YKI-testi – When are you ready? B1.1 Finnish Level
In this article, I want to go over what B1.1 means in the YKI-testi context. This is a magical letter and number combination that most students in Finland are aware of. The goal of Finnish immigrant courses is often set at B1.1. However, it’s not always clearly explained what B1.1 means exactly.
In this article, I want to go over what this B1.1 actually means in the YKI-testi context. I can’t give you specific things to study (e.g. “study the passive imperfect”) because that’s not how the YKI-testi will be assessing your language skills.
1. What is YKI-testi?
If you live in Finland, you are bound to hear about YKI-testi (Yleiset kielitutkinnot). The YKI-testi is the national language test that gives you objective information about your Finnish proficiency level. You are required to pass this test in order to apply for Finnish citizenship, but it can also be useful when applying for a job or to university. It’s a national test that’s held on certain Saturdays in different parts of the country.
What the YKI-testi measures is whether your language skills are at the level B1.1 already. It assesses your language proficiency in four areas: listening, writing, reading and speaking.
2. What is B1.1 and CEFR?
The Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR) is often used in Finland to assess language proficiency. If you’re studying Finnish in Finland, it’s likely that you have found these levels (e.g. A2.1) in the description of a course when signing up.
The level B1.1 is what is required of you if you want to participate in the YKI language test to get, for example, the Finnish nationality. YKI’s level 3 matches up with CEFR’s level B1.1-B1.2.
The levels of CEFR are as follows:
- Absolutely beginner: zero
- Beginner: A1 (subdivisions in Finnish: A1.1 → A1.2 → A1.3)
- Elementary: A2 (subdivisions: A2.1 → A2.2)
- Intermediate: B1 (subdivisions: B1.1 → B1.2)
- Upper-intermediate: B2 (subdivisions: B2.1 → B2.2)
- Advanced: C1 (subdivisions: C1.1 → C1.2)
- Proficient: C2 (subdivisions: C2.1 → C2.2)
3. Pronunciation and spelling
3.1. Pronunciation of spoken Finnish
At the level B1.1, your pronunciation has to be clearly understandable. However, don’t worry if you have trouble pronouncing certain words or sounds. You can make some mistakes, as long as we can understand your message clearly despite these. Having a bit of a Chinese accent or confusing the pronunciation of o and u is no big deal.
3.2. Spelling of written Finnish
When writing, you have to be able to write simple everyday vocabulary without mistakes. Your spelling of words that are more rare can be a little bit off, as long as they can be easily recognized despite of their spelling. If writing isn’t your strong suit, pay attention to basic words and phrases that you’re likely to need, such as “kiitos“, “mitä kuuluu” and “mielestäni“. I know those are very basic words, but surprisingly many students aspiring to participate in the test still make mistakes in these!
3.3. In general
The focus at B1.1 is on understandability. Say that you display, for example, a very wide vocabulary in addition to poor (but understandable) precision in spelling or pronunciation. You vocabulary range can help negate some of the effect of your problems with accuracy.
4. Fluency of Oral and Written Skills
4.1. Fluency when speaking
A certain amount of fluency while speaking is required, but false starts and hesitations are okay. False starts are situations where you start a sentence, run into a word you don’t know and, then, restart that sentence in a way that allows you to get your message across. Long silences are bad at level B1.1, but the occasional hesitation is totally okay.
It might be a good idea to practice the hesitation particles Finns use while talking. Things like “tota” or “tota tota” are the Finnish equivalent to “uhm” or “errr”. These words fill up the silence while you think of how to phrase your next sentence.
4.2. Fluency when writing
Fluency in your written language is harder to work on. One indicator used to assess your fluency of writing is how much text you are able to produce, since this is a timed exam. Fluency is also something that can be noticed in your writing through the use of transitional phrases and conjunctions. A fluent writer at level B1.1 is to some extent capable of constructing texts in a way where there is a clear progression.
You can prepare for the opinion piece you’ll have to write by learning phrases such as ensinnäkin, toiseksi and viimeiseksi (firstly, secondly, lastly), as well as toisaalta (on the other hand), vaikka (although) and siitä huolimatta (nevertheless).
5. Conjugation and inflection
5.1. Conjugation and inflection when speaking
When speaking Finnish at a B1.1 level, regular grammar mistakes are still normal. It’s okay to sometimes forget to add cases to your words. The main point of focus is whether your sentences can be understood. At B1.1, grammar mistakes should “only rarely” (hard to interpret what this means) cause problems understanding the message.
5.2. Conjugation and inflection when writing
In your written texts, basic grammar should be fairly free of mistakes already. It’s hard to really make a list of what “basic grammar” means. You should (at least most of the time) remember to conjugate your verbs in the present and past tense, for example. Occasional slip-ups are still okay.
5.3. In general
Mistakes such as “minä asu” and “minä ei menen” should have disappeared from your Finnish. Likewise, making sentences like “minä menen Helsinki” without a location case ending should also be a thing of the past. However, forgetting to add location case endings in a less routine sentence is not a problem. The point is that your most routine sentences should start to be free of mistakes.
6. Vocabulary range
At B1.1 you should have a decent grasp of everyday vocabulary topics. This includes things like describing something that happened to you on vacation, explaining a problem you’ve had recently or giving directions or advice to a friend. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what vocabulary you will need. The guidelines just mention that you should be able to convey the main idea and some details about real or imaginary things that are important to you in everyday life.
It’s completely normal at level B1.1 that you won’t know how to say part of the things you want to say. At this level, however, you should have found some strategies to work around these issues. It’s expected that you’re able to rephrase or explain things in a roundabout way when you don’t know the right words.
It is also expected that you know some common phrases and idioms. This includes things like “ystävällisin terveisin”, “mitä sinulle kuuluu”, “minulle kuuluu hyvää”, “minun mielestäni” and “olen pahoillani”. Words like valitettavasti, onneksi and ikävä kyllä also help.
A clear influence from your mothertongue on your Finnish is expected. This can especially influence your sentence construction and certain phrases you might be translating literally. There isn’t much you can do about this at this level other than just go with it and do your best to “think in Finnish”.
7. Tone and Register
Finnish spoken and written Finnish differ from one another. Different situations will require you to use different types of language. At level B1.1, you should be able to have a basic grasp on what is culturally acceptable in certain situations.
When writing, for example, a note to the janitor of your apartment building about a broken fridge, you won’t start with “mitä kuuluu“. You should have a basic idea of how to ask for or explain something politely. You can use spoken language in your exam. However, it’s expected that you already have a basic idea of when mä and sä don’t fit in a written text.
8. Functions of Language
Language is considered as a tool: it’s used to achieve goals. As such, you can use the following criteria to hone in on the types of expressions you should be able to form.
At YKI-testi level B1.1, it’s expected that you are able to:
- Give advice, instructions or directions to friends or strangers
- Request help, directions or advice from friends or strangers
- Make certain that someone has understood what you said
- Describe events, holidays or parties in some detail
- Report problems, faults, repairs to a more official source
- Explain your opinions and ideas about general everyday topics
- Describe your dreams, hopes and goals
- Express your emotions
- Compare things (e.g. Finland vs. your home country)
- Explain your reasons for thinking or doing something
- Have some grasp on the difference between an informal and formal text
None of what you write has to be true! You are in charge of your text and can make up things that are easier for you to write about! Just make sure that you stay within the boundaries of what is being required of you.
9. Speed of Listening Comprehension
You will be faced with close to normal speed listening comprehension assignments. This can come as a shock when you’ve been listening to the audio of some coursebooks or to Selkouutiset. You will be faced with both formal and more colloquial speech.
From clear but close-to-normal-speed speech you should be able to understand the main points. Some parts will have slower speech or easier vocabulary, and in these cases you should understand more details.
10. Reading Comprehension Topics
At level B1.1, you are expected to be able to read texts that are at least one page long. Texts used in YKI-testi are generally letters, messages, announcements, news articles, informational texts and narratives. They generally are related to everyday life situations. You can expect both easier and harder assignments of varying length. Perhaps you’re required to read a message from a friend about their trouble with a neighbor, an advertisement about a holiday destination, a news story about a fatal accident, an announcement about a product that’s been pulled off the market, or an informational text about recycling.
You should be able to find the main idea of a text, and be able to pick up some of the details. It’s not necessary to understand every single word when reading. However, at level B1.1, you should have developed the skill to deduce the meaning of unknown words based on the contexts.
None of the reading comprehension questions will have the answer word for word in the text. If your text contains the sentence “Hannu oli todella vihainen”, it’s unlikely to get the question “Oliko Hannu vihainen?”. Rather, the question could be “Oliko Hannu kiukkuinen?”. Studying synonyms when preparing for the YKI-test is a good idea.
11. Required Detail in Writing
It’s important to realize that comprehension of the questions is a factor taken into consideration when assessing your written skills. If you write a long text, but it’s only a little related to the actual question, this will influence your assessment considerably. Read the assignment well and mark every part required as you add them to your text.
You will get several texts to write of various lengths. It’s typical to have an informal text (e.g. a message to a friend about something amazing that happened to you), a more formal text (e.g. a message to a store about the unacceptable behavior of an employee) and an opinion piece (e.g. what you think about studying online versus doing so in the classroom) to write. The topics are things related to people’s everyday life.
You’re expected to be able to add some details to your text. When writing to the janitor that the fridge is broken, “Jääkaappi on rikki” isn’t enough at level B1.1. Is the light broken? Doesn’t the door close anymore? Is there a crack in the vegetable tray? You generally get to invent the details yourself, so you can pick something that you’re better at explaining.
You should be able to write texts that are easy to understand. Occasional mistakes are okay as long as they don’t interfere with the understandability of your text.