Finnish for busy people

Duolingo: Haarukka on tuossa. Tässä on sininen kukka.

I find Duolingo’s introduction of the words meaning “here” and “there” (tuossa and tässä) pretty good! They are quite consistent with it in the beginning, so it really helps. It’s only in later lessons where things get super tricky.

The basics: Duolingo introduces the words “here” and “there” as follows: tässä “right here”, täällä “over here”, tuossa “right there” and tuolla “over there”. As you progress further into these lessons, eventually Duolingo also starts to accept plain “here” for täällä rather than “over here”.

You can read more about how to say “here” and “there” in Finnish in my separate article.

The article you’re reading right now contains two sections:

  1. Section 1 contains sentences with “here” and “there” at the end of the phrase.
  2. Section 2 contains sentences with “here” and “there” at the beginning of the phrase.

This is important, because the different word order conveys a different type of meaning in Finnish!

Section 1: “here” and “there” at the end of the phrase

1.1. Tässä – Right here

The word tässä can be translated to English as “here” or “right here”. When first introducing this word, Duolingo is very insistent on translating tässä as “right here”. This allows us to grasp the difference between tässä (referring to a small area) and täällä (referring to a larger area).

Finnish English Lesson name
Tämä veitsi on tässä. This knife is right here. Fridge
Pyöreä lautanen on tässä. The round plate is right here. Barbecue
Punainen mehu on tässä. The red juice is right here. Fridge
En halua istua tässä. I do not want to sit here. Family
Suola on tässä. The salt is right here. Barbecue
Ovatko ne tässä? Are they right here? Barbecue

1.2. Täällä – Over here

The word täällä can be translated to English as “here” or “over here”. In comparison with tässä, täällä refers to a larger area.

Finnish English Lesson name
Stadion on täällä. The stadium is over here. Sights
Pöllölä, museo on täällä! Pöllölä, the museum is over here! Sights
Professori ei ole täällä. The professor is not over here. Languages 2
Onko limonadi täällä? Is the soda pop over here? Fridge
Miikka, onko maito täällä? Miikka, is the milk over here? Fridge

1.3. Tuossa – Right there

The word tuossa can be translated to English as “there” or “right there”. The “right there” translation allows you to differentiate between tuossa and tuolla, which both refer to a place you can point at but not touch. They differ in what size the area is: tuossa is a small, specific spot while tuolla is a larger, general area.

Finnish English Lesson name
Haarukka on tuossa. The fork is right there. Barbecue
Mehu on tuossa. The juice is right there. Fridge
Kello on tuossa. The clock is right there. O’clock
Ovatko ne tuossa? Are they right there? Barbecue
Vanha tammi on tuossa. The old oak is right there. Outdoors 1
Iso kivi on tuossa. The big rock is right there. Wild

1.4. Tuolla – Over there

The word tuolla can be translated to English as “there” or “over there” and refer to an area you can point at but not touch. In comparison with tuossa, tuolla refers to a larger, less clearly defined area.

Finnish English Lesson name
Joki on tuolla. The river is over there. Outdoors 1
Ehkä kello on tuolla. Maybe the clock is over there. O’clock
Museo on tuolla. The museum is over there. Sights
Ehkä oikea puisto on tuolla. Maybe the right park is over there. Sights
Liha on tuolla. The meat is over there. Fridge

Section 2: “here” and “there” at the beginning of the phrase

Once the previous section has been thoroughly drilled in, Duolingo switches things up and adds existential sentences. The meaning of the words as such doesn’t change, but the translation to English undergoes a massive – and confusing – change.

Why? It’s because word order in Finnish conveys different meanings, and in English this requires a completely different construction. English and Finnish don’t match up, so this creates confusion.

In Finnish, word order can be used to convey which part of the sentence is the new information. The old information will be put at the beginning of the phrase, while the new information will be placed at the end of the sentence. In English, you generally use the articles “a” and “the” for the same purpose. In addition, for location sentences, English also uses a separate sentence construction which contains the words “there is a”.

2.1. “There is a…”

The following table contains pairs which include the words tässä, täällä, tuossa and tuolla. For each pair, I’m giving you two word order options.

Phrases marked with #1 start with the subject and end with “here” or “there”. When putting the subject first in the sentence, we are conveying that this is the old information. For example, in the sentence “Kivi on tässä” (The rock is right here), this sentence serves the purpose of telling us where the rock is. We already knew that there was a rock but now, we learn the location of said rock.

In contrast, the sentence “Tässä on kivi” (There is a rock right here) serves the purpose of informing us of something I located. The sentence contains the new information that there is a rock here.

# Finnish English
1 Pieni kivi on tässä The small rock is right here.
2 Tässä on pieni kivi. There is a small rock right here.
1 Kukka on tuossa. The flower is right there.
2 Tuossa on kukka. There is a flower right there.
1 Suuri vihreä kuusi on tuossa. The large, green spruce is right there.
2 Tuossa on suuri vihreä kuusi. There is a large, green spruce right there.
1 Turvallinen silta on täällä.
The safe bridge is over here.
2 Täällä on turvallinen silta. There is a safe bridge over here.
1 Pörröinen orava on täällä. The fluffy squirrel is over here.
2 Täällä on pörröinen orava. There is a fluffy squirrel over here.
1 Ehkä kello on tuolla. Maybe the clock is over there.
2 Ehkä tuolla on kello. Maybe there is a clock over there.

2.2. “It has a…”

Here is where the real trouble starts! Duolingo’s approach here is definitely not beneficial for new learners. The thing that trips up most learners is that the word tässä starts being translated as “it has”.

The problem is that “it has” doesn’t actually tell us what the subject is of the sentence. Even when we see the English translation, we are left wondering “What thing has a few raspberries?” and “Which thing has a blue flower?” This could have been avoided if Duolingo had first introduced sentences such as “Kasvissa on sininen kukka” (The plant has a blue flower) or “Pensaassa on vain muutama vadelma” (The bush has only a few raspberries). You do get a couple of sentences such as this, but they are only introduced later on.

Finnish English
Tässä on muutama vadelma. It has a few raspberries. / There are a few raspberries here.
Tässä on pieni kivi. It has a small rock. / There is a small rock here.
Tässä on sininen kukka. It has a blue flower. / There is a blue flower here.
Tässä on kaksi kukkaa. It has two flowers. / There are two flowers here.
Kasvissa on vain yksi ruskea lehti. The plant only has one brown leaf.
Kasvissa on viisi pientä kukkaa. The plant has five little flowers.
Miksi tässä ei ole mikrofonia? Why does it not have a microphone?
Montako lehteä puussa vielä on? How many leaves does the tree still have?

So, “tässä on” can be translated as “it has a…“. However, it can also be translated as “There is a…”. For example, “Tässä on kaksi kukkaa” could be translated both as “There are two flowers here” and “It has two flowers”. For the latter sentence, the “it” could refer to a plant or a tree – any object that can have flowers.

Why is Duolingo so set on translating these sentences with “it has”? I suspect Duolingo really wants to teach you possessive sentences at this point. In English, there is no problem with “it has”: it follows the same pattern as “I have, you have, he has”. Unfortunately, Finnish doesn’t have a verb that by itself means “I/you/we have”. Instead, we use the “minulla on” sentence construction.

Finnish English
Minulla on ruotsalainen nimi. I have a Swedish name.
Hänellä on oranssi kissa. He/she has an orange cat.
Hänellä on hyvä televisio. He/she has a good television.
Sillä on kaksi pentua. It has two kittens/puppies. (“it” = a cat, a dog)
Sillä on pieni lehti.
It has a small leaf. (“it” = a bird, an ant)

The caveat here is that when things have something, you do not use the same ending. Instead of the -lla form (the adessive case) you use the -ssa form (the inessive case).

Finnish English
Autossa on neljä rengasta. The car has four wheels.
Tässä on neljä rengasta. It has four wheels. / There are four wheels right here.
Asunnossa on ikkuna. The apartment has a window.
Tässä on ikkuna. It has a window. / There is a window right here.

Duolingo is not perfect. There’s one glaring mistake here that can’t be explained away: the sentence “Tässä on pieni pöllö“. Duolingo translates this as “It has a small owl”. However, finding a context where a thing has a small owl is difficult. I suppose it could be natural to say that an animal has a small owl. This sentence would be translated as “Sillä on pieni pöllö“.

Please also take a look at my own article on how to say “here” and “there” in Finnish. I expect that will be an easier to understand approach to the topic.

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Rasikko

I found your other article on these words to be a lot more understandable, including thier advanced use than Duo Lingo’s introduction of them.

Last edited 2 months ago by Rasikko
Inge (admin)

Yes, I would definitely recommend people who have landed on this page first to have a closer look at my other article on how to say “here” and “there” first. That’s the more logical approach of how to learn them.

In this current article I’m analysing Duolingo’s approach and – since it’s an interesting but kind of out-there approach – it’s not the best way of learning them. It was really fun for me to see how they handled it though! 🙂

Thomas

What do you think of Duolingo’s methods generally? I tend to use it for examples, vocab and context but then also go and look for actual explanations of the grammar

Inge (admin)

I was pleasantly surprised actually! It was more complex and organised than I thought it would be. The gradual progress works well and I feel like things are spaced out pretty well. It is of course little more than a game and I think if you’d put down Duolingo for 2 months (if it’s the only tool you’re using) you’d have a lot of trouble getting back to your previous level.

I was kind of sad when I got to the end, as I would have loved to see how it would have approached the location cases and further verb conjugations. I definitely focused more on how grammar was introduced than on anything else because that was the truly fascinating thing to me. Because I already know the grammar through-and-through, I was more able to assess the speed at which and the order in which things were presented. While there were some surprises, I think they made some sensible choices.

The biggest problem for me were the sentences constructions and how they were translated. They went for translations closest to what both languages would use independently rather than straight translations, which is good but also frustrating for the learner. On my website, I often opt for sentences that sound a bit weird in English but follow the Finnish sentence pattern. I feel it helps understand how Finnish sentences “work”. Duolingo bypasses that and just gives the English translation.

I would love if the beginning of every lesson had a video lesson which gives you the same information as the “tips” you can read on the website. Having it in video format and placing it at the beginning of the level would – for Finnish grammar at least – solve so much of the confusion new learners experience. Not everyone knows where these tips are or have the patience to read them.

I can understand the critique people give Duolingo very well. However, coming into it with very low expectations, I must say it surprised me pleasantly 🙂

Marcin

Recently they replaced the computer voice with real voices, which I think is much better. The computer voice was sometimes mispronouncing words, like limonadia was pronounced as something like limoneidia (in fact that’s also how Google Translator pronounces it). But the new real voices do not make such mistakes and sound much better!

Have you ever considered applying as a contributor to Duolingo’s Finnish course? Unfortunately, they no longer take volunteers, now all the contributors are paid employees, so it’s probably even more difficult to become a contributor. However, since both your Finnish and English are on native or near-native level, I think you would qualify!

I also enjoyed the course a lot. It appeared just a few months before my move to Finland, so it happened in perfect time for me! At that time I already knew your website so I was using both, and sometimes people were referring to your website in the comment sections of Duolingo’s Finnish course to help others. I also did it several times! Unfortunately, now the sentence discussions are read-only, and all other discussions are deleted so there is no real community there. I was a bit disappointed that the course doesn’t go more deeply into such concepts like cases, verb conjugation etc. Possessive endings are not used at all. All the sentences are in present tense, and the other tenses are not even touched (except for some sentences at the end like “Oli hauska tutustua”).

Anyway, I think the Duolingo course is a good start for beginners, though it shouldn’t be the only resource (well, it’s probably always good to use several resources). I just hope that it will be developed further.