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Finnish Language Profile
Home > Languages > Finnish

Difficulty: *****

Probably the most difficult European languages to be learned.

UsefulnessA huge proportion of Finnish speakers have at least basic English, and many of them have excellent English. All in all, I couldn't say Finnish is "'useful" but if you are spending significant time in Finland, it will be worthwhile.
BeautyWith soft consonants and a fine range of vowels, Finnish can be a nicely melodic language. Unfortunately, many speakers, especially men, tend to lapse into a monotone.
Chic factorProbably none ! Even in Finland, the locals find it so hard to believe you speak their language that they will quickly switch to English unless you persevere.
SpeakersAround 5 million people in Finland and a few tens of thousand in the rest of the world
CountriesFinland ! You can get by pretty well with it in Estonia too... 
Regional VariationsThe variations are confined to the spoken language. There are some quite marked variations within Finland, but the standard version will get you round everywhere. The written language is uniform.
TravelFinland is a beautiful country - spacious, clean, and civilised. The lakes and forests are wonderful. The winters are cold, but offer excellent winter-sports - or just snowman-building!
CultureNot much Finnish culture has made it to the rest of the world. One example if Väinö Linna's novel "The Unknown Soldier". Finland's best know cultural exports - Sibelius and Tove Janssen (Muumins) - were/are Swedish speakers !


PhonemesThe only unusual sound for English speakers is the 'y' which is a 'front-u', the same as 'u' in French. Finish lacks the 'j' 'ch' and 'sh' sounds, and only words very recently borrwed from (usually) English have more than one consonant at the beginning. 'r' is rolled, so much easier than French ! No European language speakers should have any real difficulty. One common problem for English speakers is that the difference between single and double letters is crucial: tuli=fire/he came; tulli=customs (as in 'anything to declare'); tuuli=wind; tule=come here !; tullee= he's probably coming; tuulee=it's windy
SyntaxThis is where Finnish has a rather fearsome reputation with its 14 noun cases. However, 2 of these are never used in speech, 6 of them correspond to prepositions in other languages (in, on, etc.) This leaves 6, which is the same number as Latin, and the real win is that the endings for all 14 are exactly the same for all nouns, so none of this "declensions" stuff, and in singular and plural. Verbs are also well behaved with only about 4 irregular ones, and the 4 (yes, just 4) tenses behave very much like English.
VocabularyA minus point here as the lack of Indo-European links makes most vocab. completely alien for IE speakers. Even the words borrowed from (usually) Swedish or Russian are so well disguised that they might as well be native Finno-Ugric.
OrtographCompletely phonetic, but the difference between single and double letters is crucial, as mentioned above.
Overall difficultyFXM  rates this language as *****, that is, very difficult to learn, as this it the reputation this language has among language learners. However, Stephen Day writes that "In my experience as an English speaker, somewhere between French and German. 2.5*D Easy for Estonians, probably more difficult for people whose native languages don't inflect at all." 
Time neededAbout the same as German for non-Dutch speakers.


Learning material
Books and tapesNone at the present time.
SchoolsI can offer no advice on this at this time.
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