Katriina over at Headspace wrote a great blog post about her struggles with learning Finnish. Her list of “basic truths about mastering a new language” is a great read for anyone attempting to learn a new language, whether it’s Finnish, French, Chinese, or English. Just click the link to read more!
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Learning Finnish is hard. Anyone will tell you that. The teacher will tell you that. The Checkout Girl at the grocery store will tell you that. The nurse will tell you that. (All of those examples have told me that.) It is noted as one of the most difficult languages to learn. It is completely foreign for English speakers – which, I know, is a stupid statement to make, obviously it’s completely foreign, duh! What I mean by that is, there is no commonality to languages we’re more exposed to.
Many Americans know a spattering of Latin and Germanic language, including Spanish, French, Italian, and German. Even a little bit of Swedish, because it’s similar. Take, for example, sal (Spanish), salz (German), sel (French), sale (Italian), salt (Swedish). If you say the words aloud, and can narrow it down based on context (e.g., a list of ingredients), you could probably figure out that it means salt. The Finnish word for salt is suolaa.
Finnish grammar is particularly difficult, with what seems like hundreds of different verb endings depending on the tense, mood, active/passive, affirmative/negative… The verb puhua (to speak), in the first person, can be puhun (I speak), en puhu (I don’t speak), puhuin (I spoke), en puhunut (I didn’t speak), puhuisin (I would speak), en puhuisi (I would not speak)…and it goes on and on.
In the Summer, I took an introductory Finnish class. My first issue with the class (and, it seems, most classes) is that the book is entirely in Finnish. There is no translation, so in order to know what the book is saying, you have to look it all up. Which…I don’t know, it just ticks me off. I mean, what’s the point, if I don’t know what it’s saying? On top of that, the class was taught in Finnish. I know that’s the best way to learn, but if I can’t understand her when she says, “Do you understand?,” then there’s going to be a problem. Yes, she would speak English quite a bit, because we were all obviously so lost, but the idea was to teach it in Finnish.
For some reason, I latched onto the numbers. Man, I could recite my numbers 0-1000 without thinking about it. I was so proud of myself, so excited. I had learned something, and I got it. Then the teacher came in the next class and said, “So we learned the numbers, but that’s not how people actually say them. Let’s learn the spoken Finnish.”
And that’s another issue with Finnish. There’s Finnish, then there’s Spoken Finnish. And then there’s the fact that the town I live in has it’s own dialect that is completely different (there are several different Finnish dialects, I believe). Want an example?
- English: Feel yourself at home. (I’m guessing this is kind of like make yourself at home?)
- Finnish: Ole kuin kotonasi.
- Spoken Finnish (Helsinki): Oo niinku kotonas.
- Rauma dialect: Ol niingon gotonas.
Oh, shoot me now.
The one really good thing about Finnish is, the pronunciation is really easy. Every letter is pronounced (no silent letters!), and the accent is always at the beginning of the word. The only thing an English speaker needs to know in order to pronounce Finnish is that the a is like Ma and Pa, e is like hay, i is like weed, j is a y as in you, y is like the beginning of ew, ä is like hat, and ö is…kind of like long o meets uh. Even the h is pronounced in cases like kahdeksan. In Finnish, like in German, words are put together to form compound words. Over time, you get to the point where you see the different words in the compound word, so you know how to pronounce it. Remember, the accent is always on the first syllable, and that includes every word in the compound word. The word älykkyysosamäärä is composed of three words: älykkyys, osa, and määrä. So the word actually has three accents. Try pronouncing it! It really is easy, once you get the hang of it. (Want to know what it means? IQ.)
This fall, they were offering a morning Finnish class that was more about daily phrases, and it didn’t use the book. And it specifically said it was taught in English. So I signed up, along with several other people I know, hoping to get useful phrases like, “Can you help me?” and “Where is ____?” and “How much is it?” And I have gotten those phrases, but there are other issues in the class that are frustrating. Plus, once I ask those things in Finnish, how am I supposed to know what they say back to me?
I always said that if I moved to a foreign country, I would learn the language. I would not expect to be able to communicate if I didn’t. I would not expect the people of that country to speak English. But here’s the thing – most people in Finland do speak English. At least enough to ask “Can you help me?” and “Where is ____?” and “How much is it?” At least enough that I don’t worry too much about being in a crisis and not being able to communicate. I’ve met some Finns who speak better English than me! Learning Finnish is not a necessity to get around here. Yes, it would be wonderful to be able to read signs and understand the radio and read the newspaper, but to communicate, it’s really not needed.
Finnish is spoken by about 6 million people worldwide. I will be here in Finland for another year or two. I can’t help but wonder if learning Finnish should be something I spend my time on.
I have tons of time, I know. But even still, I could spend that time writing, or working on a different language I would get more use out of in the future, like French or Spanish. I could save myself the frustration of class – not a frustration with the language, but a frustration with the class. Walking out of class irritated with my brain fried isn’t all that fun. I should be enjoying new experiences, not hating them.
I know a guy who speaks English, French, and Spanish, learned Chinese in six months without a problem, but has given up on Finnish. And I think I have, too.
I can say hello, and goodbye (it’s the same word, which is helpful!). Kiitos is Thank you (and Please). Anteeksi is Excuse me. But my favorite is Puhutko Englantia. It means, “Do you speak English?”
I’m glad I’m not picky. Living in Finland, not understanding the language, means that quite often, I simply pick something up without knowing what it is and figure, What’s the worst that could happen? Meals or drinks in cafes, what I hope is shelf paper in the grocery store…medicine at the pharmacy…
Luckily, pretty much all of the restaurants here have menus in English and English-speaking waitstaff. Some of the smaller cafes, on the other hand, don’t. The food is generally on display though – salads, sandwiches, quiches – so it’s often quite simple to just point and nod. I do it all the time. “What’s that?” my friend will ask me as I take a forkful. I usually just shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know – it looked good.” And, quite often, it is. I honestly can’t think of a time when I wanted to spit something out after tasting it. Food is food, and I love food – even if I don’t know what I’m eating!
I know, getting medicine without knowing what your getting – bad idea. Again, the pharmacists usually speak English decently enough to get what you need. Last time, I was looking for allergy medication. Unlike in the States, where I would read the labels and compare dosage and hours and prices, here I just grab whatever the pharmacist holds out to me. “Sure, that’ll work, what’s the worst that could happen? So, how do I take this? Twice a day? Cool.” I figure that’s the most important thing, right?
Today I had to get cough drops. I had already been told that the cough drops here were…not good. But I needed them. So I asked the pharmacist. She handed me a box and said, “Tablets.” I think she means it pills, and I try to clear it up. “I’m looking for something to suck on. Like…(wracking brain for simple terms) like candy.” She nodded. “Yes, that’s it.” Okie-dokie. I got home and looked at them:
Those look like *yummy* cough drops, don’t they? I shrug. What’s the worst that could happen?
I tried. I really did. I held that thing in my mouth for about 10 seconds, trying to convince myself it wasn’t that bad. But you know what? It was. It was that bad, and worse. So if anyone back home is putting together a care package…HALLS!!
I recently “liked” the Facebook page for the City of Rauma…which, of course, posts in Finnish. Lucky for me, Facebook has a nifty “See Translation” option. Unlucky for me, neither Bing Translate nor Google Translate work for shit on Finnish. Take, for example, this translation for something they posted yesterday:
Huomenna pääsee taas iltatorille!
Iltatorit ja sunnuntaikirppikset alkavat torstaina 28.6. ja jatkuvat 2.8. saakka tiistaisin ja torstaisin. Pitsiviikolla iltatorit järjestetään poikkeuksellisesti maanantaina, keskiviikkona ja torstaina.
Myyntiaika alkaa klo 16 ja päättyy klo 20, ohjelmaa torilla on joka kerta eri teemoin klo 17-19 välillä. Tarkemmat tiedot eri iltojen esiintyjistä: http://bit.ly/MvzeZbTranslation:Tomorrow is, on the other hand, in the evening the square!On Thursday, the markets will start in the evening and sunnuntaikirppikset 25.5. and continue for 2.8. on Tuesday and Thursday until. The week will be held on Monday evening, on an exceptional basis, a lace squares, on Wednesday and Thursday.
Yeah, that makes a ton of sense, right?
So, I know something is going on in the square this evening – actually, it looks like something will be going on every Tuesday and Thursday evening from now through August 2nd. And then there’s something about Monday and Wednesday, and lace is mentioned (Rauma has a big Lace Week festival in July), so I’m thinking during Lace Week, what is normally happening on Tuesday and Thursday will be happening on Monday and Wednesday. Okay. It starts at 4pm (16) and ends at 8, but then there’s something about something from 5-7pm, and I can’t figure out what.
Well, let’s go see what this is all about, shall we? I took a little stroll down to the square, and yes, there were vendors set up selling things. A few of the produce stands were still up, and there were a couple of “pre-made goods” such as jewelry and knit clothing. But most of the tables were flea-market type merchandise – mismatched china, random shot glasses, out-of-date clothing, old books.
There was also a stage set up, and a woman started singing about 5pm, so I guess the 5-7pm part is a performer of some sort.
So there you go. Oh – and there’s a little train going around town now, too. That was also on the Facebook page: Kake City can again be seen out and about in a newsletter sent to train to the streets! City train leaves the hour in front of the restaurant, and to bring to the attention of the passengers to the city of La Bamban attractions under the leadership of the Finnish version of the Guide. Mmmm-hmmm…what she said. (La Bamba is a restaurant in town.)
Writers should have a command of their native language. As wordsmiths, they should rock at word games. As a writer, I should rock. And yet…
I’ve been playing WordTwist on my phone, and let me just say…I suck. SSSSSSSuuuuuuck. With a capital S.
In a recent game, I had the following board:
E U A V
W A Y G
H Y E O
O T W H
Here are the words I found: ahoy, aye, get, hay, hew, hoe, hog, hot, hoy, tea, thaw, toy, way, wet, yaw, yew
I found 16 out of 56 words.
Now, granted, I can’t possibly find 56 words in the 2 minute time period provided, and some of the “words” are iffy (wha, vau, tho, tew, hayey – they don’t even exist in MS Word, damn it!). But still, I couldn’t come up with more than 16? What about ago, or age, or hey, or why?
I mentioned my vocabulary inadequacies to the Beau, which I think prompted him to invite me to a game of Words with Friends. The first game he whooped my butt 387-209. Yes, I suck that badly. I’ve done better since, and it’s been a fun way to kill time at work.
Then this weekend we played Quiddler – it’s like Scrabble, but with cards. One round, I came up with the words “the” and “is.” He looks at me and says, “I would have gone with “thesis.”
Duh. (The score count would have been the same, but I would have gotten 10 extra points for having the longest word.)
Anyway, I’m enjoying the mental calisthenics these word games are giving me. I hope it helps me extend my every day vocabulary, because obviously, I need it.
(What words can you find in the WordTwist board above?)