Insights into the agency, positioning and development of professional Finnish language skills of international nursing students

Aija Virtanen

Agency, Health care, International students, Positioning, Professional language skills


This article focuses on international students studying in an English-mediated nursing degree program in Finland. From sociocognitive and ecological perspectives, this study examines the development of the students’ professional Finnish language skills and agency during their practical training. In addition, this article explores how students are positioned as capable workers. To shed light on the students’ professional language skills, agency, and positionings, interviews with vocational teachers, head nurses, and two international nursing students are examined using narrative analysis. The findings suggest that due to their lack of Finnish language skills, international students are positioned differently than their local peers. Hence, they are given fewer responsibilities and fewer opportunities to perform work tasks independently. Although international students are expected to know the language needed before they start work as a nurse, neither the educational institution nor workplaces are willing to take responsibility for language skills training. Therefore, language learning seems to be students’ own responsibility. Consequently, international students may be set in unequal positions regarding their access to the labor market in Finland. Nonetheless, during their practical training, the students are positioned as active agents and scaffolded in many ways so that they can potentially exercise their agency and promote their professional language skills more independently. In this study, it was found that positionings are interconnected with the development of agency and professional Finnish language skills.

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Apples - Journal of Applied Language Studies