother tongue test with Finnish or Swedish as second language test. The matriculation examination is completed either in Finnish or Swedish. (L 672/2005, 1 §)

The candidate must complete all the tests involved within the degree using the same language. It is not necessary to apply to the Matriculation Examination Board for the right to participate in the Finnish as second language test. Once the registration information has arrived from the upper secondary schools, the board will check the candidate’s participation right (mother tongue) from the population register. If the population register reports mother tongue as Finnish, but the actual mother tongue is some other language, the candidate, a guardian or the upper secondary school principal can send an explanatory report or an application to take the matter into consideration.”