Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Communicating in Finland

When you think about it isn’t it amazing that we have so many languages. According to the Linguistic Society of America there are 6,909 different languages today in our world and in Europe alone there are 230 different spoken languages. Isn’t that amazing?
I have always loved languages and at certain times of my life have tried to learn them. I had Spanish in school from 3rd grade to 8th grade, studied German in high school and took one semester of French in college. Before I went to Japan I tried to learn some Japanese (not very successfully) and I have been learning Finnish for the last 6 months.


Finnish is very different from all the other languages I know. It is considered a very difficult language to learn and I would have to agree. However, before talking about the language lets get familiar with where Finland is on a map. It is a nordic country in Northern Europe. Finland is bordered on the west by Sweden, Norway to the north, Russia on the east and Estonia in the south. Finland has only been an independent nation since 1917. In the past it has been controlled by Sweden and Russia. I will have another post about its history but this is important when looking at Finland’s national languages. You see they have 2 official languages. Around 90% of the citizens speak Finnish, and around 6% speak Swedish. There is also a language that the Sami people speak. They live in the far north area of Finland called Lapland. Their language is distantly related to Finnish.


So the majority of signs, instructions and information are in both Finnish and Swedish and NOT English. While I have visited many countries that don’t give information in English this is the first time I totally don’t understand what is going on. It makes for some very interesting dilemmas. For instance, take the grocery store. Many things have pictures on them but that doesn’t always help. My husband, Dan, and I decided that oatmeal would be a good cheap hearty breakfast that we could have while here. I bought a package that had a picture of what looked like oatmeal. The first morning we went to use it I had to decipher the instructions on the back. Thank goodness for Google Translate. However, I found out that I had bought buckwheat. Have any of you ever eaten buckwheat? We have only used the shells in our garden as a mulch! Anyway, we cooked it up (after translating the metric measurements into English ones!). It wasn’t bad with some brown sugar (at least that’s what we think it is) and some lingonberry jam (tastes like cranberries) and some milk (fat-free, low fat, whole??? more words).
Doesn't this look like a picture of oatmeal!



Luckily for us most everyone here speaks English. They learn it in school and get to practice it through tourists like us and television shows. They have lots of American and British TV shows on in English with Finnish subtitles underneath. I have been watching the subtitles and am always excited when I understand something.


However, I think that it is important to try and learn the language of the place where you are. It is respectful and fun. The other day the weather was really bad and I got to say to the woman that we were buying scarves from, “Kurja ilma tanaan.” That means, “Miserable weather today.” See the time studying the Pimsleur Method wasn’t all in vain!
So everyday we have tried to make a goal of learning more words. Dan has been writing them on his hand, which I don’t approve of. (I had to add that because of all the times I have told my students not to write on their hands). The first few days every time he wanted to say thank-you he had to look at his hand! Yes..it was a little weird.
Don't do this!!



So, I will give you a word for each blog I post, and when I get back into the classroom with you, my students, I will give you a multiple choice quiz. The winners will get some kind of Finnish prize, not buckwheat, I promise.

The word this blog is……. Anteeksi    It means “Sorry” or “Excuse me.” Phonetically you pronounce it “On taxi”. I think this is a good first word to learn, don’t you? Until my next blog.




4 comments:

  1. I love the writing on the hands. That would be the only way that I would be able to keep track. I am paralysed by a sort of stage fright when I try another language. i take it you would recommend the Pimsleur program?

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  2. Well, now we know where all that great mulch comes from. Keep eating!
    Hands down, everyone says the best way to learn a language is immersion. I expect you will be pretty fluent by the time you get home.
    You are having a great adventure (and I suspect a lot of laughs) in some unlikely places.
    Looking forward to following your journey!

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  3. When I traveled to Italy, I remember being so excited anytime I could put together a word or phrase that was appropriate for the circumstance. By the end of three weeks, I could even hold some short conversations! It's fun sharing in your travels through your blog and now like a fortune cookie we get the added bonus of learning a new word!

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  4. When I traveled to Italy, I remember being so excited anytime I could put together a word or phrase that was appropriate for the circumstance. By the end of three weeks, I could even hold some short conversations! It's fun sharing in your travels through your blog and now like a fortune cookie we get the added bonus of learning a new word!

    ReplyDelete