Woman works to keep Finnish language alive in Negaunee

The classes are back for the first time since the pandemic started.
Published: Feb. 5, 2023 at 4:46 PM EST
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NEGAUNEE, Mich. (WLUC) - After regular school hours, in Room 200 at Negaunee High School, Tanja Stanaway has been teaching Finnish for more than 40 years. Stanaway was born in Finland and moved to Upper Michigan in 1972.

“I decided that if there are any Finnish people here perhaps I could help them a little bit and see what’s going on with the language, I started teaching in 1979 in the Negaunee old high school which is now the new high school,” Stanaway said.

From the start the interest was so high, Stanaway had to split the class in half. She now teaches twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays.

“The interest is really great, people like to learn, there are so many other Finnish people around but they don’t really have the knowledge to speak it so they like to find out if there’s anybody who can show how to say Finnish because the language is rather difficult,” Stanaway continued.

Students of all ages and backgrounds say they enjoy learning the language and culture of Finland.

Many students started taking the class because of family ties.

“I’m a first-generation Finnish person, my mom and dad were both born in Finland so Finnish was my first language but I don’t have many people to speak it with anymore so that’s why I come to this class, we’ve had some wonderful students, we got good recipes from them and we had a lot of fun with them,” said Elaine Ault, a Finnish student.

The class also includes some singing, cultural discussions and sharing of Finnish foods. Students stay it helps them keep up with the changes in the language too.

“The language has changed, they didn’t have computers, they didn’t have cell phones, they didn’t have the technology back then like we have now so there’s a whole other vocabulary there that comes with that,” Ault added.

Classes were paused during the pandemic, but they’re back now and Stanaway says she plans to continue teaching.

“As long as I have students I’m going to do it, even if I’m 90 years old maybe I’m here with a walking cane or something and some students come in with their walking canes and they still want to learn some more Finnish,” Stanaway said.

The Finnish classes are put on by the Ishpeming-Negaunee-NICE Community Education Program.