Learning Finnish – is it worth it?

Lesson #1: “Puhutko suomea” = “Do you speak Finnish?”

Learning Finnish – is it worth it? Short answer: yes! But don’t beat yourself up about it, because Finnish is haaaard.

One could argue that I’m not the best ambassador for taking up Finnish as an international student, as I dropped out of my Finnish course a week before the exam! But, nevertheless, I feel like I have a pretty good sense of the upsides and downsides of embarking on the Suomi-journey, so I’m gonna share my thoughts with you anyways. If you are an international student coming to study at UH in the fall, keep reading as I have a secret to share with you!

First of all, I want to say that I am not trying to persuade you to take Finnish. I’m also not trying to persuade you not to take Finnish. What I’m going to do is give you an honest and fun insight into one of the hardest languages I have come across in my 24 years of life!

Finnish has 16 verbal cases. Or is it 30? Either way, it’s a lot! Some will tell you that Finnish is similar to the Estonian language. Both Finns and Estonians alike are likely to dispute that. They originate from the same language branch: a branch that also has Hungarian on it! My native language is Danish and if I had a dollar for every time someone had assumed that I must surely already speak Finnish as we’re all Nordic brothers, I would have a lot of dollars. Finnish has absolutely nothing to do with any of the Scandinavian languages (unfortunately!) – it’s a whole different world, and many people opt to learn Swedish instead, as Swedish is another national language in Finland. I am lucky that I can get by with Swedish in Finland, as there’s usually very limited English on the products in the supermarkets and a lot of websites are only in Swedish and Finnish. So, if you’ve ever flirted with the idea of learning a Scandinavian language, here is a wonderful chance to learn the biggest one!

Anyways, back to Finnish – upon my arrival in August last year, I signed up for Finnish 1A at the Language Centre. I was hesitant, as I have to say I wasn’t super enthusiastic about the challenge – but it was fun, I have to admit that. We are lucky enough to get language courses completely free of charge at the university, and you can choose between an intensive course, which has class 3 times a week, and another way less intensive one which is 2 times a week. I opted for the one that runs two times a week, and it wasn’t interfering too much with my other classes. If you are good at managing your time and want to put in the work, taking up a new language, even a not so easy one as Finnish, is very doable.

As mentioned above, I did drop out a week before the exam, as the winter darkness had started to kick in – like I said, do not beat yourself up about it. If it becomes a chore above anything else and you cannot find any good sides to it after you have given it a decent try, then consider if it is worth it. Finnish is not easy, and being at least a little excited about learning it is important. If you aren’t, then at least you can say you tried. And there’s always next year, if you felt like jumping into it during your first week in Finland was too rushed. If not, there’s Swedish!

For all my fellow international students – if you wish to get a head start on your journey into the wonderful land of the suomen kieli (Finnish language in Finnish – head start!), I encourage you to attend the Helsinki Summer School in August. Here, you can take a Finnish course before the academic year really kicks in in September – the course is free for scholarship students and other new students can access the course for a small fee. Signup takes place here: https://apply.helsinkisummerschool.fi/courses/course/217-intensive-finnish-course?search=76170

To sum up: learning a new language is a challenge, but it can also be very fun and it can help you get to know Finland and the Finns better. It’s not as easy as some of the languages you might’ve learnt in high school, but the benefit here is that you’re surrounded by natives and you can practise all the time if you so wish. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you choose to focus on other studies – I have never met a Finn who expects you to speak Finnish, as they are well aware of how hard their language is. And, perhaps the most compelling reason to start a Finnish language course when you start your university journey in Finland – you meet loads of equally new international students with whom you’ll be sure to curse away Finnish in no time. They are sure to become your new best friends, as you have your ‘love’ for Finnish in common!