English Versus Finnish


Valpuri said to me I need to be more brutal in my pronunciation. “Finnish is not French; there is no room for softness, you have to be forceful.” Later she said that English is a romantic language. I never thought of English that way before. It does have a lot of possibilities thanks to its rich  vocabulary. Her idea was that English has the advantages of being popular; lots of romantic things are said in our internationally distributed media. Sweet sayings and sweet talk is normal in English but comes across as creepy in Finnish.  I never thought of English as especially poetic. “English has lots of softness. Englishh hazz lots uhf softness! There are lots of ways to say things in English. If you don’t know quite how to say something, there still always a way to get the idea across, and you can alter your voice in many different ways. Finnish is much stricter. Only in music does it gain flexibility. Then there is more emphasis on the vowels and more possibilities.”

Kuopio Heat

It is hot here in Kuopio. Lakes surround the entire city. If one feels real sultry, one can jump in a clear, refreshing lake. Unlike the sea, which has it’s own allure, the pure saltless blue of the lakes makes you feel purified. People here and there punctuate the pristine beauty of pine trees and blue waters. A few girls stroll along the lakeside path paying no attention to what else. A dad sits on steps with his two bright eyed toddlers who smear ice cream over each other’s faces. A group of guys stand at one spot talking for 30 minutes, then move to a new spot 50 meters away. Ladies on break strut quickly. The elderly inch their way. Bicycles whizz past. Drinkers sit around on the ground, derelict.

The problem with all this warm summer idleness is my packing arrangements. I have one rule in this matter: if there is more than I can carry on my own, it’s more than I need. It is time I send some gear back to the states.

The exciting thing about being rid of excess clothes is the newfound room for books. Today I found a used book store and purchased a very nice Suomi – Englanti dictionary and a Finnish Donald Duck (Aku Ankan) comic book. Colorful language, dialogue form, and short sentences, make this book a hit with me. Most of the stories include Scrooge, too! I drank coffee at a table in the shade and worked my way through the first 5 pages as the strollers, cyclists, loiterers went by.

At one point, two construction workers came over and almost made eye contact as they took chairs from my table so they could sit a bit aways and smoke. I made the “you’re good to take ’em” American hand-gesture with my pointer finger, but I doubt they saw it. They didn’t need permission anyway.


Although, I moved the table once to escape the blazing sun, it caught me again. That was my signal to wander elsewhere.

Finnish: Pointers and Laments 2

In Complete Finnish the dialogues make Finnish feel as I imagine an alien language might. Think of beings having a different consciousness, then you might be close to the mark. I can imagine Finnish customs asking questions similar to those asked of the Earthship in Space Odyssey I.

Who are you?
What is your mental state?
Do you have incursions of boredom, fear, anger, despair, shame, and the love of war and death and the secret desire for the misfortune of others? (Check all that apply.)
Are you distressed? Will your mental state inhibit your ability to act peaceably? etc.

In Finland, every town has a matkailutoimisto – a tourist office – because how would visitors know about the town without a tourist office to guide them? Sounds practical. According to Terttu Leney asking where to find this mysterious tourist office is vital for survival – Anteeksi, voitteko sanoa, missä on matkailutoimisto? Or maybe the Finns are secretly annoyed when people fail to use the many resources the Finnish government provides. Trust the bureaucracy; they will provide the resources you need to achieve basic peace of mind.

Finnish: Pointers and Laments 1

Here I will provide pointers and laments on learning this isolated language. I am grappling with it now…

If you have never learned a foreign language, well, Finnish may not be for you. Languages are not for the faint of heart. They have many pieces that move in many different ways. Each sentence is like a series of moves in chess. If the moves make no sense, the opponent looks at you funny.

Grammar is necessary. You will have to learn it. Fred Karlsson’s Finnish: An Essential Grammar is aptly essential. It is a beautiful, well-ordered book. If you have never studied complex grammar before, never been introduced to the accusative or partitive, then you will find reading even a single page difficult. I can offer this advice: start on page 1 and read from there, copy out rules in your own little notebook as they come up, and create your own example phrases. The task is not Sisyphean, there is a terminus to the book. You can get through it. How do you eat a buffalo? One. Bite. At. A. Time.

But there is more to life than grammar. There is also grammar’s use. The Pimsleur audio cds are an excellent introduction to the language’s use in the life of a tourist. Proper pronunciation for ordering drinks, asking for a lunch date, and commenting on the “miserable weather,” is all present. Although an expensive cd set, these are important, especially considering Finnish resources are not necessarily at your local library. Unfortunately, Pimsleur does not offer audio teaching beyond the basic level.

The third thing, I have been doing is working through an excellent Finnish book called Complete Finnish by Terttu Leney. I am on Unit 3 and refuse to continue on until I am confident in my ability to do basic addition and subtraction in a foreign language. Math is a muscle memory thing, and those muscles don’t exist in Finnish.

A final note: children’s books. Amazon.com offers a precious few inexpensive Kindle children’s books. Learn about green slithering snakes, happy elephants, and assorted fruits and vegetables. It worked when you were 10 months old; it will work to expand your vocabulary now. And frankly, colors, animals, and childhood are far more interesting than hotel conferences.