Learning Finnish: Why and How

One of my 2014 resolutions is to continue to learn Finnish, an initiative I took in late 2013. If you wonder where I got the strange idea of learning this quite rare language, Sofia Polykreti is to blame! She tweeted about her undying love for Finnish someday. It only took me a few seconds to search for videos of Finnish speakers on YouTube and realize that Finnish didn’t sound anything like Swedish (which I’ve always found too harsh-sounding, but then it’s only my opinion). It was pretty much love at first sight.

Okay, Emeline… But why on earth did you decide to learn Finnish?

That’s a question I get asked a lot. Well, I have a few answers to it:

  • I’ve always been interested in Nordic countries. I’m by no means a fan of cold weather, but I must admit there is something quite peaceful about them. Is it the quality of their democracy or perhaps their education system? Maybe a mix of all that.
  • Finnish doesn’t sound and look anything like all the languages I’ve had the opportunity to study. Actually, the only Finnish word that got in the English language was… “sauna” (original, I know). Completely starting from scratch is a challenge, but an interesting and rewarding one, don’t you think?
  • It has an interesting culture with some interesting directors to discover and some inspiring architects.
Yes, this is a school. Photo by Jussi Tiainen

Why, yes, this is a school.
Photo by Jussi Tiainen

  • It will allow me to discover the history of a European country that’s rarely spoken about.
  • As I work with three mainstream languages, namely English, Spanish and French, I will be able to add it to my working languages in a very distant future. I know it will take a while before I’m able to be fluent, but I like having long-term objectives. Having a rare combination is worth it, both professionally and personally speaking.

How are you going to manage to learn such a difficult language by yourself?

Herman Boel recently said that no language is difficult to learn, it is just a matter of motivation. I wholeheartedly agree with his statement. If you like a language, you won’t be so scared of its possible difficulties and will be more willing to overcome them.

I will be working with Leila White’s From Start to FinnishΒ book and audio material. Each week, I will be learning a new lesson with a day spent to review the previous week’s work. This will involve doing exercises (which is fundamental to learning a new language!), reviewing vocabulary and grammar and practicing my listening comprehension. The only problem I’m facing as of now is to practice my oral expression skills. I clearly don’t have the time and the opportunity to take an offline class, so I will have to be creative and find another way to express myself (recommendations welcome, by the way!). Once I have the basics under my belt, I will be trying to read texts from other sources, such as yle.fi which offers articles in simplified Finnish.

I will document my progress at the beginning of each month. This will allow to monitor my progress and set myself better and precise objectives. And if anyone wants to joint the fun, they’re certainly welcome!

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11 responses to “Learning Finnish: Why and How”

  1. Catharine Cellier-Smart (Smart Translate) says :

    I recently found out that the Finns have an obsolete unit of measurement – “poronkusema”, which is the distance a reindeer walks between pausing to pee! After I shared this on Twitter a Finnish colleague tweeted that there is also an obsolete Finnish currency: “oravannahka”, or “squirrel skin”, which is apparently still seen in place names.

  2. Plamena Nikolova says :

    Hi Emeline,
    Very nice and inspiring post πŸ™‚ I also want to start learning a new language soon. (There are a couple of languages which interest me and I am still trying to figure out which one to try, but we will see. Your post is really motivating.
    Good luck with Finnish!

  3. Elisa Bonora says :

    Welcome to the Finnish learners’ crazy group, Emeline! πŸ˜‰ I’ve been studying it too for a while and I love it, although I don’t really have such a tight and fixed schedule (practising piano and adding some basics of other instruments now and then take time, too!).
    We’ll keep in touch to exchange comments, ideas etc. about learning this fascinating language! πŸ™‚

    • Emeline Jamoul says :

      Wow, I had no idea you studied it too, Elisa! So many people seem to be learning it within the translator community, I’m actually surprised. Why do you think that is? Maybe because the language is so different from others?
      Best of luck to you πŸ™‚ And yes, we’ll definitely stay in touch!

      • Elisa Bonora says :

        I am quite surprised too actually, Finnish is not the most common, relaxing and harmless language one usually wants to learn πŸ˜‰ I guess it’s because us linguists are typically curious about cultures and we love to take up new linguistic challenges (the more unusual, the better!), so we tend to be attracted by what most people would ignore.
        By the way, congratulations for setting a goal to have Finnish as a working language someday – that’s ambitious! πŸ™‚
        Paljon onnea! πŸ˜‰

  4. Sofia Polykreti says :

    Very inspiring post, Emeline! It’s amazing to be able to describe your goals in such a concrete way. I am sure you’re going to do great with Finnish. And I am so happy it all began because of my tweet!

    • Emeline Jamoul says :

      Now the only thing is to be able to meet those objectives, and that’s not so easy πŸ˜‰ But I’m certainly enjoying the ride!
      Thank you for tweeting about it!

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