Your sweet challenge: Finnish language

by Josef Pacal, degree student in Media

A girl standing in front of a round table and a boy sitting at the table - looking each others

Petra and Sören having roles in a small drama “Ravintolassa – In a restaurant”

Learning something new is always beautiful, especially if it’s a new language. The ability to lose something one takes for granted and still being able to communicate is amazing. It’s great that you’ve come to learning Finnish as your next language. It is wonderful, very strange and strangely poetic. Next few months will keep teasing you with challenges specific to this language and it is totally up to you on how to approach them.

Finland has one great feature — everybody speaks English. This releases a great deal of pressure from you, and you can tackle the course without stressing about your survival. Nonetheless it may tempt you not to care about it, which would be pity.

I would like to share some notes and tips on how to approach this course and how to overcome the distractions it may pose.

Don’t expect to write poetry in a year (or actually, do so)

Firstly you may find the course almost frustratingly demanding, you won’t understand a thing, you will be getting lost, you will regret ever thinking about coming here. One lesson a week is not much and it will show on your progress. Some of you may be more talented, but in my case it was sometimes resembling banging my head on the floor till my ears were falling off. However, something kept me going, and in further time of the course my understanding became stronger.

I would encourage you to ponder the more poetic parts of the language. For example the fact that people can make words up and others will most likely get them. Or the fact that you will learn to recognize much smaller nuances in sounds that what you might be used to. And yes a small change in spelling, makes a huge difference in the meaning.

Don’t question how it works

Well do, but don’t get too hung at trying to apply logic of English or your language onto Finnish. My suggestion would be to think more intuitively and playfully when trying the language out. It is one large mind boggling tongue-twister, and turning your brain off might help you forget what you take for granted. Be a child here.

Don’t worry about being wrong

You will make mistakes, don’t make a big deal of them. One friend once told me, that it doesn’t matter whether I use all the genitive, partitive, whatever endings, or not; whether I use the correct wrong order or not; he will understand anyway. One really interesting feature of Finnish as inflectional language is that it glues meanings to words, rather than word order. And so both ‘oletko naimisissa’ and ‘naimisissa oletko’ convey the same meaning, despite their grammatical correctness. In English ‘are you married’ is clearly different from ‘married you are’.

Don’t be shy to talk

Please do talk to people, a lot. This will help you carve the fresh brain matter into

a perfect and more importantly correct form. It is incredibly important to talk aloud to practice the right pronounciation. Up till now I still can’t always hit the proper pronunciation of vowels ‘y’,‘ä’, and ‘ö’.

Don’t be afraid to be creative

And lastly, Finnish is fun, and in this course you will have the freedom to enjoy the language. Don’t be afraid to try new funny word constructs, because you will foster your understanding for the inner structure of Finnish, and who knows, you will likely make up some words that actually exists – like musiikki for example. Yeah, it means music.

I wish you the best luck exploring the wonders of Finnish culture and language and hope you will have as much fun as we had. And one last tip, form an uncool language club to meet and rehearse midway towards your next lesson. It will make your sail much calmer.