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  • Writer's pictureIan Mac Eochagáin

Immigrant to Finland? Correct your flawed attitudes!

Make your life happier by correcting these flawed attitudes about Finnish.

Immigrants to Finland often have the wrong kind of attitude to the Finnish language. I know this because I’m an immigrant myself. It can’t be overstated enough: learning Finnish is key to becoming part of society here. The benefits of speaking the language are real. Even better: they increase the more you learn.

What’s keeping you from learning Finnish to at least a basic conversational level? Very often the answer is your own attitude. Here are four attitudinal flaws immigrants to Finland have about the Finnish language. As I’ll show, they’re all built on faulty logic.

(And obviously, everything I say in this blog post has to go for Swedish as well if you’ve moved to a Swedish-speaking area.)

1. I can’t learn Finnish: I don’t have a head for languages/I haven’t got the time

I doubt you’re really mentally incapable of learning a new language. I think the truth is you are afraid of making the effort, of making mistakes, or simply afraid of the unknown. The reality, however, is that when you’re living here, in Finland, you’re living in the midst of the language. There’s no better place than here to make a little effort.

You don’t need to be a linguistic genius to start saying a few words in everyday situations. That’s where learning a language starts: repetition of familiar phrases. Gradually, your confidence will improve.

“I haven’t got the time” isn’t a great excuse: we all have the same 24 hours in a day. Even if you’re terribly busy, you have a few spare minutes a day to listen to Finnish radio in the background, watch some TV, or seek out a situation where you have to say a few words in Finnish.

2. Finns won’t accept the way I speak Finnish

You won’t know until you try! Yes, it’s true that native Finns are extremely quick to switch to English if they hear an immigrant speak Finnish with an accent (something I’ll berate them for in my blog post on Thursday). However, more and more native Finnish speakers are used to hearing their language spoken with an accent and less than perfect grammar. You probably won’t be the first person your interlocutor has heard speaking Finnish as a foreign language.

And if you don’t have the courage to speak it, they’ll never get used to it. Go on, open your mouth! (And if they do reply in English, stand your ground: “suomeksi, kiitos!”)

3. Learning Finnish isn’t worth it: it’s too small a language

Then why are you here? This is a classic straw-man excuse that you’ve invented to relieve yourself of the effort of learning the language. The problem is between your ears, not the language itself.

Finnish is not a small language by any measure. Small languages have hundreds or thousands of speakers, not millions, as Finnish has. Finnish also punches far above its weight as a language online: by one measure, it is the world’s 28th largest online language, in terms of the language of websites.

If you live here, you’re surrounded by Finnish. It’s up to you whether you make the noise around you intelligible, or whether you let it remain constant white noise for ever.

4. Learning Finnish isn’t worth it: all Finns speak English

Firstly, they don’t. At least one in three Finns doesn’t speak English at all. The other two thirds speak it to varying degrees of fluency. Not all of them are comfortable speaking it here, in their own country, where their native language is already the largest one.

You should also consider how well you are getting to know the country, really, if you are experiencing it through the filter of English. Are you planning to spend at least a few years here? Then you should try and understand the locals and their society through the medium of their language. It will benefit you more than doing it via English.

All of these flawed attitudes have one thing in common: they are barriers which you have created in your own head. If you want to speak Finnish, you can. You just have to adopt the right attitude to speaking Finnish, and then decide when and where you’re going to speak.


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