Why you’re not fluent in Finnish – yet! (3 very likely reasons)
1. You may be hypnotized
Have you ever been in this situation: You’re trying help someone with a problem, but the person immediately brushes aside your suggestions with comments like “That doesn’t work in my case.”. Is it because the person doesn’t have enough intelligence to follow your steps? Probably not. The most likely reason is that your friend is telling her or himself a story, a story about why it is not possible for that person to solve the problem.
If that problem (or challenge) happens to be learning Finnish to a high level, it is quite possible that your stories will include chapters like the ones below. I would ask you to consider are they absolutely true? And if they are not true, are they hypnotizing you away from your goal.
“Adults can’t learn languages fast.” “Finnish is a very very very difficult language.” “I’m a procrastinator.” “I need 17 structured courses that will spoon-feed the whole language to me.” “I’m not a person who can enjoy learning a language.” “I’ve tried everything.” “I don’t have enough time to study.” “I don’t have access to Finns with whom I could practice talking or writing.” “Finns will not respect me if I make a mistakes in my Finnish.” “It will take me at least 10 years before I will be able to have real conversations with Finns.”
While thinking about these things, I myself realized that I have been telling stories that have slowed down the development of this website and my youtube channel, even though in many ways I feel proud about the material have created so far. For example, for a couple of years I was telling a story that creating youtube videos would be too difficult or at least a huge pain in the butt.
As you may have noticed, often these stories involved identity, such as “procrastinator” or “bad at languages”, which makes it more powerful.
So how do we shed limiting beliefs or identities? One way is hearing interviews of people who have (as adults!) learned unusual languages. Here is a cute video that includes many of those people. They often have strategies that most people wouldn’t even imagine using. They know how to make learning fun. Their advice made the writer of this blog post into a polyglot.
2. Effective and fun learning strategies
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for getting fluent in a language (while having fun, because “fun gets done”). There are many fast and fun strategies to achieving that goal. It all depends on your goals, passions and personality. However daily study is a thing that all successful language learners have in common.
It’s crucial to study every day, or almost every day. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes. It’s ok if you have a break, or a few breaks. But bear in mind that a language is such a large system that you need daily study to consolidate the large amount words into your mind. If you study every day for multiple months, you will be amazed how much progress you will make. Let’s not forget that, our brains are pretty amazing and it does it’s magic largely between your study sessions, in our sleep.
Admittedly I have not been that organized with all of my languages, but Japanese I studied for 4 years almost every day, and I am happy I did, because now I can speak it quite comfortably. And I haven’t set foot on the country itself, Japan yet.
One fun and effective way to learn a language is reading comics (or visual novels). They usually have lots of dialogue, often in quite natural language. The images make it easier to memorize the words and to guess the meaning.
While reading comics, try to find common sentence starters (or conversational connectors) such as “in my opinion”, “on the other hand” and “don’t get mad but”. They will make your sentences longer and often more interesting. I have created a few videos that teach those kinds of sentence starters. They can give you an unfair head start. Here is one of them:
Of course it’s also important to get exposure to the sounds of the language too, so use resources that you can listen to too. And listen to them multiple times until it becomes like music. One entertaining option is Luottomies (Wingman), a Finnish comedy that was a Emmy nominee. You can watch it for free at Yle Areena with English and Finnish subtitles.
If you are in early stages of learning Finnish, it may be a good idea to watch them first with English subtitles so you get the story. And later multiple times with Finnish subtitles. Yle Areena has many other free TV shows too, some of which can be viewed outside Finland too.
Learning the most common questions that Finns usually ask foreigners (such as “Where are you from?”) is a nice shortcut towards fluency. Of course you will need other core vocabulary and expressions too, but knowing what’s coming will make your first little conversations a lot more chill. I made a video to youtube about those common questions. It maybe a good idea to practice them with Finns who can also help you formulate answers to those questions.
You can practice conversations with Finns by text chatting with them on apps like Tandem or HelloTalk. Although sooner or later, I recommend doing it one-to-one in real life or with video calls. You can ask “Could we speak Finnish for 2 minutes (or later 10 or 30 minutes)?” In the long run, even those 2 minute sessions will make a huge difference.
The vast majority Finns will respect your effort to learn our language and will help you. Even if it’s not required in your field, you will stand out in the job market and in the dating world, if you happen to be single. It will make things more lively in other areas too. Contrary to popular belief, not all Finns are comfortable with English.
A trick that all fast language learners also have in common is imagining conversations, and in doing so noticing which words and expressions they are still missing. Then you can check the missing words from a collection of over 100 000 Finnish example sentence at tatoeba.org. It contains lots of sentences in natural Helsinki areas spoken Finnish too. They are often tagged as “colloquial”.
3. State of mind
If you are feeling tired and sad all the time, it will greatly affect the areas 1 and 2, of which I wrote earlier in this post.
I think for most people music can be really powerful, even if it’s not in Finnish. Listen one or two songs before your study session, and you will likely have yourself a nice boost in enthusiasm.
If you find Finnish music you like, that’s even better. You will get used to the pronunciation, and form a different emotional connection to the language.
In the winter time, Finland is often quite dark which can affect your energy levels. A light therapy lamp will likely help. You can buy them from many large supermarkets or gadget stores. I usually eat my breakfast with one shining on my face, giving me more energy.
I know this is pretty basic, but I think we often forget the obvious. I’m going to have to talk about exercise and movement. If you can, make it a habit not to use the elevator usually. You will get a nice boost of energy.
It’s an interesting paradox that (high-intensity) exercise can make you feel tired in the minutes afterwards. But if the exercise was not too tough, in the coming hours, you will feel much more energized (which is why they don’t recommend working out after 7 PM).
As you may have noticed, even lengthy walks can make a a huge difference. Try to combine it, at least occasionally, with Finnish music and/or learning material. In the part of the year when it’s slippery, use good shoes that keep you from falling. You may need shoes with little metal studs in the bottom. At least the XXL sports store can add studs to your existing pair of shoes. Or you can go pro and buy shoes that already have those metal saviours in the bottom.
I’ve been getting a lot more exercise inside my own apartment after I started playing this fun game.
As I mentioned earlier, getting inspired by experienced language learners (aka polyglots) can make a huge difference. They do stuff that most people wouldn’t imagine doing, even though the tricks they use are usually quite simple. Watching their interviews, has made me more excited about learning languages, even challenging one like Russian too.
Good-quality sleep is also really important for fast learning and keeping you in a good mood. Sleep researcher Matthew Walker’s recommendations have helped me a lot in that department.
People like Tony Robbins and Brendon Burchard are experts on high-performance and changing your states. I recommend you consider their tips and strategies as well.
Last but not least, let’s not forget that we get boosts of energy from good friends. Having conversations with a positive friend can get you through the moments when you feel discouraged. Also, finding a friend who has the same goal can be hugely helpful. A study session of Finnish can be a nice excuse for meeting a friend.