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Finnish - archived entries

1 August 2008

I'm now getting nervous about this Summer Course. In Harjattula, near Turku. It's only a week away and on the one hand, there are all the practicalities of travel and accommodation to look out for, and one the other, my desire to do some preparation for the Finnish. Yes, it's a peculiar approach, because learning Finnish is what I'm paying them for. But I'm sure I'd be wasting money to go into their beginners' group, which means claiming some basic knowledge and going into the intermediate group.

So, what is my 'basic knowledge'? Ah. Well, although I have yet to discover a Finn who knows no English, if I met such a person, I probably could communicate some simple needs to them, and if they had the patience to talk slowly and simply, I might be able to understand the answers. In practice, eg. at a railway station or in a shop, I have to break into some English to a greater or lesser extent. Partly because I soon need a word I don't have, and partly because of the difficulty of following spoken Finnish. To be a bit more specific, I can use verbs in the present and the past though with frequent mistakes of construction. And I can use the more common cases, in a simple fashion. I don't manage agreement very well. And as for pronouns, demonstratives etc., I'm a bit lost. What I'm saying is that I'd still be a year away from GCSE standard, if there was one in Finnish. And probably even more away from the basic Finnish exam, because that rightly expects much more of you in speaking skills.

I see I didn't write anything here after my trip to Helsinki at the end of May. Except for a note in my 'journal', and that concert story. As for Finnish, I can say that I tried and used more than on my first trip, but I had opportunities to try even more, what with meeting up with some acquaintances, and I flunked that. Mainly because I wanted to chat, and I don't have enough for it yet. So, this is a 'before' entry; what I hope to see in my 'after' entry, apart from general improvement - and no mention of any pickpocketing - is evidence of much greater confidence in listening and speaking.


24 March 2008

I've signed up for a place on the Finn Guild Summer Course in Finland. It's just for a week, but I'm sure it'll be great for giving a boost to my standard, especially to my spoken Finnish. I've become very conscious lately of the gap between my ability to get the gist of written Finnish - with dictionary and grammar to hand! - and my weak understanding of spoken Finnish. The spoken language is anyway quite distinct from the written one, but also I don't have a quick ear or however you want to put it. I found it hilarious after the last lesson at the Finnish Saturday School when Mikko our teacher revealed that in Finland there's a helpline for people to ring up and ask about the correct way to say something. This isn't for foreigners, it's for Finnish people! Thinking about it, maybe we could do with a similar helpline here, for English.

So, what about the language? What new words of wisdom do I have to impart? Not a lot; I would say the most important part of learning any new language is simply vocabulary. I am gradually building it up. Sadly, learning word lists is the dullest thing ever. To make vocabulary more interesting, one idea is to get a kuvasanakirja - a picture dictionary. Use flash cards on yourself, that sort of thing. But for me, the best approach is to read about things you're interested in, in the foreign language. It really doesn't matter what sort of subjects they are. The point is, if you're interested, that provides the crucial motivating factor, and you'll be picking words up in context. The topics don't have to be broad ones, but make sure one of your areas of interest is food - it's basic and always necessary... and who isn't interested in food?? For me, music is a major topic, just one or two bands in fact, which might seem a bit narrow, but within that I'm encountering both formal and informal language, written and spoken, newsy language, talk about travel etc, opinions, feelings, chat etc. Vocabulary is a long slog. And with a heavily inflected language like Finnish, it can be infuriating when a strange new word turns out to be merely an odd form of a word you already knew. And I don't know about you but, never mind the difficulty of the language, you always finding yourself looking up some words over and over again...!

Incidentally, I've just remembered the first Finnish word I ever knew. It isn't sauna or anything like that. It's from well before I knew anything about Finnish, and I had no idea how to pronounce it. And I can't really pronounce it today, because it's a bit of a tongue twister. I was into planes when I was a kid (the legacy of that is evident elsewhere on this site :) and one day I became fascinated by the fact that in the Second World War, though the Finns mostly used equipment from elsewhere, they had built a neat little fighter of their own, the Pyörremyrsky (Whirlwind).


31 December 2007

Do any of the previous entries make me sound cocky? It has now sunk in that Finnish is hard. But here I am, writing a year's end/New Year's entry on what I'm studying, and it's Finnish that is my focus. I don't expect to be fluent, but I'd love some competency. It'll be a major event for me when (if??) I find I've managed a genuine bit of chat in Finnish, no matter how trivial. And on my next trip to Finland, I want to be able to achieve the basics of asking directions and shopping. This coming year I also expect to be able to write some pieces in Finnish. There'll be mistakes in spelling and grammar, and more than that, there'll be errors in expressing myself the way they do. But it'll be progress. Other aims? I want to learn a solid block of vocabulary. I still don't have enough for more than a few simple utterances. And most of all right now, I want to improve my listening so that I can make much more sense of what the Finns at the School say. That's right, all of these things are to do with practical language use. Before, it was all about grasping the concepts of the language. Now I want to partition my brain, so to speak, and use a section of it for Finnish.

Of course, this all comes off the back of recent adventures in Finnish. I made that first short trip to Helsinki in October, with my old friend Tim. Didn't speak an awful lot of Finnish, mainly because when I tried some, they spoke back in Finnish :) But I loved the city, everything from the sights, the ice hockey, the food, the trams... just the whole relaxed atmosphere. We've had a decent term at the school, working through two or three chapters; and some of us have met up for extra sessions, so motivation has kept up well. There was a Finnish social evening in Manchester, which if nothing else helped one or two of us get to know more of the Finns. Likewise the Finnish Independence Day Party, even if the attendance wasn't as good as last year. But the Christmas Party at the School was great. I worked my socks off making some food to take, and though this has nothing to do with language learning, it's all good involvement. And our class sang that song, Joulumaa. The Katri Helena one. I learned quite a bit of it by heart, and I've sung the first verse to various others over the Christmas period at the slightest prompting. Understanding it was another matter, because although you could easily get the drift of it, a lot of the sense of the lines was impenetrable. As for the performance, it seemed to go very well, although I faltered at one point which I hadn't fully learned, because I wasn't wearing my reading glasses and was standing in a position which meant I had to hold the songsheet up close. No, I've no idea whether my pronounciation was correct! But it was fun. As is all of it. The challenge is a continual one, it's like a game in which you're tussling with a perverse and bizarre code. I can tell you in one of the last couple of lessons I made my first joke in Finnish, though it was a pun depending on awareness of the English IIRC. That was during the shopping topic. Well, there's been a gap over Christmas, and no doubt I'll feel rusty as I start doing homework again. But I'm really looking forward to this year: to improving my standard, being able to do more with my Finnish, and going back to Finland I hope, for a one week Finnish course.


14 July 2007

I can't believe I've said nothing about the Finnish class! The class I've just spent a year attending in Manchester. Once every couple of weeks. That's a bit of a gap of time to retain things in, but I mostly kept up with the work quite well, and did a bit more reading - all the various books I've picked up; lyrics; the Helsingin Sanomat website etc. The Finnish School isn't like evening classes. Most of the students have Finnish partners, and it's really set up for Finnish families to meet. It's friendly, and they still wonder why anyone wants to learn the language. I missed the first week; and it was all a bit random at first anyway, because students came and went chaotically for a bit. The lessons were fine, as an introduction, and I liked the atmosphere. I even got to bring in a PMMP song to inflict on people on one occasion! But by the end, we probably needed more conversation, so I have expectations for next year. And I still need to reinforce all the basics, and learn much more vocabulary. So I'll do some work over the Summer.

What progress can I report? The main thing is that I have some grasp of consonant gradation now, the way word stems mutate according to their endings. I won't claim I've cracked it yet, but it means I can make a lot more sense of the dictionary, because I'm better at guessing where words will be. Otherwise, I've learnt some simple aspects of verbs, and some of the case endings. I'm not up to making conversation yet, but I can sort of read, slowly, with dictionary and grammar to hand. And to that end I decided to take a book out from the class library. I asked for a recommendation, suitable for a teenage boy(!), and they gave me Bertin tunnustukset (Bert's Confessions). This book is genius. Comedy gold. Any English reader will immediately recognise it as an Adrian Mole clone. He's counting down the days until his 15th birthday, when he'll be allowed to ride a moped, and "make children with girls". Let me tell you about the bit where he describes his horse riding fantasies.

10 October 2006

You know that scene in Jaws when the three guys have gone out in the boat to hunt the shark, and when they actually stare into the gaping maw of the supersize beast they're up against, Robert Shaw turns to the others and says, We need a bigger boat? Well, I've just had a bigger dictionary delivered. A bit pricey; I sent off to Grant & Cutler (languages bookshop in London, a Mecca for language obsessives) who import WSOY's Suomi-englanti-suomi sanakirja. I'm delighted with it, but not surprised by the difficulties of using it. For one thing, it doesn't seem to list much in the way of colloquial Finnish. For another, it's aimed at Finnish users, so most of the introduction is in Finnish and seems to be about English, including a list of English irregular verbs. Worse, in the Finnish entries it assumes you already know basic things about the word. The biggest obstacle is to do with all those little words, the really common ones which a Finnish person would know what they were, eg. a conjugated part of a certain verb, but which vary from the root so much that there's no way of finding the word in alphabetical order (it took me ages to discover that the teen I see everywhere is from the verb tehdä). Alphabetical order: ah, here's a factor which applies to all Scandinavian dictionaries. Their 'extra letters' - in Finnish they're ä and ö (and å for some words of Swedish origin), and you find them at the end. I know this as a fact, but so often I can't help myself in my Anglocentric way from eg. looking for kävellä (a walk) amongst the ka's. If you're wondering why I need this dictionary now when I'm only at the stage of learning to count etc., it's because I've learned that with a new language you have to be like a vacuum cleaner to pile up loads of words in your head. That's why I've already got stuck into those band lyrics: I may not have the grammar yet, and of course verse isn't normal language, but I'm exploiting my interest to plough through all these words, while I can use that handle to memorise them.


11 August 2006

Good and bad news. The good and surprising thing is that my interest hasn't slackened off, and I've given myself a 'lesson' most days. This mainly takes the form of spending some time going over something I've already done, eg. one of the first two chapters of Teach Yourself Finnish, listening to the cd; and then looking at something new. The Indica record is a big factor. Whatever you might think of it, it is very lyric led, and based on strong melody, which amplifies the benefits of repetition. Yes, I've grown to really like it. But I've also been wanting to understand the words, and today it's sunk in why I've not been getting very far. It isn't simply because I'm a novice. You see, a few days ago I took my commitment to a new level, and bought a small dictionary (hard to use effectively at my stage, because all the word mutation makes looking up words inordinately difficult); and also the one book which seems to be crucial for a learner like me, Fred Karlsson's Finnish: An Essential Grammar. From what I can dimly tell, it covers the basics brilliantly. However, I've just had a read of the chapter on Colloquial Finnish, which gives me some idea about what I'm up against with the lyrics for Tuuliset tienoot. And I still don't know what that means. Never mind. I listen to the record and even though the meaning may not be there for me, I find I'm gradually hearing more of its words and phrases, if that makes sense. Apart from that, I have achieved something; some vocabulary, and a few tourist phrases. But at the moment, I admit the expression I'd be most likely to use is Anteeksi, en ymmärrä - Sorry, I don't understand. It'll be interesting to see where I am with this at the end of September, when the Italian and French classes start up again, because I'll have decisions to make.


1 August 2006

I can't believe I've started on this. By purchasing Teach Yourself Finnish (book and cd). It's insane for so many reasons, especially because at the end of September I'm back in class studying French and Italian. On the other hand, the scope for confusion is less, because it's completely unrelated - so no false friends. I've leafed through the book - anyone nearby would have been highly amused by my repeated outbursts - 'You've got to be kidding!?!', 'What the f***?' and 'Oh NO!!!' Mainly when I came across the partitive and then the translative cases. On top of all the other cases. This is certainly going to be very different! Truly, this is like taking a holiday from French and Italian. You want to know what set me off? Music. I love bands from that part of the world; now I've picked up an album actually sung in Finnish, Tuuliset tienoot. The lyrics are there, and sung very clearly. Finally, I've been able to listen to the language: and I love the sound of it, just like I do Italian. So, let's proceed.

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