Why is Finnish so difficult to learn?

I have just got back from a weekend in Helsinki, and when I wasn’t busy cooing at the pretty snow or devouring a plate of fabulous Finnish food, I spent a lot of time listening to the language. Finnish is often said to be one of the trickiest languages for English speakers to learn, and having experienced it first-hand, I have to say that I’m not entirely surprised. So why exactly is Finnish so difficult to learn?

Finnish doesn’t even remotely resemble its Nordic neighbours, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish. Nor is it close to Russian, with whom it shares a border. In fact, Finnish is thought to be related to just two major modern languages: Estonian and Hungarian. These, along with lots of other lesser-spoken languages, belong to the Uralic family. While these languages are relatively similar to one another, they bear little resemblance to any other language family.

‘Thank you’ is ‘takk’ in Norwegian, ‘tack’ in Swedish and ‘tak’ in Danish. So we might expect something similar in Finnish, right? Wrong. If you want to express gratitude in Finnish, you will need to say ‘kiitos’. Conversations in Finnish are certainly not easy for beginners, even if you’re hoping that your strong Swedish or Norwegian skills will carry you through. In fact, Swedish is an official language in Finland, so you will probably be better off speaking Swedish if you’re comfortable with the Scandinavian languages.

And if you think you’ll try your luck with written Finnish, you might want to think again. Double consonants and double vowels are extremely common in Finnish, meaning it isn’t uncommon to find words such as ‘liikkeessään’ (showroom). You’ll also need to remember to dot more than your ‘i’s with words like ‘kääntäjää’ (translator).

The Defense Language Institute in California gives Finnish a difficulty rating of III (out of four) in terms of difficulty for native English speakers to learn, making it the perfect language for anyone who likes a challenge. Plus, we are currently in the most active Northern Lights season in 60 years, so this might be the best time to delve into Finnish or Sami if you’re heading into the Arctic Circle.

Have you ever tried to learn Finnish? What’s the hardest language to learn you’ve ever come across? We’d love to hear your stories.

Learn Finnish with Language Advantage>>

Saving Sami one rap at a time

The Sami language is spoken in Northern Norway and Finland by an ever-decreasing group of people – less than 20,000 people now speak the language, and numbers are only in decline as Norwegian and Finnish creep further and further up the Nordic region, and it may one day usurp Sami entirely.

However, Nils Rune Utsi is a man on a mission to reverse this downward trend in Sami speakers. In an attempt to boost interest in the language, he founded a rap group called Slincraze, rapping in Sami to make this language more relevant for younger generations and to stimulate interest with a view to making sure Sami stays in the consciousness of native speakers.

“I rap in Sami because it is my language and it feels so natural to me,” said Nils, “and of course I want to preserve the language in a way the youth can understand it… I feel it’s one of my duties to teach people to be proud to be a Sami.”

The concept is simple: if the Sami youth associate the language with something young, fresh and fun, they may feel more inclined to embrace the language themselves and want to keep the language alive. Of course, if Sami youngsters think about the language in a positive way, they will be more likely to ensure their own children learn Sami.

As is the case in so many parts of the world, the lesser-spoken languages are in danger of dying out at the hands of the dominant languages of the region. Lots of Sami children may well also speak Finnish and Norwegian, and may prefer to use these languages as a matter of prestige or to improve their chances in the job market.

There is a similar situation in Wales, where fewer children are learning to speak Welsh as English is regarded the language of prestige and global importance. There is a scene in the TV show Gavin and Stacey where Bryn, a man who has lived in Wales all his life, tells a group of Englishmen that ‘Nobody in Wales speaks Welsh’. Could we be seeing a similar situation arising in the future with Sami?

Take a look at one of Nils’ songs on YouTube:

If you were a speaker of an endangered language, how would you go about making it relevant and a desirable language to learn?

Find out more about Nils’ pledge to save Sami>>

Learn how to speak Sami>>

LANGUAGES D – I (USA)

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These links will take you to our language course stores – click on the TOP COURSES tab and then use the search box to find your language course.

Language Best Bet 1 Best Bet 2 Best Bet 3
  (audio/book) (cd-rom) (ipod/mp3)
      coming soon!
D      
Danish Teach Yourself: Danish Rosetta Stone: Danish Pimsleur: Danish
Dutch Michel Thomas: Dutch Rosetta Stone: Dutch Collins: 40 minute Dutch
       
E      
English (American)   Talk Now!: American English  
Esperanto Teach Yourself: Esperanto    
Estonian Teach Yourself: Estonian Talk Now!: Estonian  
       
F      
Farsi (Persian) Pimsleur: Farsi Rosetta Stone: Farsi Pimsleur: Farsi
Finnish Teach Yourself: Finnish Talk Now!: Finnish  
Frisian   Talk Now!: Frisian  
       
G      
Gaelic Teach Yourself: Gaelic    
Galician   Talk Now!: Galician  
Georgian   Talk Now!: Georgian  
German (Swiss) Pimsleur: Swiss German Talk Now!: Swiss Pimsleur: Swiss German
Greek (Ancient) Teach Yourself: Ancient Greek    
Gujurati Teach Yourself: Gujurati Talk Now!: Gujurati  
       
H      
Haitian-Creole Pimsleur: Haitian-Creole   Pimsleur: Haitian Creole
Hausa   Talk Now!: Hausa  
Hawaiian   Talk Now!: Hawaiian  
Hebrew Pimsleur: modern Hebrew Rosetta Stone: Hebrew In-Flight: Hebrew
Hebrew (Biblical) Teach Yourself: Biblical
Hebrew
 
Hungarian Pimsleur: Hungarian Talk Now!: Hungarian In-Flight: Hungarian
       
I      
Icelandic Teach Yourself: Icelandic Talk Now!: Icelandic  
Igbo   Talk Now!: Igbo  
Indonesian Teach Yourself: Indonesian Rosetta Stone: Indonesian Pimsleur: Indonesian
Irish Pimsleur: Irish Talk Now!:Irish Pimsleur: Irish

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Languages D – I: visit UK site | USA site

Danish | Dutch | English (American) | Esperanto | Estonian | Farsi (Persian) | Finnish | Frisian | Gaelic

| Galician | Georgian | German (Swiss) | Greek (Ancient) | Gujurati | Haitian-Creole | Hausa |

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LANGUAGES D – I (UK)

Here are our recommended language courses for languages D – I.


These links will take you to our language course stores – click on the TOP COURSES tab and then use the search box to find your language course.

Language Best Bet 1
Best Bet 2
Best Bet 3
  (audio/book) (cd-rom) (ipod/mp3)
       
D      
Danish Teach Yourself: Danish Rosetta Stone: Danish  
Dutch Michel Thomas: Dutch Rosetta Stone: Dutch Collins: 40 minute Dutch
       
E      
English (American)   Talk Now!: American English  
Esperanto Teach Yourself: Esperanto    
Estonian Teach Yourself: Estonian Talk Now!: Estonian  
       
F      
Farsi (Persian) Teach Yourself: Farsi Rosetta Stone: Farsi  
Finnish Teach Yourself: Finnish Talk Now!: Finnish  
Frisian   Talk Now!: Frisian  
       
G      
Gaelic Teach Yourself: Gaelic    
Galician   Talk Now!: Galician  
Georgian   Talk Now!: Georgian  
German (Swiss)   Talk Now!: Swiss  
Greek (Ancient) Teach Yourself: Ancient Greek    
Gujurati Teach Yourself: Gujurati Talk Now! Gujurati  
       
H      
Haitian-Creole      
Hausa   Talk Now!: Hausa  
Hawaiian   Talk Now!: Hawaiian  
Hebrew Teach Yourself:  Modern Hebrew Rosetta Stone: Hebrew In-Flight: Hebrew
Hebrew (Biblical) Teach Yourself: Biblical
Hebrew
 
Hungarian Teach Yourself:  Hungarian Talk Now!: Hungarian In-Flight: Hungarian
       
I      
Icelandic Teach Yourself: Icelandic Talk Now!: Icelandic  
Igbo   Talk Now!: Igbo  
Indonesian Teach Yourself: Indonesian Rosetta Stone: Indonesian  
Irish Teach Yourself: Irish Talk Now!:Irish  

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