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4 Reasons Why Finnish Isn’t Hard

Finnish has a reputation of being very hard. Maybe that reputation is deserved, but there are a couple of things that certainly don’t make Finnish as hard as people think it is.

1. No Articles

Like many “complicated” languages like Japanese and Chinese, Finnish frees you from mind-numbing memorizations of gendered articles. Speaking of being gender-free, one word is used for he and she: hän.

2. No Irregular Verbs

The verb ending is renting constant across thousands of verbs.

It has similarities to Swedish: Swedish has a well-earned reputation for being an easy language to learn among native English speakers. In Swedish, boy is pojke; in Finnish it’s poika. The word for marketplace​ in Swedish is torg; in Finnish the word for a marketplace is tori. Swedish can provide a headstart for Finnish.

3. No Silent Letters

 If the letter, vowel or consonant, is in the word, it is pronounced. This makes spelling a cinch. For this reason, spelling bees in Finnish schools are unknown.

4. A Small Vocabulary

Sort of. Many Finnish words can be constructed by adding suffixes that can address emotion, location, emphasis, and negation.

Bonus: Finnish is unlike any other language (I’m not looking at you, Estonian). There is an elegance and poetry in learning a language that sounds like nothing you have heard spoken before. Author J.R.R. Tolkien said, “It [discovering Finnish] was like discovering a wine-cellar filled with bottles of amazing wine of a kind and flavour never tasted before. It quite intoxicated me.”

This guest post was written by Matthew Brooks. Matthew is conversational in Finnish, French, German, Spanish and in his native English. Fluency eludes him in all things.
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Not getting compliments on your language skills? Take it as a compliment!

When do you know you are fluent in a language?

¨You know you are actually good at speaking another language when you stop getting compliments¨

This is what a Russian woman once told me. She lived in our neighbourhood and I had never really talked to her and had honestly always assumed she was Dutch, because her Dutch was normal, but normal in the sence of that it was perfect. I asked her how she did it and she laughed. ¨Honestly, I don´t know¨ she said ¨.. but I don`t really like getting compliments¨. I was sort of confused – how could one not like getting compliments about that?. ¨When someone gives you a compliment on your accent, your second language, it`s because they assume you don´t speak it at all. I on the other hand have been living here for 20 years. I have to speak Dutch every day. You can not compare me to an average Russian¨.

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What she said really got me thinking. Was she right? Should I not be aiming for compliments after all? And after having thought about it for a long long time, my answer is yes. She was absolutely right. Of course there are exceptions, but in general compliments are more a confirmation of ´being on the right way` learning a language, than of you actually speaking it well. Of course, when you are in that process of learning a language compliments are great. They make you feel good, they keep you going. Yet when you really want to achieve fluency in another language, the ultimate goal is for natives to stop giving you compliments.

¨Why is this?¨ you might ask. And the answer is quite simple. When you speak another language so fluently you sound like a native speaker, people either assume you are native OR they think you already know how good you are. You would´t compliment a French person on his perfect pronunciation, or his extended vocabulary. So why would they compliment you, if you speak just as good as all the other french people?

I had an experience where me and another woman had to translate for a group of people from Ecuador. This woman had followed a course once and had spent some summers in Spain. When I introduced myself to the group I mentioned that I had lived in Panama, not specifying for how long. During this week I constantly heard these people compliment the other woman on her Spanish, and it was extremely frustrating as she was constantly making mistakes, mispronouncing things and often had no clue what they were talking about, while I had lived in a Latin-American country and felt like I was speaking quite well. On the 5th day I overheard three guys talking about us. One of the guys said he was impressed by the way the other woman spoke spanish, to which the other replied that he thought I was the one that spoke better. ¨Obviously¨ the third guy said ¨.. but she lived in Panama¨.

That`s when I realized that it was true. They didn`t give me a compliment because they considered me a native speaker, someone who obviously speaks well. The standard to which they measured me was completely different than the standard they used for the other woman.

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And now that you know this, you will notice it all the time: people who are really struggling will often get the ¨You are doing great! I am so impressed!¨ while those who can speak a language without thinking about it will get no comment at all, and maybe even a correction in the tiniest mistake they do make. And there is nothing wrong with getting corrected every once in a while, it only means that you have done everything else perfectly!

Of course  if you do get a compliment this doesn´t necesarily mean you are bad at the language. Not at all! But you will see the better you speak the language, the fewer compliments you will get from the natives, so when nobody comments on your language skills, take it as a compliment!

 

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The Benefits of Bilingualism

We all know speaking multiple languages has it´s benefits. It makes traveling easier, it makes watching movies easier, it makes meeting people from other parts of the world easier. Coincidentally those three things are also my favorite hobbies, shortly followed by ‘learning languages´. However, making life easier and more interesting isn´t the only benefit ‘bilingualism’ or ‘multilingualism’ has to offer.

This video by Ted-Ed explains us in less than 5 minutes basically everything you want to know about being bilingual.

 

One of the things I love is that they mention the different parts in which speaking a language consists. There is the two active parts; writing and speaking, and two passive parts; reading and listening. “A balanced bilingual has near equal abilities across the board in two languages, most bilinguals in the world know and use their languages in varying proportions”.

This is probably one of the main misconceptions about multilingual individuals (and it really bothers me). Being able to read a language doesn´t mean you can speak it, and being able to speak a language doesn´t mean you can write it (this goes mostly for native speakers..). Making this distinction and recognizing your strong points and your weak points is very important when it comes to progressing in learning a new language.

The second interesting things they mention is the three different types of bilinguals; the compound bilinguals, the coordinate bilinguals and the subordinate bilinguals. While we all knew the younger you are, the easier it is to learn a language, the video explains in more detail the reason behind this.

The video explains the brains becomes less flexible to new structures as we grow older, causing us to learn another language while still thinking in our mother tongue instead of thinking in the concept of the word. Even though this does have to do with the way our brain works, one thing we can take from this is to try to approach learning a new language in a different way.

If you´d like to become fluent in a language instead of just being able to communicate, it might be a good idea to start thinking more in concepts, trying to forget the structures you have used thus far.

Even though this is obviously very hard and you will probably not achieve the same results as a young child, this way of learning a languages causes you to eventually think in another language instead of translating the words from your native language, as the subordinate bilinguals do, which eventually makes the chances of mixing up words or grammatical structures smaller.

Another interesting fact they mentioned was that people tend to suffer less from emotional bias and were able to solve problems more rationally when confronting them in a second language (which means from now on I shall be resolving my problems in Spanish).

The video also mentions that bilingualism was considered a flaw before the 1960 because scientists thought it would slow down a child´s development by forcing them to spend too much time distinguishing between languages. Although I do feel that the more languages I speak, the more I am starting to mix them up, it is definitely not a ´flaw´,

All in all, this video has a lot of interesting things to tell us about the way bilingualism influences the brain, so if you weren´t convinced already; get that brain busy and learn another language!