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. 


  1. this is nice article. that is major issue about Difficulties of the Finnish language. thanks for mention.
    can someone write my essay | write my term paper

  2. I Got to Say, its pakollinen, no pakkollinen. :)