Why I’m Learning Finnish!
This has been the blanket response by all when I’ve mentioned that I’m learning Finnish.
Why would I learn a difficult language that is only spoken by around 5 million people in a country where English is widespread: it is pointless.
They have a point, I have no real reason to learn Finnish: I’m not moving to Finland (*2016 update* although I’m dreaming/considering it now!), I don’t have Finnish family or a job that requires it, I’m not marrying a Finn.
So Why Am I Learning Finnish?
The short answer is, I love it. I have fallen head over heels in love with the Finnish language and I want to learn it.
And I want a second language.
As a Brit, I have, like many of my fellow countrymen, only one language: English, that most widespread of languages. I’ve wanted a second language for a while but I’ve been lazy, I never continued my high school French (which I excelled at as a teen) and although what little I can remember comes back to me when I need it, I could never count it as a second language, I certainly couldn’t hold a conversation in it.
What has held me back has been no need to speak French (hell, I didn’t even go to France until my 30’s) and I’ve no drive to learn it, even though it would be the easiest to reach fluency as it is the language I have the most vocabulary and grammar for. I find French painfully hard to speak: I lack all confidence to pronounce it correctly.
I’ve tried to learn basic Japanese (with a book and CD), and Italian (a course on the BBC website). I even tried to revive a very basic knowledge of Spanish (I did a year of it at high school) a few years ago as it would be useful for travel. I enjoyed the Japanese and the Italian, but I never had enough momentum to keep up with the studies. The Spanish didn’t get far at all (I was using WordDive, which was good but I lacked drive). Something was missing.
Finnish wasn’t even in my periphery until I took the train across Russia where I met not only a couple of Finns, but also a Brit who’d lived in Finland for a few years and had learnt some of the language. Suddenly I was exposed to a new language, and it was both different and fascinating.
And then I was challenged. Not directly, but a comment was passed that no one could learn Finnish as it is one of the hardest languages in the world and it is difficult to speak:
“You couldn’t learn Finnish.”
Um, challenge accepted!
To be honest, is was a tongue-in-cheek acceptance, but I enjoyed learning a few phrases. Those first few words gave me such satisfaction that I soon found myself hungry to learn more.
We were all travelling around Mongolia and China together and we spent hours talking about language, and the complexities of both Finnish and English. I learnt how unique Finnish is, that it is completely unrelated to nearly every other language.
When I got back to the UK I tinkered with it a bit, I got a Finnish Language app on my phone and learnt a few bits and bobs but it wasn’t until I found a video on YouTube which explained Finnish pronunciation, and the alphabet, that things began to click and make sense.
This may sound silly, but once I realised that Finnish is almost entirely phonetic, it gave me confidence: I found it easier to say the words out loud. I even made a brief video wishing my Finnish friend a happy birthday last November (we share the same birthday), showcasing my newfound self-belief.
I found a better app for my phone and by the time I caught the ferry to Finland in December my vocabulary had expanded to colours, some animals, some actions and objects.
Up to this point I was still learning Finnish to prove a point and for the party-trick value, and I don’t think I was thinking ahead to taking it much further, because at the end of the day those naysayers are quite right, Finnish isn’t a useful language and I knew that to take the language further would require grammar.
And Finnish grammar is what makes Finnish the fiendishly complex language that it is.
You can have hundreds of Finnish words, but the minute you want to string them together into even the most basic of sentences, you have to throw so much grammar at them it is bewildering to the novice learner.
My fortnight in Finland completely changed my outlook. It showed me how much I had already learnt and it gave me new words. My other Finnish friend Satu praised what I showed her so much that it totally inspired me to carry on.
And then I fell in love: I fell deeply in love with the country and I fell for the language.
Sitting drinking coffee in a popular cafe in Helsinki, I heard the language for the first time. What I mean is, I became aware of it, I heard its melody, its uniqueness. The folk in the cafe chatted away to each other and to me it sounded like a babbling stream, it was beautiful, it was different.
I noticed how it lacked any jarring sounds, nothing really guttural; when some english-speaking customers came in my mother-tongue sounded ugly and common in comparison.
This strange language that I’d been playing at learning, all of sudden became something rare and desirable: I wanted to be able to speak it, to read it, to understand it.
I wanted this super power!
I’d finally found what had been missing when I’d tried to learn other languages: I needed to want it, I need to fall in love with it!
Since returning from Finland I’ve taken my studies a little more seriously, I’ve tried to get my head around some of the grammar and while I’m yet unable to apply much of it, I can at least recognize it when I come across it.
It’s going to be a long, hard slog but I’m determined and I’m driven. Like a love-struck teenager I’m obsessed, and I’m enjoying it.
Finnish may not be ‘useful’ but any new skill can open new doors and opportunities, and who knows what learning Finnish may do for me in the long-term. If nothing else, it is doing wonders for my memory and it is keeping me happy and occupied!
Just don’t ask me to speak it yet: I can only confidently wish you a happy birthday!
Similar posts you might be interested in, don’t disappear!
How I’m Still Learning Finnish. All the resources, tips and links after one year of study.
4 Things That Are Easy About Learning Finnish It’s not all nightmare grammar!
50 Ways Finland Made Me Smile This Winter! A 5 week trip of complete winter happiness!
Helsinki: The Thought Of Leaving Was Unbearable I lay my heart out to this beautiful city.
Korvapuustit Finnish cinnamon rolls! Amazing!
Beautiful Suomenlinna in Pictures a crisp December day on this island fortress.
Have you learnt a language just because you love it? Leave a comment below!