Learning Finnish – 6 Months Are Up – Am I Fluent?

Just over 5 months ago I came to Finland to spend the winter working as a husky guide. I set myself the goal of becoming fluent in Finnish in these 5 months. I didn’t know whether ‘fluency’ was even possible in this time, but it had a nice ring to it, and I think it is always better to aim higher. So here I am, almost 6 months down the line.

So, am I fluent in Finnish I hear you ask? Hell no! But, I can speak basic Finnish, and can have simple conversations with people. The purpose of this post is to sum up the last 5.5 months, and also state my next plans. It’s quite a mammoth post, and I found it pretty hard just trying to write down everything in some kind of order – languages are absolute beasts! But maybe, if you’re learning Finnish or another language you can take some pointers. If I were to offer just one piece of advice for aspiring language learners, it would be:

“Just Start”


5.5 MONTH REVIEW 

So, fluent? Far from it. But I do now have a low conversation level, and I am at about the same level as I thought I was before, about an A1 to A2 level, using the European language chart from CEFR. My speaking, writing and reading are at about the same level I think, but my listening understanding, although it has improved, are still a bit behind.

Learning Finnish has been such a challenge in so many ways, and a few times I found myself getting a little stressed by it all. Thinking about learning a language is such an overwhelming task. Where the hell do you even begin? The first and most important thing, is to ignore that thought, and start learning before you decide it’s too hard.


DID I KEEP TO MY TARGETS?

In one of my recent blog posts I wrote myself a list of things I wanted to work on. Things that I thought would be useful for my learning progress. I guess I am quite a target driven person in some ways. If I say I am going to do something, then it will encourage me to actually do it. I have rewritten the points below, and have stated whether I stuck to them or not.

1. Speak more FinnishKIND OF – I did speak Finnish everyday, maybe 10 – 20 minutes in total. But, often the other person would translate into English before I had the chance to figure out what the person said (if I could figure it out). I could have been stricter at reminding my coworkers to speak only Finnish.

2. Continue to add words and more complex sentences to Anki – YES  I continued to do this on an almost daily basis, and also did the daily anki review. I still need to improve my vocab, but it’s gradually getting bigger.

3. Learn how to conjugate verbs effectively – YES – I can quite confidently do this now, but there’s still a little work to do on this one.

4. Learn and use the 15 noun cases – NO / YES  I am now able to use the more common noun cases quite fluidly in conversation, but I have not learnt all of them.

5. Learn when to use the Nomitive, Genetive and Partitive cases – GETTING THERE – But still LOADS to learn on this. (These actually fall into the above category). I am getting better, especially with the partitive case – some days I feel like I’ve nailed it, and other days I literally don’t have a clue.

6. Read more Finnish Childrens Books – NO – Shamefully, I haven’t really read anything. I have no excuses here. It’s probably from spending too much time on my phone.

7. Watch and listen to Podcasts, TV, Radio and Audiobooks – YES – I listened to Nalle Puh (Winnie the Pooh) around 20 times. I wore ear protectors at work for the dog and snowmobile noise, and I could link them to my phone via bluetooth. So I was either listening to Finnish childrens’ audio books, Finnish music or Finnish radio. I watched things in English and read the Finnish subtitles, as my understanding isn’t good enough yet to listen just in Finnish.


LEARNING A LANGUAGE – POINTERS

I have such a basic understanding of how to tackle learning a language. I mean, I haven’t even come close fluency yet, but even over these last few months, I think I can offer some advice. So below, is a rough guide of what worked for me. But remember when I say, it worked for me, many of these things may not work for you and vice versa – take it with a pinch of salt.

Also, many of the points below came from other sources, the main one being Fluent Forever, a book that I would highly recommend getting if your serious about learning a language.

  • PICK A LANGUAGE AND JUST START- It is so easy to give up before you’ve even started. Ignore the pressing questions that come into your mind like ‘will I fail’, ‘where do I even start’ etc. Really, all you need to do is just start.
  • MAKE TIME – Find a time in the day that works for you, and set aside a realistic amount of time that you are comfortable working. I found mornings worked the best for me, and I would usually do 1 hour every morning before work.
  • LITTLE AND OFTEN – Basically the same as above, but I feel it needs it’s own point. Little and often – in my opinion – is so much better than trying to cram on one or two days a week. It’s easier to you and your brain, and makes learning more effective.
  • LANGUAGE GOAL – What do you want to achieve and why? To learn the basics / to have basic conversats or reach fluency? I think it helps knowing where you’re heading.
  • THIS BOOK – Fluent Forever – The next three points highlight his approach.
    • Learn pronunciation first -“In the course of mastering the sounds of a language, one’s ears become attuned to those sounds, making vocabulary acquisition, listening comprehension and speaking come much quicker.”
    • No Translation – “Use pictures when learning new vocabulary and grammar rules. You’ll discover that you can actually remember what you’ve learned”
    • Flash Card Programs – Learn the above words using a program called Anki – This is a flashcard based program that uses a Spaced Repetition System (SRS) – This will repeat your cards at lengthening intervals untill the word is in your long term memory.
  • ANKI – Flash Card Software (Read above)
    • Add new words and sentences to your Anki 3 – 5 times a week
    • Review your flashcards once a day
  • ASK QUESTIONS – Be like a child, ask what this is, what that is, what is this called that and so on. Children learn by questioning and testing everything new.
  • NOTEBOOK – Carry one around with you and write down new words that you hear. You can then add these to your Anki deck to learn them.
  •  SPEAK THE LANGUAGE – Goes without saying, the more you speak and immerse youserlf in the language the quicker you’ll learn.
    • Colleauges / Friends: If you’re in the country, ask a colleague if you can maybe speak for 15-30 minutes after work once or twice a week, but ONLY in that language. You can discuss mistakes afterwards in English if you want to. You can even do this even if you don’t live in the country. Use a website like Italki where you can meet language partners and speak to each other on skype.
    • Ask to speak in the language: Sometimes it might slip back into English, but ask to change back to the language your learning. This is harder than it sounds – especially if the other person has good English. They think they are helping by translating for you, but it doesn’t help. Be strict, you can’t learn a new language if you’re speaking another one. Now when someone starts speaking to me in English I say that I can’t speak English, but can speak a little Finnish.
    • Be prepared to FAIL: I think it is especially true with languages, but with almost anything no one starts perfectly (unless you’re some kind of demi-god/freak/sporting genius) – so be prepared to fail thousands of times, and enjoy the failure. It is likely that when you start you will sound grammatically dire to a native speaker, but leave your ego at the door and be prepared to make mistakes. Many times you’ll come out with some comedic genius that will have everyone laughing. And, most importantly, you will learn from your mistakes.
  • TEACHER – See a teacher once a week, or more if you can (but only if you have time to fit it into your schedule). Again, you can do this even if you don’t live in the country on Italki. I found it useful for filling in certain language gaps I was unable to fill myself.
  • READ – Get children’s books, magazines, newspapers and read. If you don’t understand a word, mark it and move on. You can check the words afterwards if you want to. I didn’t do much of this, but I know it would have been helpful.
  • PASSIVE LEARNING – A great way to learn without really doing anything.
    • Radio – Listen to radio stations that play the country’s music.
    • Music – Same as above. Ask friends about bands that sing in the language. Read the lyrics as the song is playing (I haven’t actually done this myself, but know it would be helpful).
    • Audio Books – I have only listened to childrens’ audiobooks, and still find them really hard. But it helped a lot with my listening understanding.
    • Watch TV – Watch shows in the language – either both audio and subtitles, or one of the two. I really enjoyed watching in English and reading the Finnish subtitles – it also meant my reading speed improved.
    • Listen to conversations – I’m really not sure how I feel about this one. For me, in Finnish, I feel like I learnt almost nothing from just listening to people. I left this point in, as it is a bit more valid now, as I can understand more. But, either way, you won’t learn a language from just listening.
  • USE AVAILABLE RESOURCES – Use the items below to save yourself money and time.
    • LIBRARIES – Finnish libraries in particular are just amazing. Anyone can take books, and use the resources. It might not be the same everywhere, but check them out. There’s a high chance you’ll save a load of money on buying books. Get yourself a good:
      • Grammar book
      • Dictionary
      • Children’s books
      • Easy reading books
    • PHONE – Use to your advantage, there are so many good apps out there. Many of the online resources below work on your phone.
      • Keyboard – Download the keyboard in the language your learning – it will give you unusual letters, predict words and makes it a whole lot easier to type. I use Swiftkey.
      • Dictionary 
      • Google translate – not always correct, but still useful.
      • Music – Listen to music from the language when ever you can.
    • ONLINE RESOURCES
      • Anki – As already mentioned – This softwarewill repeat your cards at lengthening intervals until the word is in your long term memory.
      • Italki – Good way to speak with native speakers. You can practice the language you are learning, and in return they can practice your own language.
      • Lang-8 – Great for getting sentences corrected.
      • Forvo – Has almost every word in your language – Great for hearing how the natives pronounce things.
  • REST – As above. Take a day or 2 off per week to let your brain recover. Binge on your favourite English series, films and music.
  • STAY CURIOUS – Enjoy the learning process, you’ve chosen to learn a language, so if you’re stressed out you’re working too hard. Take a break from it for day or two, let your brain do it’s thing, then come back to it.


WHAT’S NEXT?

I have actually decided to stay in Finland for a few more months, so this is not the end of the challenge. I would like to keep improving my Finnish. So, as of 3 weeks ago I moved to Helsinki and I started an intensive 5 week Finnish course at an adult college here. I will do this course, then plan to stay in Helsinki for another month of so, with the hope of boosting my language. So, including many of the above points, my next objectives are to:

1. SPEAK ONLY FINNISH – I have already failed slightly on this point. This was my plan, and has worked 60% of the time. But, more about this in the next post. Although, I am employing the – “Anteeksi, en puhu Englantia, mutta minä puhun vähän Suomea” Sorry, I don’t speak English, but I speak a little Finnish – as much as possible.

2. INTENSIVE COURSE – I have done almost 3 weeks of an intensive course now and it is brilliant! It is all in Finnish, the teacher is fantastic and the group is all at a similar level. It is 2.5 hours a day, 5 days a week. Johanna, the teacher really emphasises the next three points, and repeats them after every lesson:

1. Puhu Suomea – Speak Finnish

2. Ei Stressiä No Stress

3. Nuku Hyvin Sleep Well

My current language partner – Jasper

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4 thoughts on “Learning Finnish – 6 Months Are Up – Am I Fluent?

  1. It’s funny to see how many common points there are, as I also am learning Finnish, with the same goal of being fluent, for now 9 months. It is an amazing language and fascinates me everyday, although it cost me many naps :P.

    Good luck ! And also, if you want some advice, or just go through points that I could maybe help you with as I also was in that point, don’t hesitate to contact me 🙂

    Dav

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha yeah, I am amazed at how much more sleep you need when you’re learning a language. Sounds good, where are you based?

      Like

    • It’s a broad question, and I think there are merits to both. But I would say that studying as a class is better as you can learn from other people, and you have the chance to speak more.

      Like

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