Four tips for learning Finnish as a foreigner


With a reputation as one of the hardest languages in the world, the idea of learning Finnish might be scary for some, especially for beginners. Finnish is considered challenging to learn because it uses a grammar structure very different to many of the popular languages, such as English or Spanish. Just like Hungarian, it has A LOT of suffixes, which might be confusing at first. But don’t let this discourage you, Finnish is such a beautiful and rewarding language to learn. Below are 4 tips for learning Finnish from someone who learned it as a foreigner.


1. Look at the bright side

Finnish is pronounced exactly as it’s written, which means once you learn the alphabet you are basically good to go. Start with the 100 most common words and then make sentences with them over and over again. Learn just enough grammar to be able to do this and practice until you feel comfortable with moving onto the next 100. Learn phrases you'd also use in your own language. Language books are full of sentences like "Excuse me, where is the train station?" or "I would like to order a salad please ". Seriously, learn things first that you will actually use in real life. Another encouraging fact is that the Finnish language loves literal words, which makes it much easier to learn. A lot of Finnish words have very literal English translations that can make learning a lot of fun. For example, a computer is a “knowledge machine” (tietokone), a treadmill is a “running carpet” (juoksumatto) and a refrigerator is an “ice cupboard” (jääkaappi).


2. Take it easy, but take it

I won’t lie to you, you will need quite a bit of grit – or sisu – before you reach fluency in Finnish. There will be ups and downs, just like with any new language. When learning Finnish, nothing beats consistency. You'll go through periods where you lose motivation, or struggle to find the time for it and that's completely normal. Still, try your best to learn something new every day. And please, don't worry about not understanding every word – try and guess it from context or just ask, others will be happy to explain. Use all of you know, without focusing too much on mistakes. The best advice my Finnish teacher gave me at my beginner’s course was to express everything as simply as I can, without giving too much thought about it. I can hear all the perfectionists screaming internally just by reading this – exactly like I did back then – but it’s actually great advice. You don’t need to be perfect, you just need to stick with it and keep on going. Take it easy, but take it.


3. Be patient

You will go through different phases. Keep this in mind, be patient and reward yourself for each milestone you reached. First, you’ll be able to speak a little and understand nothing. Then you’ll be able to understand a lot more than you speak. The next step is becoming conversational, but with a lot of mental effort, meaning translating words and phrases back and forth in your head. Once you’re able to speak and listen without thinking too much about it, you’ll begin to actually think in Finnish believe it or not. Once this happens, you’re really hitting a high level and you should be super proud of yourself. As with anything, if you’re going to stick to it, you have to find a way to make it fun. Find people you enjoy talking to, visit events you’re interested in, talk about topics you care about or learn about the culture. Don’t just sit in a classroom or in front of a book, or you’re likely to burn out fairly quickly.


4. Practice, practice, practice

Take every single opportunity you can to speak, write, listen to and practice Finnish. Experts say that an hour of conversation is as good as five hours spent in a classroom. This is of course much easier to achieve if you live in Finland, where you can use the language anywhere from the local R-Kioski to the library. Still, there are a lot of opportunities even if you live abroad and it’s not only the Duolingo app. HERE and HERE you can find a great collection of websites and material suitable for various levels that can help you polish your skills:


Written by 

Anna Tilly, Cultural Manager FinnAgora