Can you remember the first Finnish word you heard when you arrived here? Or perhaps you didn’t pay much attention, thinking that Finnish is foreign and difficult whilst trusting the locals would surely speak English. I’m not certain about the first word I heard, it was either tervetuloa or huomenta. The first means welcome and the second means good morning.
As a long-term volunteer in Finland, it’s mandatory to take Finnish classes. That means you can either complain about how difficult it is to speak Finnish or you can have fun trying to speak it. I chose the latter, not least because information in Finnish is easier to come by than in English.
My first Finnish lesson was scheduled on my second day here and I remember it to have been an eye-opener!
It was during my first lesson that I discovered the name of the actual Finnish language isn’t Finnish, but Suomea. Even more surprising, Swedish is the second official language spoken here. And so I understood why it was that public transport and most other public spaces have signs in all 3 languages.
Also during that first lesson, I learned that it’s impossible to find English or Romanian equivalents for Suomea words. It’s a completely different language. So I decided to learn Suomea the way I learned to speak my native language: with a toddler’s mind.
Next, I’d like to share what made learning Suomea easier for me.
Realistic expectations and a clear objective: I knew it would take time to get used to the foreignness of Suomea, so my goal was to be able to have a basic conversation in Finnish within 5 months of starting the classes. I accomplished that goal earlier than expected, so I simply set a bigger goal for myself.
Finding the right learning methods: I started with an exercise book but soon realized it wouldn’t work for me. So I tried youtube videos about learning new languages. I also found a useful website with games that help me learn basic concepts such as the time of the day, numbers, greetings. By far, the most enjoyable activity was listening to Finnish music. It was easier to memorize some words and to find their meaning, especially because I participated in karaoke evenings. Now, when I go to festivals or dance nights I can understand some of the lyrics.
Practice: Hyvarila is a great environment to practice the language. There are many events happening and many people visiting this place. So, if you want to practice your Finnish, the kind ladies at reception or the kitchen staff are always happy to have a chat and provide advice on pronunciation. During the camp schools I was trying to give the instructions in Finnish. In public places, I was trying to express my requests in Finnish until they realized that I am not a Finnish person (it happened many times).