Well, people often assume that Finnish must be similar to the languages of neighboring Sweden or Russia. And that’s why it is a difficult one to learn. Our article tells you why that’s simply not true. Finns often run into questions like “Is Finnish like Swedish?” or “Does everyone in Finland speak Russian?” an easy answer to both questions is not any.
Both Swedish (one of the 2 official languages of Finland) and Russian belong to the Indo-European group of languages, while Finnish may be a Finno-Ugric language. The latter group also includes Hungarian, Estonian, Sámi (spoken by the indigenous people of northern Finland, Sweden and Norway, and northwestern Russia), and a number of other lesser-known languages spoken in areas of Russia. The Finno-Ugric languages share enough common lexical and grammatical features to prove a standard origin. Although these languages have developed separately for thousands of years, it is often seen that common features include:
- absence of gender (the same Finnish pronoun, “hän,” denotes both “he” and “she”)
- absence of articles (a and therefore the in English)
- long words thanks to the structure of the language
- numerous grammatical cases
- personal possession expressed with suffixes
- postpositions in addition to prepositions
- no equivalent of the verb “to have”
Why is Finnish in particular a hard language to learn?
The Finnish language – is a Uralic language, which means it is unrelated to other European languages except Hungarian(which is still very distant from it). Finnish uses a wide range of sounds not found in other languages.
In our view, the cases would be the most challenging ones.
In terms of difficulties, Georgian is way more complex with quite a few exotic features.
How to Learn Finnish the Natural Way
With a reputation together of the toughest languages within the world, the prospect of learning Finnish could be intimidating to people looking to find out the language, especially first-time language learners. There are two main reasons why Finnish is considered such a difficult language: the primary is that there really is not any other language quite like it. The second reason is that the language uses a grammar structure very different from many of the more widely spoken languages.
But don’t let this deter you! Finnish is such a beautiful language and a rewarding language to learn. Not only that, you can actually start learning to speak Finnish directly. Read on to find out more about the best way to learn Finnish fast!
What Makes Finnish So Unique?
Finnish omits tons of preposition, conjunction, and determiner words like “a”, “the”, “in”, “to”, “from”, etc. Instead of using those words, the language is organized with a series of suffixes. So rather than saying you’re standing “in” somewhere, you’d add “-lla” or “-ssa” to the top of the word for where you’re standing in. This is something which will be a touch bit complicated initially, but it’s actually much easier than you think that to grow familiar with by just paying close attention to when each suffix is used. When it involves Finnish, you actually don’t need to undertake to find out its grammar by studying by the book because it often breaks its own rules.
Finnish also has two extra letters with umlauts that are commonly used, which are “ä” and “ö”. The pronunciation of those letters falls under English’s own “a” and “o”, making it hard for English speakers to listen to the difference between the traditional “a” and therefore the “ä”, same with the “o” sounds. This particularly becomes a drag when speaking. Pronouncing one among these letters incorrectly can turn the word you’re trying to pronounce into a totally different word with a completely different meaning! This is why when you’re starting to learn Finnish if you don’t have a native speaker you can practice with, you should listen to audio from native Finnish speakers as much as possible so you’ll learn the right pronunciations and compare your own pronunciation against that of native speakers.
Much of learning Finnish is about recognizing patterns. Because of that, many of us don’t find much success in Finnish classrooms or with vocabulary apps. The best way to learning Finnish fast is just by doing and doing often. Even though the language is phonetic, meaning that it’s pronounced even as it’s written, it’s still a troublesome language for native English speakers to pronounce. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that you simply practice speaking Finnish more.
More Finnish Words You Already Know
Nowadays, people turn to Google whenever they encounter a problem. They think that they can get all the answers from the internet. It is true that the internet is very helpful in a number of ways, but it has its limitations. There are things in which humans will always stay on top.
If you require linguistic assistance, your first thought will be to open Google Translate. However, when it comes to official files, you cannot rely on machine translation. Looking for Swedish translators? Check this out.
You also shouldn’t try to translate a document yourself, even if you are bilingual. There is a reason why only qualified and trained professionals can provide you with the most accurate results. They know what kind of work has to be done in order for the authorities to accept your documents. They have handled many similar projects in the past and can help you too.
So, if you require the English translation of your document from Greek, here’s what you can do:
A single Finnish word can express what would be a whole sentence in English
Finnish is a highly synthetic language. This means that a word can be made by juxtaposing inflected verbs, nouns, and adjectives, depending on each word’s role in the sentence. Prepositions often appear as suffixes attached to nouns, and other particles can be added to express nuance. This means that ideas requiring an entire sentence to express in English can be conveyed in Finnish with a single word.
Take the word söisinköhän. This single word could be translated as the English sentence, ‘I’m wondering if I should eat something.’
How does this work? Syödä is the verb to eat. Here it is conjugated in the first person – söin – and the conditional particle –isi is added. The suffix –kö denotes a question, and –hän introduces the idea of doubt.
Each Finnish verb has 200 possible endings
There are six groups of verbs. Each verb can be conjugated according to person, number, tense, and mood. There are also passive structures, five infinitive forms, and other particles. This equates to well over 200 possible verb endings for each verb.
Here’s an example: Pidättekö tanssimisesta? (‘Do you like dancing?’)
The verb, pitää (to like) is in the second-person plural form with a –kö question suffix. The verb tanssia (to dance) is nominalized (tanssiminen), and then inflected in the relative case, which is needed after pitää.
Consonants within the original word may change
This elaborate inflection system presents a problem for the learner. Before looking up a new word in the dictionary, you must work out what the basic form is. As well as back-tracking to check what the inflections and suffixes mean, this may also involve applying another set of rules: consonant gradation. The letters k, p, and t can change or even disappear when the word stem is inflected and has a suffix added to it.
You can see this in the example above Pidättekö tanssimisesta? (‘Do you like dancing?’). The verb pitää (to like) underwent consonant gradation in its stem, with the strong ‘t’ becoming a weak ‘d’.
Here’s another example: Tarkenenkohan? – ‘I wonder if I’ll be warm enough?’
The dictionary form of this verb is actually tarjeta (to stand the cold). But in this instance, the conjugated verb has undergone consonant gradation from ‘j‘ to ‘k‘, and two particles have been added: –ko, which denotes the question form, and –han, which suggests doubt.
The order of words in a sentence adds emphasis or subtle differences in meaning
Word order is very free in Finnish, but moving words around within a sentence subtly alters its meaning.
For example, the phrases Pöydällä on kirja and Kirja on pöydällä both translate as ‘There is a book on the table’.
However, there is a slight difference in meaning, due to word order. The former answers the question: ‘What is on the table?’. The latter counters an incorrect statement: ‘There is a magazine on the table.’
If you were describing one person seeing their friend, you might say either Kimi näki Valtterin (Kimi saw Valtteri) or Valtterin näki Kimi. Both have the same meaning, grammatically. But the second sentence emphasizes that it was Kimi who saw Valtteri, not someone else.
If we wanted to say that Valtteri saw Kimi, it would be: Valtteri näki Kimin or Kimin näki Valtteri. The inflections dictate who saw whom, whereas the word order gives a more nuanced meaning.
Almost all permutations would generate a meaningful sentence with a slight shift in the emphasis, but without requiring a change in intonation or stress. In English, we use emphatic stress (part of our tone of voice) to show the difference between ‘Tim drank tea’ (not Tom) and ‘Tim drank tea‘ (not coffee). But the Finns use word order or suffixes to show these nuances in meaning.
Words are spelled the same way they sound
On the whole, Finnish is pronounced as it is written. Each letter represents a sound, and there are no silent letters and very few consonant clusters. Finns struggle to pronounce English words that contain consonant blends, like ‘executive’ /ɪgˈzɛkjʊtɪv/ and ‘educational’ /ɛdjuˈkeɪʃᵊnl/. Words are stressed on the first syllable, so Finns say HEL.sin.ki, rather than hel.SIN.ki. Vowel harmony, where only certain combinations of vowels are possible in a word, affects the pronunciation (and spelling) of suffixes such as in Söisinköhän and Tarkenenkohan, above.
One challenge for language learners is identifying syllable boundaries in the pronunciation of very long words. But for many foreigners, it is the pronunciation of double vowels and double consonants that causes the most difficulty. To a learner, Tapaan sinut huomenna – ‘I’ll meet you tomorrow’, sounds very similar to Tapan sinut huomenna – ‘I’ll kill you tomorrow’. You see the problem.
Finns have an amazing ability to utter extremely long sentences without pausing. This sometimes results in ‘ingressive’ breathiness, where the speaker appears to be breathing in while speaking – a skill I have yet to master.