I have been living in Finland for too long. I speak Finnish. Not perfectly, but good enough to be able to cope even with the most demanding situations. At a level which many foreigners are only dreaming of. As I was dreaming of it many years ago.
Many times I get to answer this question: How did I manage to learn the language? Here are some ideas and insights of my Finnish learning experience.
I have always been interested in languages. Actually when I had to decide whether to follow a humanistic or a technical career path, I really wanted to go humanistic.
Grammar and linguistics always fascinated me, but the problem was that in the study offering they always came packaged with literature. And that was something I had always tried to avoid: literary analysis. So I went technical, I became an engineer.
Having arrived in Finland I was overly excited about the chance to learn such a different language! I had the chance to go humanistic. Not professionally, but as a hobby. I had no lack of motivation ever since! Every day (and I really mean it) I discover new things about the language. And what is better motivation than this!
Motivation is critical. You have to have something which drives you towards your goal. It can be anything, as long as it won’t let you down. You will encounter ups and downs, but the motivation must be there ever as strong as at the beginning!
Perseverance and practice
No need to emphasize the importance of the regular practice. And by practice I don’t mean you have to sit down every day and do grammar exercise or talk to yourself in the mirror.
By practice I mean: make the most out of every situation. When talking to the cashier at the corner shop, when watching a subtitled movie, when listening to the public announcement in the railway-stations, trains or metros, when reading the labels on products (for example on food packages), when reading news, newspapers, and I could go on forever…
When I was in my early phase of learning the language (read: not finished yet my first ever 3 months long Finnish course), I was already constantly bothering my Finnish colleagues during the coffee breaks at work with all kinds of stupid questions (I know, there are no stupid questions, but mine really were stupid!).
I remember, I was trying to post an ad looking for an apartment to rent in the center, which went something like this “Etsitään yksiötä keskustasta” and my question was why is it not enough one “-sta” ending in the word “keskustasta”, why “-stasta”? (imagine, I did not even know the basic form of “keskusta” back then, and I am sure the question sounds stupid to many of you, but it seemed perfectly legitimate to me.)
Another funny situation I remember was when I went into a shop and started to talk in Finnish, but the shop assistant trying to be friendly as she recognized me as being a foreigner (who would have not after hearing the first two words) replied in English, but I continued to try tell my thing in Finnish… she continued in English… and we went on this way – me, a foreigner speaking Finnish, and she, a Finn, speaking English. I did not give up (nor did she, maybe she was practicing her English)!
Doubt, question, analyze, discuss
No matter how illogical we consider some rules of a language, in the end we just have to accept them. Of course, we can find some things more logical than others. Even the children learning Finnish seem to be uncomfortable with the following aspect of the language: why in Finnish the numbers must be followed by nouns in singular (kaksi palloa not kaksi pallot or kaksi palloja).
I heard once my daughter (at that time less than 3 ynbsp;
ears old, being raised up bilingual), saying to her Finnish grandfather “kaksi palloja”). No matter how illogical it is, it will always be “kaksi palloa”.
By questioning and discussing the rules of the language we get to the bottom of how the language works! Don’t just learn idioms and words by heart, try to understand what they are and where they come from.
I still tend to have deep and long language conversations with my current colleagues and even they get overwhelmed once in a while when they discover new things about their mother tongue. It’s such a pleasant feeling!
Give it forward!
You will succeed. If you really want to learn the language, you will! And when you feel you are satisfied with what you achieved, share your experience and insights especially with those who need it. Remember, you were once one of them!