Finnish for busy people

Finnish Language Textbook for BEGINNERS: Recommendations

This article contains some recommendations for Finnish language textbooks for beginners. These are my opinions and you may or may not feel the same way when using these. I’m focusing on how suitable I think these books are for self-study.

1. Learning Finnish on Your Own

Finnish can be really hard to learn on your own. The amount of shared vocabulary with eg. English is very small. The grammar is also very different from Indo-European languages. This makes it hard to start learning Finnish completely on your own, unless you know Estonian. It’s not impossible, but definitely challenging. Unfortunately, there is only a limited amount of Finnish language textbooks for beginners

2. Starting from Zero

You could start with self-study from zero by using some of the Finnish learning apps on the market. These can be helpful to get started. Having a small amount of vocabulary already memorized will help you when starting to use a textbook.

You could:

3. Finnish Language Textbooks for Beginners

Things aren’t simple if you want a textbook to begin learning Finnish! Most modern reliable textbooks are written completely in Finnish.

3.1. Books in English for Learning Finnish

It probably seems natural for you to search for a Finnish learning book that is written in either English or another language you know. Unfortunately, these books aren’t generally the best.

Searching on Amazon for “Finnish for beginners” will give you all kinds of hits, but most of those aren’t course books. Many seem to be thin workbook type resources. These are not sold in Finland or available in Finnish libraries. I’m not entirely sure how useful they are, but I’m hesitant to recommend them.

English textbooks that are readily available include:

  • Finnish for Foreigners 1: A very old book, originally from 1987, with outdated reading texts. Still for sale! English is used throughout the whole book, which makes it suitable for self-study. I suppose you could use if it you have nothing better available. Accompanied by an exercise book and two CDs. Score: 5/10 (see section 3.11)
  • Teach Yourself Finnish: Suitable for self-study. Not terrible if you’re studying Finnish abroad, but not great either. Free audio! Also sold under the name Complete Finnish. Audio available for free online. Score: 5/10 (see section 2.8)
  • From Start to Finnish: Suitable for self-study. Pretty superficial: you will need additional sources for vocabulary and exercises. Advances way too quickly. Is much less outdated than the previous two. Audio available for free online. Score: 7/10. (see section 2.1)

3.2. Books in Finnish for Learning Finnish

  • Suomen mestari 1: Completely in Finnish. Versatile book with enough vocabulary. The difficulty increases gradually. Additional sources needed (especially for the grammar). This book works well as a basis for self-study: it shows you the order of things to study. Digital exercises coming soon. Free audio for the slightly older version! Score: 8/10. (see section 3.6.1)
  • Suomi sujuvaksi 1: Completely in Finnish. Great slow pace up to chapter 15/20, after that too fast. Very traditional exercises. Nice vocabulary lists. Shows you the order to study things in, suitable for self-study in combination with another book. Interchangeable with Kieli käyttöön 1 (near-identical content, pick the one you can get the most easily). No audio. Score: 7/10. (see section 3.7.1)
  • Suomen kielen tikapuut – Alkeistaso 1: the dialogues are oversimplified, advances slowly, mainly traditional fill-in-the-gap exercises, completely in Finnish except for a word list for each reading text, solutions to the exercises not available, no audio. Score: 7/10. (see section 3.10.1)
  • No niin! 1: Completely in Finnish. Nice looking pages with plenty of vocabulary. Works best if you make the whole investment for the supplementary materials too: the solutions the exercises, the listening exercises and the digital exercises. Score: 8/10 for the whole package, 6/10 for just the book. (see section 3.3.1)
  • Helppoa suomea: Nice as an additional source, but (unlike the two books above) not great as the main book for self-study. Audio available for free online. Score: 5/10 (see section 2.6)

4. Combining resources

If you’re learning Finnish on your own, you should get used to combining resources. Using only one source isn’t as effective as using multiple sources side by side. Buy several books. Look through your options in the library if possible.

You would benefit from acquiring:

  1. A reference grammar book (read more about your options here)
    • If you’re a linguist and are interested in learning about the Finnish language, Jukka K. Korpela’s Handbook of Finnish is a great investment.
    • If you’re not very familiar with grammar in general, Leila White’s A Grammar Book of Finnish is nice.
    • If you want an in-depth heavy-duty reference grammar, get Fred Karlsson’s Finnish A Comprehensive Grammar.
  2. An English language textbook
    • If you feel like you can’t manage with a textbook that’s written completely in Finnish, Leila White’s From start to Finnish is not bad. This book will require more resources for exercises and vocabulary. I don’t recommend using this book on its own.
  3. A Finnish language textbook
    • If you’re looking for a modern, engaging book that advances pretty slowly, complete with audio, Suomen mestari 1 is a great choice. It’s part of a 4-part series so you can continue with book 2 after you’ve learned the basics.
    • If you’re old-school and want a traditional course book with fill-in-the-gaps exercises, Suomi sujuvaksi 1 is great. This is a 2-part series, and advances more quickly.

Apps like Memrise or Duolingo can help you learn vocabulary and a certain type of grammar, but achieving a higher level with these is pretty difficult. Combine them with other resources! The internet is an awesome place, so use what it provides you with. Find which sources fit your learning style by trying them out. Use my website and others like it. Use YouTube and Yle Areena to get more listening input.

5. More information about these and other books

I haven’t described any of my suggestion into much detail, because you can read more about these in my big book review list. Use ctrl+F to find the name of the books I have listed above. You can learn more about their content, aesthetics and style.

If my options don’t seem to fit you as a learner, that same article contains in-depth reviews of most of the Finnish language learning books that exist in Finland. Prepare to be overwhelmed!

Finnish Language Learning Book Review List – Oppikirjat

6. Find a Finnish Course

If self-study turns out to be really hard to keep up, that is totally understandable. You might want to look into finding a Finnish course to join.

If you live in Finland, you could try evening schools. You can find the closest one near you by googling for the name of your city and either the word kansalaisopisto or työväenopisto. If you live in a larger city, the local university will likely also have courses. If you have a residence permit and are unemployed, TE-keskus will likely enroll you in an integration training course where you can learn Finnish together with other immigrants.

If you live abroad and no courses are available nearby, you could turn to private online lessons. Proper quality, legal, private lessons generally cost about 65-75 euros per 45 minutes.

Uusi kielemme doesn’t offer private lessons, but I do have interactive exercises you could do as well as puzzles, worksheets and language lessons in PDF form which you could download. Contact me to get  access to those! You could also look at my lesson plan suggestions, which form a sort of guideline for your early self-study journey.

 

Did this small article help you narrow down the choice of Finnish language textbooks for beginners? Are you more aware of what sources you could combine now? Let me know in the comments what you think!

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Marcin

I have been learning Finnish on my own so far, using your website, Duolingo, Memrise, Lang-8 (unfortunately they do not accept new users now but I created an account there a few years ago), also some YouTube channels. I am considering buying Suomen mestari. Would you recommends all books from that series, that is, also for more advanced learners?

By the way, if I may point something out, you wrote “The grammar is also very different from Indo-European (and Asian, Slavic, etc.) languages”. Slavic languages are also Indo-European and so are some Asian languages (Persian, Hindi), but I guess you meant East Asian. On the other hand, I wonder if knowing Hungarian or Estonian could help in learning the Finnish grammar.

Inge (admin)

Yes, I would recommend the whole Suomen mestari series. However, I wouldn’t recommend buying them all at the same time because it might subconsciously press you to move on and on rather than linger on a chapter to fully master the contents. Speeding your way through a book is not a good way to learn.

It’s also good to be aware that there is a bit of a jump in the difficulty level of the reading texts between book 2 and book 3. This can come as a shock if you’re using only this series.

Knowing Hungarian would be of very little help (there’s not that much left in common anymore between the languages), but Estonian would be very helpful.

Cassandra

I appreciate your reviews a lot.

So, I don’t love the grammar explanations in the Finnish for Foreigners I textbook, though I like the dialogues. However, I think the Finnish for Foreigners exercise book is better (more engaging and easier to learn from) than Suomen Mestari. Suomen Mestari is incredibly boring to me. I’m not sure why Suomen Mestari is better except that it’s more up to date and has more audio and some different topics with maybe slightly better vocabulary and grammar explanations (comparing FfF1 to SM1&2). In fact, some of the explanations in Suomen Mestari and others have mislead me, especially in direct objects when to use the plural nominative. A grammar text is really essential for both.

I like Suomen Kielen Tikapuut exercises better than the similar exercise types (non-audio, non-partner, non-reading comprehension) of Suomen Mestari as well.

I find practicing the Suomen Mestari noun vocabulary pretty difficult just using the given the exercises. It does focus on verbs.

Inge (admin)

Thanks! I’m sure this is useful information for other students as well!

Ideally, we’d get a large group of people reviewing each book, because these preferences are so subjective. I personally really like Suomen mestari all around. It has to be taken into account that certain books will resonate more with certain students. Thank you for explaining the reasons for your preferences!

Hopefully people also click through to the full book review article, where they can find more books and more explanations.