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Sirpa Seppälä

Sirpa Kristiina Seppälä
Born April 3, 1962, Helsinki

Bachelor of Arts, 1996 (Western and Southern Slavic Languages and Cultures), University of Helsinki
Travel guide foundation course 1994, Käpylä Night School
Conference interpretation trainer course 2004, University of Helsinki Centre for Continuing Education, European Commission interpretation service SCIC.

Several short interpretation courses organised by various organisations
Several courses for travel industry professionals organised by various organisations in Finland and the Czech Republic

Language industry entrepreneur 2004– Sirpukka
Worked as a freelancer in different positions in the language industry 1990–2004

Board member of Helsinki Tourist Guides 1995–1996
Board member of the Finn-Czech Society 2004–2014
Member of the MaPa project

Photo: Kimmo Eskola
Written by Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta
Translated by
Matthew Billington

“Language is the Key to a Culture”

Sirpa Seppälä began studying Theatre Research at the University of Helsinki in 1982. As her minor she chose speech science. After three years of studies she was forced to conclude that Theatre Research studies were too theoretical for her. Theatre—acting, writing and directing—was already an important hobby for Seppälä, and she did not want it to be spoiled by such a “stony-faced” approach.

– Making the move from Theatre Research to Languages has to be one of the best decisions of my life. It allowed me to make a profession out of the skills that came most naturally to me, and I could retain the theatre as a pleasant hobby. Speech Sciences in turn have been an asset to me all through my career. Elocution, speech therapy, voice control and other aspects related to speaking and oral communication are present in my work on a daily basis. Language students would be wise to pay attention to these things in general when planning their studies.

While considering the direction her studies should take, Seppälä realised that languages were the practical choice. It helped that she had always been good with languages.

– Language is the key to a culture. This idea reflects my relationship with languages. It has also played a large role in my studies. I remember thinking that studying languages was useful even if I never used them in my work.

It was, however, a complete coincidence that Seppälä began studying Slavic Philology.

– I wanted to study languages with few speakers in Finland. My other consideration was that I wanted to study languages that would not lead to a career as a teacher. Therefore, I chose to ignore the languages taught in schools.

When Seppälä shared her thoughts on changing her major with her parents, to her surprise she received some excellent advice from her father.

– My engineer father, who would at times playfully boast that he did not dabble in culture, said something I would not have expected. He advised me to study the Czech language: ‘Think of Czech literature, films and theatre, and think of the rich cultural history of Prague. I feel like that would be your thing‘.

Slavic Philology then became her major. Her studies included one Western Slavic language, Czech, and one Southern, Bulgarian. In addition, Seppälä studied Polish, Slovak, German and Dutch. Her impressive bachelor’s degree also contained her earlier studies in Theatre Research and basic studies in Speech Sciences.

– In Slavic Philology study normally occurred in small groups. It was also a pleasure to have native speakers as our teachers, because in those days the lecturers were sent by their own countries to teach here. It quickly became evident to me that languages truly were my thing. They also allowed me to enjoy my cultural hobbies in a new way.

Seppälä describes her studies as long and varied. On top of her course work, she found the time to serve as a tutor for the students of her own subject, as well as for exchange students, as a board member of three student organisations, and as a student member of departmental and faculty councils. She financed her studies through student loans, as was the custom, although she also held a job. Then came the moment when the loans had to be paid back. At the same time, in the early 1990s, there was a change in the situation in Eastern Europe, and Seppälä’s language skills came to be in demand. Work carried her away, and her master’s degree was left unfinished.

Seppälä has often thought about continuing her studies and has even tried to come back to finish her degree. As an entrepreneur it has, however, proved too difficult to take off enough time.

– In all honesty I do not know what will happen with my master’s degree. I have done well in life with just my bachelor’s degree.

Life in a student dormitory in Prague in 1991.


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