Finnish for busy people

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!

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Marcin

Hei Inge, it’s great that you shared with us some information about your background! I also live in Tampere and work at the university here but I am a physicist, language learning is just my hobby.

I wanted to ask you, what was your experience with speaking Finnish with people at the beginning? Some foreigners complain that it can be difficult to learn to speak Finnish because Finns immediately switch to English. From my experience it happens sometimes but usually nobody insists on speaking English when I explain that I want to practice my Finnish. Of course in some situations, when there is time pressure, it may be not the right time to insist on speaking Finnish. But when I talk with my colleagues, they are fine that I want to speak Finnish.

By the way, your native language is Dutch, right? Have you ever considered teaching Dutch in Finland? Though it may be not a very popular language to learn here.

Inge (admin)

Hei Marcin!

I can’t say I have bad experiences with people wanting to switch to English. However, I’m an asocial hermit mostly, so I had very little to no contact with Finns in the beginning. My experience is that people have been very respectful of my wishes to speak Finnish for as long as I can remember. I’m glad you have similar experiences, speaking Finnish in real situations really helps you improve.

Teaching Dutch is not something I’m particularly interested in. Firstly, I’d be teaching Flemish rather than Dutch (which is especially noticeable in the pronunciation). Secondly, I have lost a lot of fluency in my native language due to limited use. And thirdly, I don’t know anything about the grammar of Dutch, so I’d be in the same situation as many Finns who are asked to explain something about the Finnish language.

Marcin

I understand, I am not a very social person either, I like meeting people but I am fine being alone. Maybe that’s why Finland is a good country for us. I came to Finland a few months after the pandemic started so I only worked remotely then and I also had very few opportunities to speak Finnish with people. Fortunately now it’s changing and I will be coming to my workplace more often. As for the claim of some foreigners that Finns often switch to English, I’ve been wondering if it is a real obstacle in learning the language or to some degree an excuse. I think that if one really wants to learn the language, it shouldn’t be a big obstacle.

Regarding losing fluency in one’s native language, I’ve been wondering when I will start to experience that. I guess it is something one doesn’t really believe to be possible until it actually happens. I left Poland four years ago, first I lived in Austria, now in Finland. So it’s a short period compared to you. Is it so that Finnish feels now more like your native language rather than Dutch?

Inge (admin)

Wow, only experiencing the pandemic while working here must have been strange.

I think there’s a tendency for Finns switch to English with monolingual English speakers really easily. It’s the first language learning experience for the foreigner, so they’re really struggling with 1) accepting that toddler-Finnish is all they will be able to speak for a while and 2) dealing with the insecurity of not knowing what’s correct. Other monolingual students (e.g. a Persian-only speaker) would probably also very easily be persuaded to speak Persian if the Finn actually knew Persian. I think it comes down mainly to insecurity. It’s easy to persuade someone who’s dealing with a lot of insecurities or fear. Some students probably do use it as an excuse though 🙂

I don’t speak Flemish at all these days. The only times I speak Flemish are when I travel to Belgium, which I only do every other year, and I only stay there for like a week. I also don’t consume any Dutch media. In these circumstances, it’s really easy to lose fluency. Your four years abroad aren’t nearly enough yet to lose fluency!

Finnish does not exactly feel like my native language compared to Dutch. Finnish definitely is easier for me than Dutch, but not effortless. Rather, I strongly identify with the concept of puolikielisyys: I know Finnish, Dutch and English well, but none so well that I can speak it the way I used to be able to speak Flemish.

Federico

Belgium? My wife is from Leuven (I lived in Leuven myself for 2 years while my wife was in Aaarhus in Denmark), and we moved to Tampere in 2019. Funny coincidence! Unfortunately I am the only one who had the time to study Finnish (and tries to use it) — she is professor at UTU and she does not have much time to study it. Incidentally, we speak English only at home since neither speaks the other’s native language.

Inge (admin)

Cool! I don’t actually know any Flemish speakers here in Finland 🙂 There has been the occasional Dutch speaker in courses I teach, but Belgians are a rare breed! I hope you both eventually learn the beautiful Finnish language.