Saturday, 15 June 2013

Difficulties of the Finnish language.

I have always thought that my moving to Finland where I have had to learn Finnish is divine retribution for all the pain I caused my French and Spanish teachers in school. At that time I never saw the need to learn a foreign language and so I never really studied or paid much attention in the classes. Consequently, I barely passed these subjects in school.

Cue six years latter and I move to Finland where I have had to learn Finnish. One of the most difficult foreign languages for English speakers to try to learn according to the Language Difficulty Ranking put together by the US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, FSI.
Local news channel YLE has written a short article about how difficult it is to learn Finnish. 
I didn't need to learn Finnish to live in Finland because most Finns speak very good or fluent English. It is mostly the older generation who do not speak any English. As a small country Finns think it important to learn a foreign language in order to manage in the wider world. And since the lingua franca of the twenty-first century is English everyone speaks it. Also luckily for me I work in such an international field (scientific research) that English is widely used at work and it was not necessary for me to learn Finnish in order to find employment. But my mother and father-in-law do not speak much English and if you live in a foreign country it is wise to learn the local language. And so I did. I took approximately three years of Finnish courses and learned even the most complicated grammar construction of literature and poetry. But for the life of me, I couldn't express myself, because I never used the language. When I decided to apply for Finnish citizenship I was forced to practice the use of the language in order to pass the test for the language requirement. That's when my Finnish language ability really developed. Finnish is very difficult for English speakers to learn because the grammar and structure is totally different to English. There are no articles. There is no gender and hän is used to mean both he and she. There is no future tense. Tulen can mean both, I am coming right now, or I will come tomorrow. The language uses double letters a lot which can change the meaning of a word if you pronounce it wrongly. For instance Tuuli means wind but tuli means fire. Words can become extremely long because the tenses and cases are expressed by adding various suffixes (of which there are fifteen) instead of prefixes. You can read about the fifteen cases and suffixes here:

Consider the longest word in Finnish: lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas. Which means technical warrant officer trainee specialized in aircraft jet engines, and is supposedly actually used by the Finnish Air Force. It consists of sixty-one letters! Now try saying that word while drunk. It's a skill even few Finns can master. On the other hand Finnish is very easy to pronounce or spell once you get the hang of it because the words are pronounced exactly the way they are written. There are no silent letters or endings like in French. Finnish people have a hard time learning French for this reason. There are no same sounding words with different spellings like, meat and meet. Is it any wonder J.R.R. Tolkien was fascinated by the language and used it as his inspiration for Elvish? Though my Finnish has vastly improved over the last five years, I would still not consider myself fluent in the language. I come across new words I don't know on a daily basis and I make grammatical mistakes. On a bad day when I am tired or my brain stops working I have a hard time stringing two words together in Finnish. So nowadays I can shop, order, watch TV, listen to the news or radio, read simple news articles, have conversations with friends and write e-mails and simple notes in Finnish. Because most Finnish people realize theirs is a complicated language they are usually pleasantly surprised and happy when a foreigner can speak their language. Knowing that their language is only used by Finns in Finland and is therefore not a particularly useful language to learn they are happy that you even bothered to try. I am praised all the time for my faulty Finnish skills because there are many English speakers who never bothered to learn Finnish even though they have lived in Finland many years. My parents-in-law on the other hand are of the opposite opinion and always criticize me for not speaking better Finnish after living here for almost eleven years. But it is really hard to improve when it is so easy to be lazy and speak English and when everyone usually switches to Finnish if they notice you are having trouble. Many times people answer me in English even when I have started the conversation in Finnish! 

I have made colourful gaffs like saying pakolainen (refugee) when I meant pakollinen (mandatory), or lihavia (obese) instead of lihaksia (muscles). It's a complicated language which I doubt I will ever truly master, but after my near failing grades in French in school, I am never the less proud of my Finnish skills. 

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Daycare in Helsinki

So I started working again so my daughter is now in daycare. Most of the day care centres here are state run and operated. So the standard of care is pretty uniform. There are some private day care centres but they are mostly specialized in that they use a special method or philosophy in child rearing, like Steiner or Montessori. Or they teach the children a foreign language or about ecology and nature. Because the day care centres are state run they are subsidized and cost a maximum of 263 euros a month. Depending on your salary you may pay less or nothing at all. And some mothers who do not work also put their children in daycare. The private day care centres cost more. But you can get some financial support from the state to pay for the private daycare. So many of the English language centres I called cost between four hundred to seven hundred euros after state subsidies. 

None of the English speaking daycare centres are close to our home and they are a bit expensive in my opinion so we opted for regular public day care. It has been almost three months since our daughter started day care and it has been great. I was worried that I was not doing the right thing by sending her to day care at one and a half years old. Because all the child development experts say it is best for small children to be at home with their care giver until up to two or three years old. And for the first two weeks it really tore my heart to see her cry when we left her. But it has been the best decision we could have made. She loves it there and she is learning so many new things. Her Finnish vocabulary is growing very rapidly and she can now count from two to ten in Finnish (not that she understands what she is saying). She has also learned to drink from a mug by herself.

She is so active and social that it is the best place for her to be as there are lots of people around and lots of things to do. They sometimes take trips to the library or the marketplace square or nature areas. And last month the entire day care centre put on a circus performance for the parents.

The daycare centre opens at 6:15. We drop our daughter off at 8:00 at which time they feed them breakfast. After breakfast they read, sing nursery rhymes, count, talk about the weather, the day's schedule and play games. Then they play outside from 9:30 to 11:30. 11:00 is lunch tim and then the children nap from 12:00 to 2:00. They have a snack when they wake up and then go outside to play again until we pick her up. There are also 24 hour day care centres for parents who do shift work. All the meals are provided by the day care. They have a cook onsite who cooks all the day's meals. The meals are regular home cooked Finnish food like fish soup and berry fool. The personnel all seem very nice and Emilia sometimes cries to see them leave in the afternoon or when she leaves to come home with us. But she always has a big smile and happy greeting shouting "moi!" when we arrive to pick her up. I think that the day care is worth every penny and I am very satisfied with it thus far.