As an International Ambassador of my university, I have encountered many questions about studying Finnish. My biggest blogging attempt so far has been a post about learning Finnish using your mobile device (http://ashtromberg.blogspot.ru/2015/08/learnfinnish-with-your-mobile-device.html). However, in that post I never answered the main questions – why and how to learn Finnish?
I would highlight that you can feel yourself 100% comfortable (well, 99% comfortable – as everywhere, there may be exclusions, but I have not encountered them so far) in Finland without speaking Finnish/Swedish. There is a big selection of courses in English, Finland is known for amazingly high command in English, and the student community is open and helpful in those rare chances when you may need some help with Finnish. Also, there are many job positions where Finnish knowledge is not required at all.
However, there are certainly cases where you will need Finnish. You may want to make your thesis research more diverse by gaining access to sources in Finnish, attend sports classes where Finnish is main language of instruction (even though UniSport offers a wide selection of courses taught in English), discover more student events, and just satisfy your curiosity while living in Finland.
In any case, you are lucky as you will be given a great range of study possibilities to choose from:
- Traditional language courses
You may start studying Finnish from scratch or take a test to define your level if you have studied Finnish before. Courses are split into different levels, and include weekly classes, homework and examination. However, I am not the best person to comment on this. I have never taken these classes at the University of Helsinki but you can always ask other International Student Ambassadors for more info.
- ALICE cultural exchange
The participation scheme is simple: you are native speaker of certain language and you are assigned a person, who is studying your native language and can teach you Finnish/Swedish. You draft a plan of your cultural exchange, discuss your study progress with your mentor and write a learning diary to reflect on your study progress. I was taking part in a course with my friend whom I met during her exchange studies at my home city. Our study programme included cultural visits, small parties where we spoke exclusively Finnish/Russian and inspiring discussions about similarities and differences in Finnish/Russian cultures.
- Language café
The idea is even simpler: you come to the bar/student auditorium where desks with signs “English”, “Finnish”, etc, are located. You choose the language you are interested in and start talking. I attended language course organised by the University of Helsinki, Luckan Integration and Café Mascot. As they all are held on different dates, it gave me a lot of flexibility and opportunity to practice language skills regularly. Advanced level of attending language cafes includes switching between tables and practicing multiple languages in two (or more, or less) hours. For me, the shift between German and Swedish was a challenge, but a good brain-teaser.
- Duolingo Facebook groups
That was the biggest motivation for me to actually continue with Swedish. Installing the language study app is one thing, but being constantly reminded of your soulmates` study progress definitely gives you other feelings. For example, join Finnish on Duolingo! or Duolingo: Swedish Learners.
- Read books
I had amazing Finnish language teachers but they were making one mistake. They were trying to somehow convey the message that written Finnish is difficult. Of course, reading comprehension may be challenging in different languages. However, your general linguistic intuition, awareness of facts that are described in certain texts and motivation to learn will help you to overcome complex grammar. I really advise to search for bilingual books, children`s books and once your language level reaches B1 grab ”normal” books. Pay attention to narrative structure: books with a lot of dialogues will help you to improve your spoken Finnish and learn more about Finnish communication culture.
- Read social media
Reading memes is a waste of time… unless you study foreign language. You can learn slang, compare written and spoken grammar constructions, learn to spot language mistakes and overcome your fear of making mistakes in communicating. For metro trips, Twitter suits best. Maybe this advice is for more advanced Finnish language learners – but starting too early is definitely not a mistake. Just critically approach all learning materials – that is general advice for all studying!
I surely should post something more about learning Finnish. Your ideas on posts are warmly welcome!