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.

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