Frequently asked questions
Hello there! I decided to answer some of the frequently asked questions I get regularly about myself as an immigrant in Finland and as the creator of Uusi kielemme.
Why/How did you start your website?
I got the idea to start my own website in 2007. I had only been learning Finnish for about 2 years at that point, so I was far from fluent. I felt like it would be beneficial for both me and other learners to write down what I was learning in an easy format. I was quite obsessed with it for a while, borrowing piles of books from the library in order to write articles for my sweet little website, which didn’t have a name yet back then.
Somewhere in 2008 I lost interest in it. The website continued to be available to anyone online, but I wasn’t actively adding or improving anything to it. Time went on, until I decided to completely redo the looks and improve all the content available on my website.
I don’t remember at which point I came up with the name Uusi kielemme, but when I did, it just made sense: Finnish is “our new language”; both yours and mine. It’s not some language that lives outside of us; we’re part of it. Claim your ownership and wear your “Finnish is my superpower” badge with pride!
For the last 2 years, I’ve once again been obsessive over my website – pouring every single free moment into writing and researching articles. Right now, it seems like my obsession is subduing once again. At the moment, I spend about one hour a day on it. That’s nothing compared to when I used to work on it for 5-6 hours a day, every day, while forgetting to eat or even pee!
What brought you to Finland?
Love! I chatted with a Finn for many years online. Eventually we met irl and, half a year later, I moved to Finland to live with him. This was in 2005, when I was about 21 years old.
What kind of a background do you have?
I was born and raised in Belgium, knowing near to nothing about Finland or the Finnish language. I remember even mixing up the “order” of the northern countries in geography (I could never remember if it was Norway-Sweden-Finland or Norway-Finland-Sweden). These countries only existed in a “far away” type of mind frame for me. My education was limited to the years that are mandatory in Belgium: primary + secondary school. After I finished high school, I got a job at the local swimming pool as a ticket seller. I did pretty well in school, especially with languages, but I felt unsure of my future and didn’t feel like continuing my education at that point.
Where did you study Finnish?
I started my Finnish studies in Tampere in 2005. My first course was the typical “moduulikoulutus” (module studies) which new immigrants usually get sent to when they come to Finland. Officially, this course is called “Aikuisten maahanmuuttajien kotoutumiskoulutus“. In that course, I studied Finnish language and culture. Back in those days, the stress was on integrating immigrants into Finnish society; less so on getting them into working life. My experience differs from how the module studies are organized these days: the courses have gotten shorter since then and working life skills are much more prominent in current courses. My “Modu” took a total of ten months, which was the normal length for such courses at the time.
After Modu, I got accepted into Valma (Ammatilliseen peruskoulutukseen valmistava koulutus), which is a course provided to students who need to strengthen their language skills and working life skills in order to be able to study their chosen profession in a Finnish vocational school. At the time, I really wanted to work in a library. Valma lasted for 10 months for me. Just like Modu, the contents of Valma have changed as well compared to what I experienced.
In 2009, I got accepted into Tampere University to study Finnish as my major. I was the only immigrant in my group; everyone else was a native Finnish speaker. I studied for five years to get my Master’s Degree and then did one year of evening schooling to get the qualifications to be a teacher.
How long did it take you to learn Finnish?
First off, I think learning any language is a life-long project. There will always be new words and phrases for you to learn. Recently, I learned the word petkele, for example, which refers to a long spade-like stick with a straight, sharp edge at the bottom. I got to use one to remove ice from a footpath this spring!
How long did it take you to reach YKI-level?
For me personally, it took 10 months of daily full-time lessons on a language course to reach that level. My YKI-test went especially well at that point for my written skills: I got a 4 (which means B2) for both reading and writing. For the speaking and listening parts of the exam, I got a 3 (which means B1). Point of reference: applying for the Finnish nationality requires you to get a 3 from the YKI-exam.
How long did it take you to become fluent in Finnish?
I feel like I was able to have fairly comfortable conversations with Finns after doing 20 months’ worth of daily full-time lessons in a language school. It’s hard to think back and assess what my language proficiency might have been at that time, but I must have been around level B2.1 or so at that point. Fluency is an unclear concept in any case and the perception of when you are fluent might differ from person to person.
Do you have a Finnish partner? Do you speak Finnish at home?
When I came to Finland, I had a Finnish partner, with whom I spoke only English. He wasn’t a super patient person and also not very aware of the intricacies of his own native language. As such, he rarely was able to answer my questions. It also caused some tension between us because he’d rather have intelligent conversations in English than speak toddler-Finnish with me.
Eventually that relationship ended, after which I found a new Finnish partner. I had been studying Finnish at that point for 4 years, so we spoke Finnish only from the very beginning of the relationship.
I do think it’s very helpful to have a Finnish partner who’s willing to help you practice your Finnish at home. However, I think my own situation is typical for many relationships of immigrants. Changing your “home language” once you have learned some basic Finnish is very hard. Your partner might not be equipped to deal with the frustration you’re feeling while learning the language.
What do you do now?
As a job, I teach Finnish part-time to other immigrants in Tampere’s adult education center. I don’t teach privately at all: my students get sent to my workplace by the unemployment office. I like my job. I find it very cool that I’m teaching the same courses I used to take myself (even if the contents have changed drastically). How cool is it that some of my co-workers used to actually be my teachers back in the day?! I’ve been struggling with quarantine and teaching online (just like everyone else, right?) but the core of my work is still very enjoyable.
My website is just a hobby. People have been kind enough with their donations (thank you, thank you, thank you!) for me to be able to pay for the yearly fees of keeping the website online. I’m not getting paid for the work I do for it. I used to have ads on my website through AdSense, but it just didn’t make much sense to me. Back when I got 300 visitors a day, I received about the same (negligible) amount of money from ads as with 1000 visitors a day. To me, that seems to indicate that there’s something wrong with the system, so the ads went bye-bye! It might have been an optimization issue rather than Adsense’s fault, but I actually feel better about my website without those pesky ads.
Those are the answers to some of the frequently asked questions I get! Hopefully this helped with your curiosity. If you have other questions, you could write them below in the comments!