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Author Rosa Meriläinen, original Lukutaito vahvistaa demokratiaa (rosamerilainen.fi)

Finns are a literary nation. As many as 82 per cent of Finns say they like to read books or listen to audiobooks. But apparently life just gets in the way, as almost a third of Finnish adults do not read even one book a year. One in six fourth-graders say they never see their parent reading a book.

Hymyilevä Rosa

Photo: Joel Karppanen

DEMOCRACY REQUIRES LITERACY

There is a link between reading and literacy. There are consequences for  European civilisation if reading continues to fall and the number of illiterate people increases. Many adults need plain language to understand what is at stake. But plain language is not enough. Solid, practical  literacy is also needed. It is difficult to participate in social debate and decision-making if you do not read newspapers or understand what you read.

LITERATURE AND CULTURE CREATE ENCOUNTERS

Solid literacy based on frequent reading is the best guarantee against hate speech, fake news and other kinds of nonsense. Promoting European literature and culture strengthens democracy by creating understanding, empathy, encounters and enlightened reasoning.

Now we are celebrating Reading Week, the theme of which is encounters. Art with words originates from the same need and desire as all other arts: a person’s desire to be seen and heard, to express themselves, their inner feelings and views of the world. Encountering the word art of others means entering their world. An encounter requires willingness and the ability to understand the other.

LITERACY GIVES YOUNG PEOPLE INDEPENDENCE

One in five Finnish young people already read poorly. However, many young people wish that there would be more reading in their everyday lives. Studies have shown that effective ways of promoting reading among young people have been developed both in Finland and elsewhere in Europe. Of course, they require funding. Literacy is an important European policy theme, as broad general education will be our future strength. This can only be done if everyone reads.

According to the Finnish Reading Centre Lukukeskus, literacy affects young people’s opportunities to influence and is therefore important for maintaining a democratic society. Without literacy and the ability to distinguish between falsehood and truth, we are vulnerable to the influence of mis-information from all over the world.

MULTILINGUALISM IS NOT EXCLUDED FROM THE FINNISH LANGUAGE

Whatever country a person lives in, strong knowledge of one’s mother tongue is the basis for all other learning. The children of immigrants must be guaranteed the opportunity to learn their mother tongue fluently. Other language skills are built on top of it.

I recommend everyone to learn languages throughout their life. Finnish, Swedish and English alone are not sufficient language skills, as each language opens up an entire culture and world. I would like all of us in Europe to have more healthy curiosity and a desire to learn about new languages and cultures. My hobby is translating contemporary Finnish poetry into Arabic. It feels divinely important: it is building a connection.