Speak simply - hints for Finnish speakers

People can and do learn Finnish all the time, but many people end up not for years and years. Certainly the high penetration of English is part of that. This page gives some hints on how Finnish speakers can help Finnish learners, because after all immersion and daily usage is key to learning any language. These mainly apply to technical fields where English is the defacto language.

Finnish has many dialects, and the form we learn in classes isn’t even what most people speak. So, a bit of help can help us to learn much better.

Talk about unimportant things

It’s easy to speak Finnish - you just don’t speak. But that doesn’t help learning.

I have said “if it’s not important, I can understand Finnish well. If it’s important, I usually can’t understand much.” What this basically means that, if something is important, you end up switching to English because we have stuff to get done. Try to talk about unimportant things.

But at the same time, once Finns start talking, they are very talkative and once the speaking barrier has been passed, it goes straight to deep topics. As an artificial example, once someone starts talking they don’t just mention the nice weather, they begin a comparative analysis of long-term trends and their causes. Going too deep, too quickly, makes it harder to understand and follow - which isn’t helpful, either.

Write efficiently

Reading a few sentences to get some information may be doable. Reading paragraphs when the main point is hidden somewhere in there take a longer time, and thus people are less likely to do it, even if they want to.

Try to have the main point first and easy to find, followed by supporting information. Can the main point/request/purpose of the message even be clear in the first sentence, other critical information the first paragraph, followed by supporting information? This will probably be good for everyone anyway.

A multi-lingual message idea

If you do multi-lingual messages and you know most people want to read both languages, could you be clever about it? For example, first “main point” paragraph in Finnish - learners can try to read it. Then, more details in English below. Reading either language is enough to get the main point, and you can scan the other. It provides a challenge for people learning Finnish, and saves you some time in writing everything twice.

Ask people about what they are learning

Ask people about what they are learning in classes, so you know what level they are at and what types of topics they know about. That way you know how far to go and what the general progression is. Our textbooks tend to go in themes for each chapter, if you’re talking about something that we haven’t covered yet, we’ll have no idea how to listen or speak. Same for different word forms, etc.

Suomen Mestari is the most often used book these days (for adults), and this is roughly how it goes. One book is roughly half a year for a non-intensive course: * (to be added later)

Don’t give up

Don’t give up when speaking Finnish to people… they may be slow responding, but that’s OK. Since you’re talking about unimportant things, you can take some time.

Use Finnish words

Have to think about a word in English? Say the Finnish one first, help the person learn it. Maybe even just say the Finnish one and leave it at that, let the person learn it. Maybe even try intentionally using Finnish words. This is easiest with nouns but you could try others, too.

Try to separate words well

Finnish flows well, but this means that it can be hard to tell the words apart. Don’t make it unnatural, but don’t try to be as fast as you can. Can you make the separation of the words a bit easier to tell? We tell them not just by spaces, but also by emphasis of the first syllable of each word.

Try to articulate words well, especially the ends

In Finnish, you have to be able to understand words from both the beginning and end (because the ends have the forms). But often times the ends vanish, change, or otherwise are hard to pick up in spoken language. When that happens, us learners aren’t able to pick up what is said - and possible can’t understand the whole sentence. If you optimize the ends of words (as spoken Finnish does), we can’t figure out what you are trying to say.

Consider your puhekieli

It takes a long time for people to begin learning any spoken language - so if you are talking to beginners, they won’t have mental preparation to understand what you are saying. Of course it can be hard to speak kirjekieli, so try to find a proper balance. You can expect we should learn the simplest puhekieli, but maybe try to simplify some of the more advanced forms. But of course add more as time goes on.

Listen to bad Finnish

Unlike some languages, there is less existing culture of hearing bad Finnish on a daily basis. So if someone tries to say something, but says it only slightly wrong, the listener may have no idea what it was. This is frustrating, but more importantly switches the conversation to English. Be happy with bad Finnish and try to listen to it.

I don’t know if it’s even possible to find bad Finnish to practice…

It’s easier to read and write

When mailing/messaging people, do use more simple Finnish even if they might not know right away. It’s good practice. When in a big conversation with multiple people, mention them by name so that they know that they should pay attention to understanding it. When writing, all the same things on this page apply (especially the spelling the word endings out fully part).

Don’t hide Finnish text

This isn’t really a day-to-day speaking thing, but still somewhat relevant. Finland has a strong bilingual culture, but emphasis is hiding the other language (put another way, making sure that language A speakers never have to see language B). But that’s the opposite of what you should do with English/Finnish translations: you should not be worried if the untranslated articles appear in Finnish too. Put another way, consider the Aalto University websites. When in English mode, anything that isn’t translated just disappears. It would be better to have it appear in Finnish still - it’s easy to skip over if you don’t want it, but if you are learning it gives you exposure. Plus you know that something exists.

Make domain-specific cheatsheets

In many languages, advanced and technical terms are similar. Not necessarily in Finnish, yet these advanced terms are needed for work and stuff - and not taught in any basic courses. My idea is that domains can make specific cheatsheets of common terms so that people there can learn what is relevant to them. If anyone wants to use Hyvää Päivää to host this, let me know.

Use children as teachers

In the short term, our time is so limited and we talk at such a level that we will usually end up with English. However, there are plenty of children who don’t know English so well yet and are happy with any kind of interaction. Maybe invite your friends learning Finnish to events with your children?