Learning Finnish: Pandora’s Box or A Piece of Cake?

When Nina and I started dating, I did not know one word of Finnish. Despite having been in Finland before, never crossed my mind. But I’m a sucker for challenges.

During a walk in a forest near Brussels, I learned my 2 first Finnish words: nokkonen and saniainen (nettles and ferns). Of course I had already looked up moi (hello) and nähdaan (see you), kaunis (beautiful) and koira (dog). Ok, I thought, I’ll have to learn a lot of vocabulary, but I can manage… After all, I speak 4 languages fluently and understand basics of 3 more… 3 months later I was puzzled and in dire need of structured learning. Although I used a book and CD (Sun Suomi) I didn’t feel myself improving. So I registered for a Finnish language course at CLT (Centrum voor Levende Talen) in Leuven.

I felt 16 again. First day (evening), meeting new classmates, and the first hour was just overwhelming. In a good way. The teacher, Tiina Karetvaara, introduced herself and made easy, simple conversation. The second hour was more of intro of everyone, and the first words and expressions.

So every week, Thursday nights were spent at CLT, gradually improving and learning. And what I loved most: not too much theoretical matter, more the practical side. And lots of audio-visual materials, and Finnish cultural information.

Some of the classmates were there as part of their “nordic language discovery”, but a few had links to the country, and Ward and Yulia actually already moved to Oulu, Finland!

End of the semester meant exams. Soo nervous. Frantically repeating last words, comparing notes… luckily passed. Level A1! Still a long way to go!

Semester 2, same schedule, and more and more words, upping the stakes… passed the exams! We traveled that summer to Finland as usual, but I was able to use my Finnish, until people switched to English…

Second year, September comes around. And we’re meeting all again at CLT. I managed to keep up by dedicating 1/2 day per week to extra study.

That November we decided to buy a mökki in Lapland, and so by December we were spending every possible holiday there… And I missed deadlines for classes, homeworks and exams… Add to that a house move and pretty big job change… I never continued the second year. With pain in my heart because I love to learn…

With all the other projects going on, continuing travels and a new baby in our family, I decided to go back to self-paced studying. Aside from listening to the radio almost daily (Radio Suomi) and reading news on Yle’s website, I use 2 main sites to learn from:

Despite the fact that I’ve slowed down considerably, I’m still able to get around in Finland, understand most important signs, read recipes and follow news and understand the main lines. I follow conversations with family and friends but that requires a lot of concentration…

Part of learning a language is also learning about the country, it’s inhabitants, culture, habits, politics, geography, but also bout the quirks and reality. Finland has had a quite turbulent past, with many invaders/oppressors. It has a challenging climate, and some of the most beautiful and pristine nature in the world. And from my point of view, very genuine and hardy inhabitants. Hardworking, honest, somewhat distant in the beginning, and straight to the point.

Finns have a few “holy houses”: Sauna, makkara, Fazer chocolate, salmiakki, Moomin and Marimekko, and Finlandia vodka of course… And some of these subjects are very useful when learning a language, one way or another…

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