When talking about languages, Finnish always comes up as being a hard language to learn. There are 15 grammatical cases and other grammatical things that can make you feel horrified. Sure, Finnish may be a bit hard language to grasp but it is not as hard as Japanese, Korean or Arabic, according to the US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, FSI (1). Does this make you feel any better? Good!
There are actually a few different reasons why I think Finnish is easier to learn than you think. Let’s get into it!
Gender-neutrality, Loanwords and Suffixes
Firstly, Finnish is a somewhat gender-neutral language since there is no grammatical gender (2). We only have one pronoun hän, which includes every gender. So, you only need to know one pronoun. On top of that, Finns also like to use pronoun se (which translates to it) to refer to a person. Therefore, when speaking Finnish, you will be fine just using the pronoun hän and/or se.
Nouns are neutral in Finnish too. If you speak for example Italian or Spanish, you are probably used to nouns being either feminine or masculine. In Finnish, there are no feminine or masculine nouns.
Also, the vocabulary is something worth mentioning. There are many loanwords from different languages in Finnish (3). English being the lingua franca, the English loanwords ease learning Finnish for a lot of people because the words are already familiar. For example, a banana is simply banaani, a paper is paperi, a hotel is hotelli and a camera is kamera.
In addition, there are no articles in the Finnish grammar. You don’t have to worry about whether a, an or the is necessary. In Finnish, there are other ways to define and clarify things and situations. The aforesaid 15 grammatical cases come in handy with this one.
Finnish is also, like all the Uralic languages, an agglutinative language which means affixes are attached to the word stems to form a word (4). I will give you an example of how this works. If you want to say my dog, in Finnish you say koirani. So, to break it down, the word for a dog is koira, and the possessive suffix is -ni which means my. In short, this is how conjugation works in Finnish: you add affixes to the end of the word.
Finnish is a Phonetic Language
If you have ever tried to learn, for example, French, you probably know that in some languages the words are written in one way but the pronunciation sounds like a completely different word. Well, luckily Finnish isn’t like this! Finnish is a phonetic language which basically means words are pronounced exactly as they are written (5). If you can master ääkköset (meaning the letters ä, ö and å), you’ll be on your way to being a fluent Finnish speaker!
Also, there is something called vowel harmony which can make the pronunciation of Finnish words a bit easier. Vowel harmony means that front (ä, ö, y) and back (a, o, u) vowels can’t exist in the same word. Then there are two neutral vowels (i, e) that can exist with both front and back vowels. So, if you are wondering how to conjugate a certain word, this knowledge will come in handy.
Plain Language Helps You Learn the Language
To finish this off, I have an extra tip for you that you can use when you are on your journey to learn Finnish and already understand the language a bit. In Finland there’s plain language (selkokieli) versions available on many things (6). For example, we have plain language news on the television, and most government’s institutions have web pages written in plain language as well. These are useful for someone learning the language, because the sentences and grammar in general are simpler and easier to understand.
If you are feeling down about learning Finnish, I hope this blog post can bring you some comfort. Finnish is definitely a unique language, but it is very possible to learn and be good at it. It just takes some practice.
Jenni Savolainen is a communications intern at the Learning Networks and Services team at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and a master’s student at the University of Turku majoring in the Finnish language.
- Yle News 2013. Finnish among most difficult languages for English speakers. News article. Viewed on 21st of March 2023.
- Pirie, J. 2017. Finnish Grammar. Web site. Viewed on 23rd of March 2023.
- Tamminen-Parre, S. 2009. Collocations, attitudes, and English loan words in Finnish. Language Variation – European Perspectives III (2011), pages 215-225.
- Karlsson, F. 2006. Finnish as an agglunative language. Academic article. Viewed on 17th of March 2023.
- A taste of Finnish 2014. Finnish language. Course material. Viewed on 21st of March 2023.
- fi 2021. Plain language is easy to use. Web page. Viewed on 21st of March 2023.