Today we welcome back English teacher Kelly Wang, to share a few of the mishaps she’s experienced while self-studying Finnish. Have any of these things happened to you? Or do you have a funny story from your language learning? Tell us about it in the comments!
PS Bonus points for anyone who can name all the cultural references in Kelly’s post, without clicking the links 😉
Navigating what’s available when you decide to study a language by yourself can be a bit of a minefield. Think less uncharted territory and more the pod grids in The Capitol.
So, approaching language learning like a novice Skyrim player, I set off on my journey with no idea what I needed in my arsenal and a vague understanding of my purpose, not the path I needed to reach it.
A quick glossing over of my language studying in school taught me that what I needed was:
2) a grammar guide
3) real-life examples
4) eventually, someone to practise with.
Now, all of these things can be found very easily on the internet. If you’re the kind of person who likes a book in their hand to remind them they are supposed to be studying, then away with you to Amazon. Be careful what you order, though. Who’d have thought a book entitled Finnish Grammar would actually be a novel and not a grammar guide?
Be careful with Google Translate
The first thing to get acquainted with was Google Translate. And I mean, acquainted with, not jumping into a long committed relationship with (excuse me while I shudder). Google Translate is like that semi-flakey friend who is amazing 75% of the time but when they let you down, how spectacularly do they do so. Treat it carefully, do not quote ad verbatim, and please, be careful who you practise your translation on. I have a Google Translate horror story about a eunuch and a sausage that will make your eyes water.
Learning Finnish with the Moomins
Next, I typed in ‘learn Finnish’, and an entire world opened up to me, like I was going through the wardrobe in search of Mr Tumnus.
I started with basic things like ‘essential vocabulary’ and in doing so rediscovered my childhood love of The Moomins. Stumbling across Verbix, an amazing verb conjugator, was both joyous and daunting. I only have one word to say and you will share my pain. Tenses. I can feel you tremble…
Once I had a few words I felt comfortable with (thank you, YouTube) and confident enough to string together a simple ‘Hi, I’m Kelly, I’m from England’, I decided that practising with real people could be fun, but from the safety of my home, with a cursor poised over the X in the corner, in case it all got too much.
Time to get real…
There are so many sites to choose from, and I admit, too many choices leaves me bewildered and rocking in a corner. I eventually chose one that covered many bases: easy online lessons, forums, instant chat, video optional. All started promisingly. I gained a few exchange partners, learnt some colloquialisms, and all was well.
… but not that real
Until, completely out of the blue, one of my partners decided that our instant message practice was not enough. We needed to speak on Skype. Naked. And sent me a picture to… entice me. Wide-eyed and relatively naive to people and their … ways … I quietly pressed delete and backed away, slowly. In some kind of bizarre legacy, his use of the word ‘sausage’ in Finnish at that moment comes back to me every time I pass a delicatessen.
I decided to try some faceless mobile language apps instead. So, I opened a free demo version and to my cheek-blushing horror, the response was pretty much the same, only with no, um, language foreplay.
A little tainted by the world, I continued studying on my own with various websites including online Finnish newspapers, hockey sites, and so on. I also started trying to translate songs I liked and became firm friends with a website called Lyric Translate. And I decided to look for a penpal, or rather an e-penpal. With emails there would be time to compose a message and hopefully, less chance of an impromptu proposition.
Swearwords and polygamy
Now this was actually a huge turning point in my studying. This method built my confidence, taught me the difference between ‘real’ and ‘textbook’ responses, and naturally, I learnt swearwords. Very exciting times.
My e-penpal was incredibly patient with me and even though I said many a wrong thing – like the time Google Translate managed to convince him I was in a polygamous marriage, rather than sharing a house with friends – I got pretty good.
I joined an ‘international’ website that essentially felt like a mix between Facebook for language learners and live action e-penpals. Undeterred by numerous marriage proposals, assurance that I was a long lost princess and should return to my land to reclaim my throne for the negligible sum of €250,000, and the offer of a goat (I don’t have an explanation for that), I used my block button with finesse to avoid too much strangeness, and made some good friends along the way. Who are actual, real people that I have met in person and argued about ice hockey with.
Now, I’d love to tell you that I am now fluent in Finnish. I can’t. Because, for the very simple reason, I did not keep up the practice. Back when I was speaking in Finnish in one form or another on a daily basis, I was decent. Now that I don’t use Finnish regularly, hockey commentary has gone back to sounding like Dothraki and there’s not even a Khal Drogo to comfort me. (I prefer the books, in case you wondered). I can, however, still virtually ‘pick up’ the Helsingin Sanomat and understand a reasonable amount. Not enough, though, not nearly enough.
One day I’ll get back to it, I will…
Do you have any funny or embarrassing stories from your language learning adventures? We’d love to hear about it!
Today we’ve got a fantastic guest post from Kelly Wang – English teacher, accidental traveller, cake whisperer, dinosaur believer – on her personal language learning journey.
If you’ve got a language story to tell, we’d love to hear it! Now over to you, Kelly…
My journey through languages began in sequins and shoulder pads.
At the age of seven I remember clutching a Pot Noodle (Chow Mein flavour, if you must know), with an A4 pad in front of me and one of those 10 coloured pens ready and poised, waiting for the Eurovision Song Contest.
It has long been a tradition in my family to watch the Eurovision together, and to give marks out of ten to the acts. And at that age, I was of the opinion that English was the only language in the world, so my marking scheme would include whether or not the songs were in English. No English? Nil points.
I even took exception to the fact that each country when giving their own points spoke in their own language. How rude.
Fast forward to the last year of primary school and we learnt a few French words like bonjour and le livre and la fenêtre.
But then, on reaching secondary school, when we started to learn a ‘modern foreign language’ regularly (in my case, French), I loved it. I loved the idea of being able to speak to everyone, no matter the language. And better than that, I was picking it up pretty easily.
The following year there was a repeat performance with learning German, and I remember a sort of teenage arrogance of thinking that languages were going to be ‘my thing’, because by the time I was sixteen I could also say Θέλω να πάω σπίτι in Greek – Thélo̱ na páo̱ spíti (I want to go home).
Over the years I’ve flirted with a lot of languages. I tried Chinese for a while, but with the complicated tonation, I was more worried about causing offence with the way I said a word, and less worried about actually stringing a sentence together.
And then, I found my true language love. The one language I could lose myself in and spend hours learning just for fun. The one language I would squeal over if I heard it spoken in public. Which is Finnish. Naturally.
Finnish may sound like an odd choice, but it made perfect sense to me. What started with a passing interest listening to Finnish metal music erupted into a bit of an obsession when I found myself frustrated that I couldn’t understand the Finnish ice hockey commentary.
For almost two years, Finnish became my number one hobby. Being relatively self-disciplined when it comes to studies, I decided to learn through a mix of self study and online language exchanges. Many an adventure was had along the way, and that perhaps is a story for another time, but I loved it. No prepositions to learn because everything was a suffix, and by changing the word ending you could say a whole range of things about it: saunassa, saunasta, saunan (in the sauna, from the sauna, for the sauna). No articles, no need to wonder if your table was a girl and your chair was a boy, it didn’t matter. Neither did you have to refer to a person as he or she, one simple han and it was covered! Beautiful.
Fast forward another year, and I found myself attempting to get to grips with Hungarian. Now for those of you who don’t know, Finnish and Hungarian are cousins of the language world, and it depends on which scholar you speak to as to how close a family they are. My experience was that whilst it sounded an awful lot like Finnish, Hungarian was nothing like it at all, except for the odd words like toilet: Hungarian – vécé, Finnish vessa.
And currently, I find myself in Spain. Adamantly not learning the language.
Because the problem now, with being a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ when it comes to language, is that they all get tangled up. A waiter asks me if I want a refill, I answer in a mix of Spanish and Hungarian. I overhear staff in my local Chinese supermarket and confuse them – and myself – by responding in Chinese rather than Spanish. And recently on a stopover in Paris, I managed to respond to questions in French but found myself asking questions in Finnish.
What I really could do with is a babel fish. Or to live in the TARDIS. Unfortunately, I am in the wrong reality for that. But. I still love languages.
So. I don’t know what the foreign language for me is going to be. Should I return to French, attempt to master Finnish, or take up something new like Dothraki? Or will that lead to more unnecessary tongue twisting? I just don’t know. Would you like to join me on my journey?
We’re proud to be language geeks here at EuroTalk, but we know we’re not the only ones! Here’s your opportunity to show us what you know… Can you get 100%? And more importantly, can you beat your friends? 😉
(By the way, if you want to cheat on any of the questions, the words we’ve used in the quiz are in our uTalk app – now available in 100 languages on iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.)
Here at EuroTalk, we love languages (obviously). And we particularly enjoy discovering fun facts about languages; they’re all so different and each has its own unique character. So we’ve decided to share some of them with you, in our new Language of the Week series. Each week, we’ll choose a new language, and we’re always open to suggestions!
Please do get involved – we love to hear from you, so send us your own favourite facts and have a go at our weekly challenge for a chance to win some fun EuroTalk prizes 🙂 You can join the conversation here on the blog, or on Facebook or Twitter, where we’ll be sharing more of our discoveries over the coming few days.
So this week, we’re starting with Finnish, in celebration of the annual Air Guitar World Championships, which start in Oulu on Wednesday, and may be our new favourite event of all time.
Here are a few of the best things we’ve discovered about Finnish this week:
– Finnish is thought to be one of the hardest languages for a native English speaker to learn, because of its complicated grammar, which is nothing like English or any of the other languages we’re used to learning. Finnish words can also look pretty daunting to a new learner, as they’re very long and seem to contain a lot of vowels!
– There is no word for ‘please’ in Finnish – not because Finns are rude, but because they just assume politeness. There is a word which means ‘thank you’, kiitos, which is sometimes used in place of ‘please’, and the other way to indicate politeness is to use the conditional – ‘Would you…’
– Also interesting is that a grandson can be either pojanpoika if it’s the son of a son, or tyttärenpoika if it’s the son of a daughter. The same with granddaughter – pojantytär is the daughter of a son and tyttärentytär is the daughter of a daughter. But don’t panic; you can use just lapsenlapsi, which means ‘child of a child’, for a generic term.
– The word sauna is the most widely used Finnish word in English. There are 3.3 million saunas in Finland, which means there is 1 for every 1.63 people. Visiting the sauna is as normal for Finns as going to the pub is to Brits. It’s also a tradition to jump into the lake outside after a hot sauna. This sounds a little crazy and very cold!
– The Finnish language holds the world’s longest palindrome, and just in case you don’t know what that means, it is a word that can be read the same both ways. And here it is: saippuakivikauppias, which is a dealer in lye (caustic soda). Probably not something you’d say every day, but always useful to know.
– The longest Finnish word is 61 letters long (which is outrageous compared to English’s mere 45-letter longest word) and it is:
Which means: ‘airplane jet turbine engine auxiliary mechanic non-commissioned officer student’.
– A Finnish tongue twister is:
Appilan pappilan apupapin papupata pankolla kiehuu ja kuohuu. Pappilan paksuposki piski pisti paksun papukeiton poskeensa.
There is no absolute translation but it’s about a vicarage’s assistant priest and his hot pot of beans, which are boiling on the stove and the vicarage’s fat mongrel who ate up the thick bean soup.
Language Challenge of the Week
So now it’s your turn. Have a go at pronouncing one of the words above, or, for ultimate respect, the tongue twister… Send us your videos on Twitter to @EuroTalk with hashtag #loveFinnish or post a link to your video in the comments below. If we’re really impressed, we’ll send you a code for uTalk Finnish 😉
Oh, and in case you wondered what’s so great about the Air Guitar World Championships…
If you liked our recent infographic on words that don’t exist in English, you’ll love this. New Zealand-based designer Anjana Iyer has been working on a project called Found in Translation, illustrating 41 ‘untranslatable’ words so far, with more to come.
We asked Anjana about the background to her project, and where she gets her ideas from. Here’s what she had to say…
What’s the 100 Days Project all about? How did you get involved?
The 100 Days project is basically choosing one creative exercise, and then repeating it every day for 100 days. It was started three years ago by Emma Rogan, who is quite a renowned senior designer in New Zealand. I came across this through one of the creative meetups happening in Auckland every week, and I decided to participate to improve my illustration skills.
What made you choose untranslatable words for your subject?
I wanted my 100 Days project to be something compelling enough to do every single day. I have had a fascination with learning new languages for the longest time and I just happened to come across this article about 14 words with no English equivalent on The Week. I knew I wanted to base my project around illustrations, since I have only been illustrating for the past two years and I still have a very long way to go, and this was a perfect medium to improve my skills.
This project was started last year as a part of the 100 Days project but I had to drop it after Day 41 due to some professional and personal commitments. It’s suddenly been brought to spotlight because of my friend who recommended me to DesignTaxi and it went viral from there. And with the growing response that it’s gotten, I have restarted the series to include more illustrations.
How did you choose which words to illustrate?
Well, when I first came across these words, I could think of one friend or another when it came to certain words. For example, the Yiddish word Shlimazl (which means a chronically unlucky person), reminded me of a classmate who had the worst luck with our professors. And so I picked words which we could all relate to in way or another and maybe share a laugh or two.
Do you have a favourite so far?
Iktsuarpok has a been a favourite word, simply cause it holds so much meaning. It’s waiting, whether you are waiting for the bus to show up or for the love of your life. It perfectly describes that inner anguish. From the point of view of illustration, I am very happy with how Schadenfreude turned out. That was fun to illustrate.
What’s your background as a designer?
I am a media designer with three years of experience. I love illustration and web design in equal measure. I quit engineering to become a designer. When it comes to illustrations, I love doing mostly vector work. Currently I am in the final year of my studies as a web design student.
Do you speak any languages yourself?
Well, being from India, I think we are born to speak several languages. I do speak about five Indian languages and I have a working understanding of French.
Can you give us a sneak preview of any forthcoming illustrations?
It’s quite surprising how some words can really unite people. The Portuguese word Saudade is such a popular one. I have lost count of the number of people who have requested an illustration of said word. And I am looking forward to completing that one.
To see some of her other illustrations, check out Anjana’s website.
Thanks to Anjana for talking to us; we’re looking forward to seeing more of her brilliant work!
Do you have any favourites? Or any words you’d like to see illustrated? Let us know in the comments.