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Intensive language immersion in Karigasniemi

You can hear people speaking Finnish, Norwegian and the Saami language all around you. Despite their differences, the people of Karigasniemi live in perfect harmony with their three languages and cultures.

– Our friends from other towns sometimes marvel at the cacophony of languages, but we’re not bothered by it and rarely even notice it as it is so commonplace to us, says Antero Isola from Karigasniemi.

Saami children living in Karigasniemi are entitled to use the Saami language at school, but their curriculum also includes Finnish lessons. On the other hand, Finnish-speaking children have the opportunity to take courses in the Saami language, in addition to their compulsory Finnish studies. Elective courses in Norwegian are also offered in Karigasniemi, so children may start to study Norwegian as early as in comprehensive school. 

However, the intensive language immersion course of children living in Karigasniemi often begins in the cradle. Families living on opposite sides of the border have been interacting with each other for centuries. Love across the border has resulted in many marriages and there are numerous bilingual families on both sides of the border. Some people living in Karigasniemi cross the border every day to go to their day jobs on the Norwegian side and many also use the Norwegian language at work. People also cross the border for various recreational activities and events.  

The three languages complement each other in everyday situations. When having a conversation, people tend to pick a language based on their audience and the specific situation.

– I’m personally more fluent in Norwegian than in Saami, but sometimes, I need to use a specific Saami word to get my point across. And every now and then, for example, when speaking with Norwegians living in Karasjok, people might speak to me in the Saami language and I might reply in Norwegian, explains Antero with obvious amusement.

But are there ever any misunderstandings in this melting pot of languages?

– Of course, all the time! laughs Antero. – I find it both amusing and enriching. Norwegians will always ask more questions if they don’t quite catch your meaning. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get every word right.

Despite this linguistic diversity, everyone in Karigasniemi identifies with their own culture. According to Antero, the Saami people embrace and cherish their rich cultural heritage, regardless of national borders. The Northern Saami language is a language which is shared by Finns and Norwegians. Antero considers himself to be Finnish, although he lives at the meeting point of three languages and cultures.

– It makes you want to question the meaning of ”border”, doesn’t it. Up here, it is a fuzzy concept at best, muses Antero.