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Finnish Profile (revised)

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25 January 2010 at 4:15am | IP Logged 
Finnish (Suomen kieli / Suomi) is the official language of Finland and an official minority language in Sweden. It is also the mother tongue of people of Finnish ancestry living in other neighbouring countries (e.g. Norway, Russia). Because of immigration since the 19th century, native speakers of Finnish also live in Australia, Canada, and the United States.

Linguists classify Finnish as a Finno-Ugric language and linguistic relatives include Estonian, Hungarian and Lappish. Finno-Ugric in turn is part of the larger Uralic language family which includes the Samoyedic and Yukaghir languages. The Samoyedic and Yukaghir languages are spoken in northern Russia. When considering major standard languages, Estonian shows the most similarity to Finnish and there is some mutual intelligibility. Karelian, which is spoken mainly on the Russian side of the border dividing Finland and Russia shows even more similarities to standard Finnish. It is unclear, however, if the degree of divergence between Finnish and Karelian is high enough to justify treating the latter as a separate language or not.

Many linguists consider Uralic as unrelated to any other language group. However, proponents of the Nostratic school postulate that the Uralic languages are related to those of the Indo-European, Altaic, Kartvelian and Dravidian families. Other linguists such as Merritt Ruhlen and the late Joseph Greenberg maintain that Uralic is related to Indo-European, Altaic and Eskimo-Aleut languages.

Finns are deeply assimilated into the European millieu and most modern Finns are physically indistinguishable from their neighbours speaking Germanic, Slavonic or other Finno-Ugric languages. The ancestors of the Finns began to be converted to Christianity in the 11th century and have been under Swedish or Russian control until the 20th century.

It is useful in Finland and areas where Finnish or very closely-related languages are spoken. As Finnish is rarely heard outside northern Scandinavia, many Finns speak at least some English or Swedish. The latter can be frequently heard in the far western or southwestern parts of the country. In southeastern Finland there is a chance to come across people who speak Russian fluently as they are likely among the 25,000 Ingrian Finns who emigrated to Finland after the collapse of the USSR.

Knowledge of Finnish would acquaint the learner with some features that are characteristic of Uralic (e.g. Hungarian, Lappish) and Altaic languages (e.g. Mongolian, Turkish). In particular, knowledge of Finnish would provide a definite advantage in learning other Balto-Finnic languages (a subgroup of the Finno-Ugric group) such as Estonian, Karelian or Livonian. However, a prospective learner of Finnish should realize that learning for example Hungarian with a Finnish base is not as easy as learning Spanish with an English base for example.
Because of the language's relatively rarity and distinctiveness from neighbouring Indo-European languages, native speakers of Finnish are often pleased when foreigners make the effort to use at least a little of their language. It can sometimes act as an effective conversational icebreaker with native speakers (assuming that one knows enough Finnish!) .

Knowledge of Finnish would most be useful for economic purposes if one were working in Finland. Finland’s economic situation according to the CIA is as follows:
“Finland has a highly industrialized, largely free-market economy with per capita output roughly that of the UK, France, Germany, and Italy. Its key economic sector is manufacturing - principally the wood, metals, engineering, telecommunications, and electronics industries. Trade is important; Finland's ratio of exports to GDP has risen from a quarter to 37% over the past 15 years. Finland excels in high-tech exports such as mobile phones. Except for timber and several minerals, Finland depends on imports of raw materials, energy, and some components for manufactured goods. Because of the climate, agricultural development is limited to maintaining self-sufficiency in basic products. Forestry, an important export earner, provides a secondary occupation for the rural population. Although Finland has been one of the best performing economies within the EU in recent years and its banks and financial markets have avoided the worst of global financial crisis, the world slowdown has hit export growth and domestic demand and will serve as a brake on economic growth in 2009 and 2010. The slowdown of construction, other investment, and exports will cause unemployment to rise. During 2009, unemployment will climb to over 8% of the labor force. Long-term challenges include the need to address a rapidly aging population and decreasing productivity that threaten competitiveness, fiscal sustainability, and economic growth..” (retrieved on Jan. 23, 2010 from Finland's profile in the CIA World Factbook)

- Helsinki: Finland’s capital and largest city. The fortress of Suomenlinna is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
- Nature: The country is covered with forests and lakes (almost 200,000 of the latter) and could be a dream destination for nature-lovers, hikers or anyone who enjoys a summer weekend at a cottage. In winter, this environment makes the country ideal for cross-country skiing (although there do exist some resorts for alpine skiing) and dog-sledding.
- Lahti: This town is known in Finland as the national capital of winter sports (especially skiing)
- Savonlinna: Every summer, the town’s medieval castle, Olavinlinna, hosts a famous opera festival. For the less musically-inclined, Savonlinna also hosts the World Championships for Mobile-Phone-Throwing.
- Turku: The former capital of Finland and considered the oldest city in the country (founded in the 13th century). It is remarkable for its castle, cathedral, and museums. It is also a popular entry point for Swedes entering Finland because of a ferry that runs regularly between the city and Stockholm.
- Lapland: Northern Finland consists of the administrative region called “Lapin maakunta” (~ Lapland). As the name implies this area is where the Lapps (Saami) are indigenous people. However they comprise fewer than 10,000 inhabitants in this region, and the traditional territory of the Lapps (“Sápmi”) extends beyond the borders of Finland itself by covering northern Scandinavia and Russia’s Kola Peninsula. A visit to Lapland in winter also provides an ideal opportunity to see the the Northern Lights (Aurora borealis).
- Rovaniemi: The capital of Lapland is remarkable for being the largest city in the region and by having its municipal area crossed by the Arctic Circle. The town also claims to be the home-base of Santa Claus and even has Santa Claus Village to strengthen its claim. However, Finnish tradition holds that a set of mountains northeast of Rovaniemi and on the border with Russia called “Korvantunturi” is the home of Joulupukki (Finnish counterpart of Santa Claus).

- Finland (official language), Sweden (official minority language)
- Australia, Canada, Estonia, Norway, Russia, USA

- Approximately 6 million, of whom roughly 4.5 million live in Finland

The modern standard language is based on standardization efforts that started in the 19th century. Linguists are uncertain how to classify Finnish dialects as divisions can vary from two to eight groups. The least elaborate classification splits dialects into eastern and western groups. The most elaborate distinction involves separating Finnish into eight groups: Southwestern, Southern Transitional, Häme, Southern Pohjanmaa, Central and Northern Pohjanmaa, Far Northern, Savonian, and Southeastern. Modern standard Finnish is based on a combination of features in eastern and western dialects. Today, the standard language is taught in all schools and colleges and this teaching has limited the problem of mutual unintelligibility among Finns.

There also exist the idiolects Kven and Meänkieli which are defined as minority languages in Norway and Sweden respectively. For political purposes Kven and Meänkieli are thus treated as separate languages but in dialectological studies they are part of the chain comprising the Far Northern dialects (or broadly speaking the Western dialects). To a lesser extent, the treatment of Ingrian and Karelian as Finnish dialects is otherwise similarly disputed. Mutual intelligibility of Ingrian and Karelian on one hand, and standard Finnish on the other appears somewhat lower than in the cases of Kven and Meänkieli with standard Finnish. Ingrian is part of the chain of Southeastern Finnish dialects, while Karelian is on the continuum of Savonian dialects. Both Southeastern and Savonian dialects are broadly classifiable as Eastern Finnish dialects.

In modern Finnish there is a colloquial register (~ puhekieli “spoken language” ) and a formal one (~ yleiskieli “standard language”) as taught in school. It is somewhat similar to the distinction between colloquial Czech and standard Czech. Standard Finnish is taught in all schools and occurs mainly in print, and formal situations. The prescriptions of standard Finnish retain grammatical patterns or distinctions that are no longer used in spoken Finnish and reflect an earlier period when codifiers strove to create a literary language. Words in spoken Finnish tend to be shorter than their equivalents in the standard language thanks to assimilation or omission of certain endings or unstressed syllables. For someone familiar with Estonian, spoken Finnish rather than standard Finnish may appear more similar to Estonian.

The relatively harsh climate of northern Europe has contributed to Finns’ traditional appreciation for nature, pragmatism and self-sufficiency. As mentioned earlier, Finns are physically indistinguishable from their neighbours and their culture reflects Baltic, Germanic and Slavonic influences on their presumably original northeastern European or possibly Siberian background (as speakers of an Uralic language). Finnish cuisine is also indicative of this harsh climate with dishes using wholemeal crops (e.g. rye, barley), berries, dairy products and turnips (later potatoes) forming the core of traditional Finnish cuisine. Fish is more common in traditional dishes from western Finland, while mushrooms, game and certain vegetables are more common in traditional dishes from eastern or northern Finland. Since the 20th century, Finnish tastes have also been influenced by broader European and American culinary trends. Most Finnish holidays today match Christian (especially Protestant) traditions. Nevertheless, the Finns are conscious of their pre-Christian past and this manifests itself in awareness or knowledge of the national epic, Kalevala.

Some famous Finns include:
- Jean Sibelius (composer of the tone poem “Finlandia”)
- Aleksis Kivi (author of “Seitsemän veljestä” (“Seven Brothers”))
- Tove Jansson (author of the “Moomin” books)
- Aino and Alvar Aalto (married couple of architects)
- Einojuhani Rautavaara (composer of contemporary classical music)
- Linus Torvalds (initial creator of the kernel for Linux)
- Michael Widenius (main creator of MySQL)
- Tarja Turunen (singer and songwriter who was the lead singer of the band “Nightwish” from 1996 to 2005)
- Artturi Ilmari Virtanen (chemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1945)
- Aki Kaurismäki (director, producer and screenwriter whose most successful film is “The Man Without a Past” (2002))
- Paavo Nurmi (runner who won a total of 3 silver, and 9 gold medals in the 1920, 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games)
- Jari Kurri and Teemu Selänne (hockey players)
- Mikä Häkkinen and Kimi Räikkönen (racing drivers)
- Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä (soccer players)
- Matti Nykänen (ski jumper who won a total of 1 silver and 4 gold medals in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games)

The sauna is also associated closely with Finnish culture.

For the learner of Finnish, there is plenty authentic material from Finnish culture that could enhance or enrich the learning experience.

A music lover who is learning Finnish can use Finnish songs to enhance understanding of the language, while also enjoying the creative efforts of Finnish musicians. Fans of classical music may take a liking to music by Sibelius or Rautavaara, while fans of rock or heavy metal may enjoy bands such as The Rasmus, HIM, Lordi, Apocalyptica and Nightwish. Prominent Finns active in dance or electronic music include Ville Virtanen (a.k.a. Darude), Harri Andersson (a.k.a. DJ Proteus), and Tapio Hakanen (a.k.a. Orkidea).

Finnish literature as a “high” art form is relatively young as the literary language was standardized in the 19th century. In the past, folklore was the primary means of literary expression, and its most famous example is “Kalevala” (1835) which is an edited compilation of myths and folk tales. It became a symbol of emerging Finnish nationalism in the 19th century and became regarded as the Finnish national epic. Its influence went beyond Finland and was claimed by J.R.R. Tolkien to have been the inspiration for some of the characters and themes in “Silmarillion” and “Lord of the Rings”

Important figures in Finnish literature include Aleksis Kivi (writer of “Seitsemän veljästä” (Seven Brothers)), Mika Waltari (writer of “Sinuhe” (The Egyptian)), Eino Leino (poet known for his poem collections “Helkavirsiä” and translation into Finnish of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”) and Tove Jansson (the “Moomin” books). Note that Jansson belongs to the minority of Swedish Finns and wrote in Swedish. Finnish versions of the “Moomin” books are ultimately translations from Swedish.

Movies in Finnish can also provide a helpful diversion for students learning Finnish. A couple of noteworthy directors are Aki Kaurismäki and Timo Koivusalo. For someone interested in Finnish and its related languages, watching the Estonian film “Kinnunen” (2007) or the Russian film “Kukushka” (2002) may be worthwhile. The former deals with differences between Estonian and Finnish as well as stereotypes held between Estonians and Finns. The latter deals with two soldiers who are taken in by a nomad even though each person speaks a different language: Finnish, Northern Lappish and Russian.

For native speakers of an Indo-European language such as me, these are features that I found which caused the most difficulty at the beginning:

1) Consonant gradation

2) Treatment of a direct object or predicate

3) Correct use of the partitive plural and genitive plural

4) Unfamiliar vocabulary for speakers of most Indo-European languages (this problem is alleviated in varying degrees if you already know another Uralic or Altaic language or are fluent in a Germanic language. See “Vocabulary” for more information)

Fred Karlsson's comments on difficulty may also be relevant.

Karlsson, Fred. “Finnish: An Essential Grammar (2nd. ed.).” London, New York: Routledge, 2008, pp. 8-10 wrote:
The most difficult feature of the PRONUNCIATION of Finnish is the length (duration) of the sounds: differences of length very frequently serve to distinguish separate words.


Since Finnish is not an Indo-European language, the BASIC VOCABULARY differs from Indo-European.

[...] was said that the inflection of Finnish words is easy in that the endings are often attached 'mechanically' to the stem. However, this is not always true. The form of the basic stem (root, lexical form) often alters when certain endings are added to it, i.e. a lexical word may be represented by different STEMS depending upon which endings it is followed by. These changes are called MORPHOPHONOLOGICAL ALTERNATIONS.


The basic form ... takes different forms according to the following ending and its sound structure. These sound alternations are governed by rules that can sometimes be extremely complex.


Case endings are usually added to nouns, adjectives, pronouns and numerals (all together called NOMINALS), but they may also be added to verbs.

Minä lähden Jyväskylä/än. I'm going to Jyväskylä.
Minä lähden kävele/mä/än. I'm going 'walking' (= for a walk).

The verb form kävelemään literally means 'into walking', just as Jyväskylään means 'into (the town of) Jyväskylä'. Both forms contain the illative case ending of -än meaning 'into'. When complex sentences are formed, Finnish makes more use than English of such inflected non-finite verb forms.

The grammatical object in Finnish is marked by a case ending. In the two following sentences the endings -n, -t, -a indicate 'this word is the object of the sentence' and tell something about its definiteness or indefiniteness. The rules governing the use of these endings are fairly complex.

(Minä) ostan kira/n ~ kirja/t ~ kirjo/j/a. I (shall) buy a/the book ~ the books ~ books.

Tuomas näki auto/n ~ auto/t ~ auto/j/a. Tuomas saw a/the car ~ the cars ~ cars.

Finnish has four tenses (present, imperfect, perfect and pluperfect), two voices (active and passive), two numbers (singular and plural), and six moods (indicative, conditional, imperative, optative, potential, eventive). The last three moods however are either archaic or rarely used in speech. There are also four forms for the infinitive (some sources show five such forms). In addition, it does not use separate pronouns for “he” and “she”.

Of note for verbs:

i) Future activity is indicated by using the present tense. Future activity can be determined from the context of a sentence or can be clarified by using suitable adverbs.

Minä tulen = “I am coming”, “I come”, “I will come”, “I will be coming”
Minä tulen ensi torstaina = “I am coming next Thursday”, “I come next Thursday”, “I will come next Thursday”, “I will be coming next Thursday”

ii) Conjugating verbs in negative differs from doing so in the affirmative.

Minä tulen = “I am coming”, “I come”, “I will come”, “I will be coming”
He tulevat = “They are coming”, “They come”, “They will come”, “They will be coming”
Minä en tule = “I am not coming”, “I do not come”, “I will not come”, “I will not be coming”
He eivät tule = “They are not coming”, “They do not come”, “They will not come”, “They will not be coming”

As it relates to nouns and adjectives, Finnish does not have grammatical gender but uses both prepositions and postpositions and 15 cases.

Finnish morphology is largely agglutinative but does show some traits of fusional languages. In agglutinative languages, each suffix often expresses only one unit of meaning (For example to express the nominative plural of a noun, one would attach a plural suffix to the basic form (usually nominative). If one wanted to express the accusative plural, one would attach two suffixes to the basic form - one suffix for the accusative, another for the plural). In fusional languages, the ending of a noun can change to express different case relations and that ending can express more than one unit of meaning (For example to express the nominative plural, one would change the ending of the noun. If one wanted to express the accusative plural, one would attach a different ending to the basic form (no need to attach one ending for the plural, and then a second for the accusative as in an agglutinative language.)

Word order is usually subject-verb-object but can vary as the use of suffixes or endings allows for some flexibility depending on what one wishes to emphasize. Adjectives precede the nouns that they modify.

One area of Finnish grammar that may be initially difficult to learn or grasp is the treatment of the direct object. Finnish declension of direct objects depends on:

1) whether the direct object is countable or not
2) whether the direct object is the recipient of a completed or ongoing action or not (i.e. “resultative action” versus “irresultative action”)
3) whether the direct object is the recipient of a negated action or not
4) whether the direct object is a defined amount or one countable thing or not
5) whether the direct object is a personal pronoun or not
6) whether the direct object is countable and the recipient of either an affirmative action in the imperative or that of an act of obligation (i.e. countable direct object of a sentence using the Finnish equivalent of "must")

In brief, the accusative as used in an inflecting language such as German or Latin can be expressed in Finnish with either nominative, accusative (personal pronouns only), genitive or partitive. The choice of case ending depends on how it aligns with the criteria above.

In a related sense, this also affects how Finnish treats the complement of olla = “to be”. The complement can be in nominative or partitive - again depending on how it aligns with some of the criteria above.

Use of the partitive plural may also be initially difficult for foreigners to master since the required plural infix -i- can cause changes to the stem which can be difficult to predict without some drilling or revision. The genitive plural is described in Fred Karlsson’s well-respected guide “Finnish: An Essential Grammar” as the most complex of Finnish case forms. The suffixes for genitive plural can be attached to a stem based on the partitive plural or a stem based on the genitive singular. The choice of stem depends on the declensional class of the word.

Main stress is fixed on the first syllable but it is not as strong as in English or Russian to the point of causing reduction of unstressed vowels. Finnish also differentiates between short and long sounds. Short sounds are expressed in print as single vowels or consonants. Long sounds are expressed in print as double vowels. Sandhi or changes of sounds at boundaries dividing words or morphemes is widespread in Finnish but rarely marked in writing. Changes in intonation can be used when emphasizing desired elements in a sentence.

Finnish pronunciation is also affected by vowel harmony and consonant gradation. Vowel harmony is the principle where back vowels (i.e. A, O, U) do not occur in roots which consist of certain front vowels (i.e. Ä, Ö, Y). The front vowels E and I can however occur in any word, regardless of the quality of its vowels. In compound words however, the principle of vowel harmony may appear violated, but analysis of a compound’s roots will show that each root adheres to the principle of vowel harmony.

Consonant gradation can occur when the consonants P, T, and K begin the final syllable of a stem or root. The result of consonant gradation is a change in the quality or quantity of P, T or K (technically speaking, the addition of certain suffixes to that stem or root change the final syllable to an open one, or a short closed one, and thus cause consonant gradation with P, T, or K)

aikoa = “to intend”; aiomme = “we intend” (-k- in “aikoa” changes to zero (i.e. -k- disappears) because the present tense suffix for the 1st person plural “-mme” caused gradation of the hypothetical stem “aiko-”)

kauppa = “a/the store”; kaupassa = “in a/the store” (-pp- in “kauppa” changes to -p- in “kaupassa” because the inessive suffix “-ssa” caused gradation of the hypothetical stem “kauppa-”)

lähteä = “to leave”; lähden = “I leave” (-t- in “lähteä” changes to -d- in “lähden” because the present tense suffix for the 1st person singular “-n” caused gradation of the hypothetical stem “lähte-”)

sänky = “bed”; sängyllä = “on a/the bed” (-k- in “sänky” changes to -g- in “sängyllä” because the adessive suffix “-llä” caused gradation of the hypothetical stem “sänky-”)

ymmärtää = “to understand”; ymmärrätte = “you understand” (2nd person plural or formal 2nd person singular) (-t- of -rt- in “ymmärtää” changes to -r- of -rr- in “ymmärrätte” because the present tense suffix for the 2nd person plural “-tte” caused gradation of the hypothetical stem “ymmärtä-”)

As mentioned earlier, Finnish is classified as an Uralic language with its grammar and some of its basic vocabulary bearing similarities to what is found in other such languages. According to a minority of linguists, some of the basic vocabulary held to be of Uralic origin has connections to vocabulary of certain Altaic languages.


- ajaa = to drive || ajama (Estonian) || vojed- = to run (Komi - derivative) || vuodjit (Northern Lappish) || vujt-, wojt-, wujt- = to chase (Mansi) [Cf. ajda- (Kyrgyz) || ajan = journey (Mongolian) || aja- = to run quickly (Literary Manchu)]

- alkaa = to begin || algama (Estonian) || awǝ.l, owl, ōl, ɔ̄wl = beginning; end (Mansi) || olam-, old- (Selkup) [Cf. al = front (Kyrgyz, Tatar)]

- elää = to live || elama (Estonian) || él- (Hungarian) || ol-, ov-, o·l- (Komi) || ælle- ~ ææl- (Northern Lappish) || ilt-, jalt-, jält- = to become healthy (Mansi) || ela, ilá-, īla- (Selkup)

- hiiri = mouse || hiir (Estonian) || egér (Hungarian) || ši̮r, šør (Komi) || täŋkǝ·r, täŋkǝr, taŋkǝr (Mansi) || čejeŕ, čeveŕ, šejer (Mordvin)

- itse = self || ise (Estonian) || ieš ~ jieš (Northern Lappish) || [? is = also (Hungarian)] || is = ghost (Khanty - dialect) || aći̮m, a.ćim = shadow (Komi) || eś, äś, eś (Mordvin) || eʒie, iʒie (Yukaghir)

- ilma = air, weather || ilm (Estonian) || âl'bme ~ alme = sky (Northern Lappish)

- juoda = to drink || jooma (Estonian) || i-, isz- (Hungarian) || ju- (Komi) || jukkâ- -g- (Northern Lappish) || jüä-, d́üa- (Mari)

- kahdeksan = eight || kaheksa (Estonian) || kaktse (Lule Lappish) || kafksa, kavkso (Mordvin)

- käsi = hand (same as in Estonian) || kéz (Hungarian) || ket, köt (Khanty) || kiehta (Lule Lappish) || kit (Mari) || ki (Udmurt)

- korkea = high || kõrge (Estonian) || kuRka = deep (Mordvin)

- kuulla = to hear || kuulma (Estonian) || [? hall- (Hungarian)] || gullâ- -l- (Northern Lappish) || kola- (Mari) || ki̮l-, kị̑lị̑- (Udmurt) || [? qō = ear (Selkup)] [Cf. ẋol = voice (Yukaghir) || kulak = ear (Turkish) || xulxa = middle-ear (Buryat) || ūl-ta- = to resound (Evenki)]

- kyllä = yes, definitely || küll = definitely (Estonian) || gal'le = enough (Northern Lappish)

- kymmenen = ten || kümme (Estonian) || kemeń (Mordvin)

- kynsi = (finger-/toe-)nail || küüs (Estonian) || gi̮ž, gøž (Komi) || gâʒˈʒâ (Northern Lappish) || künš, koäš, käš, kos (Mansi) || kenže, keńžä (Mordvin) || kátu (Nganasan) [Cf. qiči- = to scratch (Uigur) || qučil- = to scrape with fingers (Written Mongolian) || osīkta = claw, fingernail (Evenki)]

- liippo = butterfly (Finnish) || liblikas (Estonian) || lep(e)-: lepke (Hungarian) || ḷăwańt́i̮, lĕpǝntȧj, lȧpȧti (Khanty) || lablok (Swedish Lappish) || lǝpǝ, ǝlǝpǝ, lǝ̑wǝ̑, lǝ̑pǝ̑ńǝ (Mari) || lib́erāpco (Nenets)

- lukea = to read || lugema (Estonian) || låhkåt (Lule Lappish) || low = ten (Mansi) || lovo-, luvo- (Mordvin) || li̮d, lǝ̑d, lị̑d = ten (Udmurt) || lāẋnā- = to speak (Nenets)

- mennä = to go || minema (Estonian) || menni ~ megy- (Hungarian) || mun- (Komi) || mânnâ- -n- (Northern Lappish) || miń-, min- (Mansi) || mende- (Nganasan) [Cf. män- = to jump (Yukaghir) || maŋ- = to trot, ride (Uigur) || meŋde- = to hurry (Written Mongolian) || muŋre- = to run (of cattle) (Literary Manchu)]

- metsä = forest || mets (Estonian) || miehttjēn = far away (Lule Lappish) || messze = far (Hungarian)

- mäki = hill || mägi (Estonian) || miw = lawn hill (Khanty)

- nainen = woman || naine (Estonian) || näj = queen (in card games) (Khanty)

- neiti = miss, young lady || neiu = lass (Estonian) || nyl = girl (Komi) || niei'dâ = girl (Northern Lappish) || ńedako = girl (Nenets)

- nähdä = to see || nägema (Estonian) || néz- (Hungarian) || ni- = to be visible (Khanty) || niekati- = to dream (Lule Lappish) || ńeje-, ńii-, ńäje- (Mordvin) || naal- (Udmurt)

- oppia = to learn || õppima (Estonian) || vōpl- = to see well (Mansi - dialect)

- palaa = to burn || põlema (Estonian) || buolle- -l- (Northern Lappish) || palo-

- pestä = to wash || pesema (Estonian) || bâssâ- -s- (Northern Lappish) || peze-, pezi-, pezo- (Mordvin)

- pää = head || pea (Estonian) || fej (Hungarian) || pom, pon = end, tip (Komi) || bagŋe- -āŋ- = the thickest part of the antler (Northern Lappish) || pä, pe = end (Mordvin) || feae, feai = end, tip (Nganasan) [? Cf. f́an = appearance, face (Literary Manchu)]

- saada = to get || saama (Estonian) || su- = to arrive (Komi) || sa-, saje- = to come (Mordvin) || tû'a- = to reach, catch (Nganasan)

- seitsemän = seven || seitse (Estonian) || čieǯâ (Northern Lappish) || šǝm, šǝ̑m, šišim (Mari) || śiźi̮m, śiźǝ̑m, śiźem, śiźị̑m (Udmurt)

- suu = mouth (same as in Estonian) || száj (Hungarian) || čotta = throat (Northern Lappish) || -šu: im-šu = eye of a needle (Mari - dialect) || so, sō, sū = throat (Enets)

- syksy, syys = autumn || sügis (Estonian) || ősz (Hungarian) || sö̆ɣǝs, sĕwǝs, sus (Khanty) || tjaktja (Lule Lappish) || śokś, sokś, śoks (Mordvin) || siźi̮l, śizel, śiźị̑l (Udmurt) [Cf. siɣurɣa(n) = snowstorm (Written Mongolian) || siɣelese(nī) (Evenki)]

- tuli = fire (same as in Estonian) || tållå (Lule Lappish) || tol (Mordvin) || ti̮l, tǝ̑l, tị̑l (Udmurt) || tui (Nganasan) [Cf. tüle- = to burn (Khalkha)]

- tuo = that || too (Estonian) || tá-: távol = distant, far (Hungarian) || tŏttǝ, tota = there (Khanty - dialect) || ti̮n = there (Komi - dialect) || duo-t = that over there (Northern Lappish) || tosa, toso = there (Mordvin) || tohonô = that (one) there (Enets) [Cf. taŋ = that, tuŋ = this (Yukaghir) || tege (Tatar) || ter (Khalkha) || tar, tari (Evenki)]

- tuoda = to bring || tooma (Estonian) || [? toj- = to lay an egg (Hungarian)] || tu- (Khanty) || tu-, tuje-, tuvo- (Mordvin) || tā- = to bring, give (Nenets) [Cf. tadi- = to give (Yukaghir) || ta'ul- = to give (Middle Mongolian) || tuju- = to give a feast (Evenki)]

- unohtaa = to forget || unustama (Estonian) || [? ŋanaʔbta- (Nganasan)] [Cf. unut- (Turkish) || umarta- (Written Mongolian) || omŋo- (Evenki)]

- uusi = new || uus (Estonian) || ǫđâs -đđ- (Northern Lappish) || új (Hungarian)

- valkea = white || valge (Estonian) || vil-: világ = light (Hungarian) || viel'gâd, vil'gis (Northern Lappish) || walɣǝ̑đǝ̑, wolɣǝ̑đo = bright, clear (Mari)

- vanha = old || vana (Estonian) || važ (Komi)

- varis = crow || vares (Estonian) || varjú (Hungarian) || urŋi̮, wărŋȧj, wărŋa (Khanty) || vuoratjis (Lule Lappish) || varaka, etc. (Mordvin) || warŋäe (Nenets)

- vaski = copper || vask (Estonian) || vas = iron (Hungarian) || væi'ke -ik- (Northern Lappish) || uśke, viśkä, uśkä = chain (Mordvin) || bása (Nganasan)

- yhdeksän = nine || üheksa (Estonian) || ovcci (Northern Lappish) || ǝnđekšǝ, inđeše, inđeš (Mari)

As shown above, knowledge of Estonian in particular can be helpful, but beware of false friends or near false-friends


- ilma = air, weather || ilma = without (Estonian)
- kannatus = support || kannatus = pain, suffering (Estonian)
- keittää = to cook || keetma = to boil (Estonian)
- linna = castle || linn = town (Estonian)
- raamattu = Bible || raamat = book (Estonian)
- tuore = fresh || toores = crude; raw (Estonian)
- vene = boat || vene = Russian (adjective); boat (Estonian)

In addition to words common to other Uralic languages, Finnish has a sizeable stock of Germanic loanwords not only because of hypothesized contact between Proto-Balto-Finnic (an ancestral language of Finnish) and Proto-Germanic but also because of the long influence on Finnish culture from Sweden’s domination of the Finns from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. It follows that some of these Germanic loanwords should also be discernible to speakers of English.


hattu (hat); helppo (easy – Cf. “help”); pukki (billy-goat – Cf. “buck”); mallas (malt); neula (needle); peruna (potato – Cf. Swedish “jordpäron”); sairas (sick – Cf. “sore”); sunnuntai (Sunday); torstai (Thursday)

There are also loanwords from Baltic languages (e.g. Old Latvian), Lappish, and Russian. English has recently become an important source of loanwords in Finnish.

As shown above, Estonian shows the most similarity to Finnish when considering official languages. Lesser-known languages such as Ingrian, Karelian, Veps are even closer to Finnish while disputed idiolects such as Kven and Meänkieli are closer still. Speakers of Saamic languages will not find Finnish to be highly intelligible while speakers of Hungarian even less so. The occasional word in Finnish may be recognizable to speakers of Baltic or Germanic languages because of the presence of loanwords from earlier-attested Baltic or Germanic languages but such words may not be obvious to speakers of modern Baltic or Germanic languages because of the divergence between the older and later reflexes (e.g. kansa "nation" cf. hansa "band, company" (Old High German)).

Here are some hints for non-Finns that may help with grasping Finnish.

1) Finnish tends to use SVO order in declarative sentences like English rather than a generalized order of the main/auxillary verb being in second position like German.


"Tomorrow Marko goes to Kuopio."
Huomenna Marko menee Kuopioon. (Finnish)
Morgen fahrt Marko nach Kuopio. (German)

"I have bought a book."
Mä olen ostannut kirjan. (Finnish)
Ich habe ein Buch gekauft. (German)

2) Estonian treatment of the direct object is somewhat similar to that of Finnish where the direct object's declension depends on the verb's aspect, affirmativeness, the degree of involvement inherent in the action, or the degree to which the direct object is affected by the action.


"I'm drinking (some) beer."
Mä juon olutta. (Finnish - olutta is partitive of olut)
Ma joon õlut. (Estonian - õlut is partitive of õlu)

"I'll drink (up) a/the beer."
Mä juon oluen. (Finnish - oluen is genitive of olut)
Ma joon õlle (ära). (Estonian - õlle is genitive of õlu)

3) The apocope (i.e. dropping of final unstressed syllables) and assimilation of certain clusters over time in Estonian has made it more similar to colloquial Finnish which is distinguishable from standard Finnish with its apocope (in addition to syncope and assimilation).


"Is your car red?"
Onko autosi punainen? (Standard Finnish)
Onks sun auto punane? (Colloquial Finnish)
Kas su auto on punane? (Estonian)

"Why will they give to me the letter?"
Miksi he antavat minulle kirjeen? (Standard Finnish)
Miks ne antaa mulle kirjeen? (Colloquial Finnish)
Miks nad annavad mulle kirja? (Estonian)

4) The tendency of apocope has changed Estonian's typology towards a more isolating or analytic type than standard Finnish's agglutinative typology. However colloquial Finnish also shows more of this isolation or analysis compared to standard Finnish as it seems to have been undergoing a similar development as Estonian. Mainfestations of the stronger isolation or analysis are a greater tendency to retain pronouns (i.e. less "pro-dropping") and replacement of possessive suffixes with possessive pronouns, thus leaving the possessed object without possessive endings.


"My friend worked in a bookstore."
Ystäväni oli työssä kirjakaupassa. (Standard Finnish)
Mun ystävä oli töissä kirjakaupas. (Colloquial Finnish)
Mu sõbra töötas raamatupoes. (Estonian)

"Take your dog along!"
Ota koirasi mukaan! (Standard Finnish)
Ota sun koira mukaan! (Colloquial Finnish)
Võta su koer kaasa! (Estonian)

"I'm reading a newspaper."
Luen sanomalehteä (Standard Finnish)
Mä luen sanomalehtee (Colloquial Finnish)
Ma loen ajalehte (Estonian)

See the sections on transparency/intelligibility in the profiles of Estonian, Hungarian and Saamic / Lappish for more information.

Spelling is relatively phonemic (each grapheme corresponds to just one meaningful sound) but rarely transcribes sandhi as mentioned earlier. The alphabet is influenced by the Swedish alphabet. Conventions that may be unfamiliar to speakers of English are:

i = pronounced somewhat like “ee” in “glee” but shorter
j = pronounced like “y” in “yes”
w = pronounced somewhat like “v” in “van”
y = pronounced somewhat like “u” in French “tu” (you)
å = pronounced like “o” in “pot” (it’s encountered most frequently in Swedish names)
ä = pronounced like “a” in “mat”
ö = pronounced somewhat like “u” in “fur”

According to FSI, it takes approximately 1100 class hours to achieve professional speaking and reading proficiency in Finnish. It follows from FSI’s scale that the degree of difficulty in learning Finnish for a monolingual speaker of English is roughly the same as that of Estonian, Georgian, Hungarian, Mongolian, Thai or Vietnamese.

Based on experience with Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian, I consider Finnish to be somewhat easier to grasp than Estonian, but more difficult than Hungarian.

The time needed will vary on each person's motivation level, access to material and environment. Given such factors, the time needed to achieve professional speaking and reading proficiency in Finnish can take as little as one year to as much as infinity. ;-)

1) Teach Yourself Finnish (Terttu Leney)
- It comes with two CDs and a textbook and costs about $25 US on Amazon.
- What I enjoy about this course is that it has lively dialogues, a user-friendly presentation to grammar. The back of the book contains the answer key, some appendices on Finnish inflection and small bidirectional word lists.
- A noticeable shortcoming of the course is that it presents a lot of material at once (however Leney (thankfully) doesn't use idiosyncratic methods/analogies to describe or explain Finnish grammar as “Colloquial Finnish” (q.v.) does). This figurative avalanche of information is made worse by the small amount of exercises relative to what is introduced in the dialogues. The section for exercises in most chapters is little more than a series of 10 to 15 questions of which some ask the learner to translate one sentence into Finnish, or ask what a certain Finnish phrase means in English.
- Another shortcoming is that several of the dialogues are not recorded. This is especially noticeable in the later chapters when only one dialogue out of several in the chapter is on the CD.
- A minor shortcoming of this course is the emphasis on situations encountered more frequently by tourists (e.g. making hotel reservations, cashing travellers’ cheques, shopping). This aspect may irk some users who wish to learn Finnish for “less practical” reasons. In addition, the course does not spend much time discussing colloquial Finnish.

2) Colloquial Finnish (Daniel Abondolo)
- It comes with two CDs or cassettes and a textbook and costs about $35 US on Amazon.
- The course follows the pattern of other books in the “Colloquial” series with chapters usually containing dialogues, some notes on grammar and exercises. Answers and word lists (English-to-Finnish and vice-versa) come at the end of the book.
- Compared to “Teach Yourself Finnish”, “Colloquial Finnish” takes a very different teaching approach and presentation and is probably best avoided by a beginner.
- In “Colloquial Finnish”, Abondolo takes the unorthodox step of teaching a lot of colloquial language starting from the first lesson. While this may not be necessarily harmful in the long run (and is certainly not inaccurate since Finns do not usually speak to each other in the formal way), his approach is comparable to teaching mainly colloquial English rather than formal or standard English to beginning ESL students. If any foreigner would like to deal with Finns in less informal situations (e.g. writing emails requesting official or business information) or take Finnish classes and/or Finnish proficiency tests relying on what he or she has learned from Abondolo's course, then it would likely not be a good idea. Beginners relying on this course may get the habit of letting the slangy or colloquial expressions and forms as emphasized in this course become their default ways of communicating with Finns. This (over)use by force of habit may unfortunately be perceived as the learner being impertinent, trendy or too cozy by Finns rather than polite or respectful.
- Another unorthodox step is that Abondolo uses an esoteric convention of notation when explaining details in Finnish grammar. As a result many of the words or morphemes used in the examples, grammatical notes or glossaries are not expressed primarily using conventional Finnish spelling, but rather in this esoteric notation. Abondolo is adhering to a notation that I’ve only seen so far in a few academic monographs or analyses of Finnish grammar written by him, and certainly never in any other Finnish course for foreigners or reference manuals written by other experts.
- In addition his idiosyncratic approach leads him to describe consonant gradation as "consonant compression" (a non-standard descriptor) and describe certain suffixes as being "tight-lid" (another non-standard descriptor) with the idea that certain "tight-lid" suffixes "compress" the consonants.
- Like “Teach Yourself Finnish”, “Colloquial Finnish” also suffers from a lack of exercises and some of the dialogues in the textbook are not recorded on the CDs.
- Lastly I was rather annoyed by the CDs containing so much in English with Abondolo either paraphrasing some of his grammatical notes or reading aloud the dialogues' English preambles as printed in the textbook (with all due respect, does he think that learners are illiterate or dying to hear his chattering?). This habit of his can be as grating as people reading their Powerpoint slides verbatim which imparts nothing extra to the audience (apart from letting the audience hear the presenter's voice). Consequently the amount of audio in Finnish is less than one would think given two CDs holding roughly two hours' of audio in total.
- All in all, this course left me with very mixed feelings and seems reflective of the author’s attempt to be iconoclastic or a "bomb-thrower" among authors of courses for foreign languages or scholars of Finnish. On one hand, “Colloquial Finnish” appears to live up to its title thanks to the preponderance of informal register in its dialogues. Yet it counteracts this trait toward representing the language of the average Finn by using grammatical explanations and word lists strewn with an estoeric academic notation or non-standard approach. The only value of the course may be for advanced students who want some structured practice with the colloquial register and so are able to skip past Abondolo's idiosyncratic explanations thanks to their having already gained a sound understanding of basic Finnish grammar in earlier studies.

3) Beginner’s Finnish (Agi Risko)
- It comes as a textbook with 2 CDs and costs about $25 US on Amazon
- The course is somewhat similar to “Teach Yourself Finnish”. Each chapter begins with a dialogue followed an English translation of that dialogue. A helpful feature that I found was Risko also includes short lists of fixed or idiomatic expressions meant for specific situations (e.g. upon being introduced to people). Afterwards there is a list of vocabulary and then notes on grammar before ending with some exercises. The end of the book also contains a key to the exercises.
- While the course does not overwhelm the user with as much information per chapter as “Teach Yourself Finnish”, it still suffers like that course from providing a rather small amount of exercises.
- When compared to “Teach Yourself Finnish” or “Colloquial Finnish”, “Beginner’s Finnish” may be a slightly gentler introduction to Finnish.

4) Mastering Finnish (Börje Vähämäki)
- It comes as a textbook with 2 CDs and costs about $50 US on Amazon
- This is an extended reorganization/repackaging of material that Vähämäki was using when teaching Finnish at the University of Minnesota and University of Toronto
- It follows the common pattern of dialogues, followed by notes on grammar and then some exercises. The third edition of the course has a glossary of Finnish-English at the end of the book, and like all of the other courses above it does not provide a high quantity of exercises to allow for much structured independent practice of new grammatical topics. Some of the dialogues are somewhat engaging but the vast majority of the dialogues are in standard Finnish rather than colloquial Finnish; for native speakers, these dialogues can sound rather stilted.
- The notes on grammar are dry but thorough and coming from a professor, tend to be somewhat wordy and use linguistic jargon. However the book's notes on grammar are structured well enough for a motivated beginner to put off buying a dedicated reference manual for Finnish grammar until somewhat later in his/her studies.
- Whatever its flaws for use by an independent learner of Finnish, “Mastering Finnish” is still the primary textbook in some beginners’ courses of Finnish at North American universities.

5) Finnish for Foreigners Vols. 1 and 2 (Maija-Hellikki Aaltio)
- For a someone wishing to learn Finnish independently, this is one of the better courses available. Its cost can vary since second-hand copies of the books can be bought from second-hand bookshops. The most reliable if not more expensive way to get the course is to buy it new from Amazon or Multilingual Books. The usual cost for both volumes combined is about $300 US but it may be possible to buy them at a substantial discount (25% - 40%) during sales promotions from Café Lango (Editor’s note: I bought this course at a 50% discount (i.e. approx. $150 US) during a sales promotion from the now-defunct company, Audio-Forum).
- The first volume is for beginners and consists of a textbook, workbook, book of oral drills, and cassettes or CDs (Audio Forum/Café Lango uses 10 CDs or cassettes to hold all of the audio, Multilingual Books uses only 6 CDs. As far as I can tell the amount of audio from these resellers is the same. It's just that Multilingual Books makes better use of the space on the CDs). The second volume assumes completion of the first one and consists of a textbook, workbook and 3 cassettes or CDs. For both volumes, Café Lango may offer all of the audio as .mp3 files thus reducing the number of CDs (and often the price).
- Each of the chapters in the textbooks begins with a short dialogue, monologue or narrative, and then ends with notes on grammar and a list of new vocabulary in the chapter. The appendices have charts showing inflection using “model” words, and a master list of all vocabulary taught in the lessons. Each chapter in the textbook is linked to a chapter in the workbook which has many exercises, and their answer keys. Lastly each chapter in the textbook for the first set is linked to suitable exercises in the book of oral drills.
- What I enjoy most about the course is that it presents Finnish grammar quite gradually (having 40 chapters in the first set does allow the author to spread things out) with clear grammatical explanations throughout. The word list for each chapter is only Finnish-to-English but each entry has relevant grammatical information (i.e. various stems for a word) which will help one learn how to use the words properly. The workbook and book of oral drills are excellent as exercises consist of transformation, substitution, translation and fill-in-the-blank, listening comprehension exercises.
- The course may seem slightly old-fashioned as it was last edited in 1987, and what is available nowadays are reprints
- A couple of quibbles are that it doesn’t introduce very much in the way of colloquial language in the latter half of the course (although it does include notes and examples throughout the book that compare standard forms with colloquial ones), and the very few exercises which request the participation of a fellow student suggest that it was originally designed to be used in a classroom.

6) Finnish for Foreigners Vol. 3 (Maija-Hellikki Aaltio)
- This is a graded reader to supplement the first two volumes of “Finnish for Foreigners”. Unfortunately I only know of this book thanks to the appendix in the textbook of Finnish for Foreigners Vol. 2, which has a list of suggested extra learning material for Finnish.

7) Basic Course in Finnish (Meri Lehtinen)
- It comes with a textbook and 32 cassettes
- This is a very comprehensive Finnish course produced by Indiana University during the Cold War and whose approach is similar to FSI’s “Basic” courses with plenty of drills and dialogues. This course is meant for those with plenty of motivation and discipline.
- The textbook is most easily available through on-line booksellers and usually sells as a reprint from Routledge for about $150 US or more. It’s possible that second-hand bookshops may have a copy of the original text from the 1960s on sale for somewhat less than Routledge’s inflated price.
- As far as I can tell the course is not in the public domain as Indiana University holds the copyright to the recordings while Routledge through Curzon Press Ltd. hold the copyright to the reprint.
- Indiana University has posted the course's audio as .mp3 files on the website of its language course archives. See “Links” in the last section of this profile.
- A Finnish-American, Gregory S. Isola, apparently obtained permission in 2004 from Meri Lehtinen to publish a condensed and updated version of this course. Mr. Isola expects to complete his work by the end of 2010. See “Links” in the last section of this profile for Mr. Isola’s website and contact information.

8) FSI Conversational Finnish (Aili Rytkönen-Bell & Augustus Koski)
- This is a somewhat newer course from FSI compared to most publicly-available FSI courses in the “Basic” series.
- Because of the course’s association with FSI, it is likely held to be in the public-domain in the USA.
- It comes with a textbook and workbook and 23 cassettes or CDs.
- Like most courses from FSI, this one is designed for use by students interested in working in the foreign service and thus has vocabulary and structure appropriate for that environment.
- According to introductory remarks in the textbook:

Rytkönen-Bell, A. et al. “Conversational Finnish”, xi. wrote:
“The aim and purpose of your textbook, “Conversational Finnish”, is to serve as a basic course. With this book you are expected to develop the skills needed for fluent workable proficiency in Finnish. This translates to a level of 2 to 2+ on the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale and “advanced” proficiency on the ACTFL scale. This book is designed for the first six months of an intensive ten-month course in US government language schools.”

- I found that the course was not as easy to use independently as with FSI’s “Basic” courses as some of the exercises in “Conversational Finnish” require the help of fellow students or the teacher. The exercises requesting that students act out a certain situation using language taught in the chapter would be problematic when done alone. There is no reliable way of measuring how well or poorly the learner is completing that exercise, without enlisting the help of a native speaker or teacher of Finnish.
- Nevertheless, the notes on Finnish grammar are detailed and helpful, while the variety of exercises is wide. They range from substitution or transformation drills, to listening comprehension exercises, dictations, and acting exercises. Another helpful feature is that the textbook has exercises devoted to developing at least passive command of colloquial Finnish by using juxtaposed short dialogues in both standard and colloquial registers. Answer keys come with most exercises, including ones for listening comprehension.
- The appendices in the textbook contain charts and lists of inflectional patterns, as well as a master list of all vocabulary taught which is in turn linked to the specific list of the relevant chapter.

9a) Suomen kielen alkeisoppikirja (Anna-Liisa Lepäsmaa & Leena Silfverberg) [textbook]
9b) Harjoituskirja suomen kielen perusopetusta varten (Leena Silfverberg) [workbook]
- In its complete form, this is a set of textbook, workbook and two CDs for beginning students. The cost of all components is roughly 100 Euros.
- This is broadly similar to Finnish for Foreigners Vol. 1 by Maija-Hellikki Aaltio (see 5)) but is better suited for use in a classroom than the independent learner as the material and explanations are entirely in Finnish and there is no answer key to the exercises. The exercises are mainly fill-in-the blank, substitution or transformation drills.

10a) Suomen kielen jatko-oppikirja (Leena Silfverberg) [textbook]
10b) Harjoituskirja suomen kielen jatko-opetusta varten (Leena Silfverberg) [workbook]
- In its complete form, this is a set of textbook and workbook for advanced students. The cost of all components is about 70 Euros
- This is broadly similar to Finnish for Foreigners Vol. 2 by Maija-Hellikki Aaltio (see 5)) but is better suited for use in a classroom than the independent learner as the material and explanations are entirely in Finnish and there is no answer key to the exercises. The exercises are mainly fill-in-the blank, substitution or transformation drills.
- As far as I can tell, no CDs come with the course.

11) Kato hei! (Maarit Berg & Leena Silfverberg)
- This is a course for beginners in colloquial Finnish and comprises a textbook and CD. The cost altogether is about 100 Euros.
- In a certain way this is better than Abondolo's “Colloquial Finnish” (see 2)) as it doesn't use unorthodox explanations or conventions. However this course is not as suitable as “Colloquial Finnish” for the independent beginning learner as its explanations are in Finnish only.

12a) Finn Talk, yksi, kaksi, kolme: yks, kaks, kolm (Part I) (Terttu Leney & Liisa Needham)
12b) Finn Talk, neljä, viisi, kuusi: neljä, viis, kuus (Part II) (Terttu Leney & Liisa Needham)
- Each part comprises a textbook and two CDs and are the materials used in Finnish classes by Finn Guild in the UK. Finn Guild sells each part for roughly 30 pounds (see “Links”).
- Part I is meant for beginners while Part II is meant for advanced students with the material teaching both standard and colloquial Finnish. There are answer keys to the exercises while the CDs contain the dialogues in their standard and colloquial versions.

13) Finnish Dictionary & Phrasebook (Ville Kataja)
- This is a small phrasebook and dictionary published by Hippocrene and has roughly 5 000 entries in its dictionary. It costs roughly $10 US on Amazon.
- For a student of Finnish, the book has some value in being a phrasebook (i.e. lists of fixed or idiomatic expressions tied to certain situations) and that its Finnish-English glossary shows both the “strong” and “weak” grade of words. In other words, it shows the most commonly-used inflectional stem of a word alongside the “dictionary” form of a word. Knowing the inflectional stem will help when learning how to inflect a Finnish word properly.

14) Langenscheidt Universal Finnish Dictionary: Finnish-English/English-Finnish Dictionary
- This is a small dictionary that costs about $10 US on Amazon.
- It's little more than a bi-directional word-list, with indication of idiomatic uses being largely absent. Each Finnish entry in the Finnish-English section has its approximate pronunciation transcribed using English conventions but no inflectional information or hints are given for the Finnish words.

15) Berlitz Pocket Dictionary: Finnish-English/English-Finnish Dictionary
- This is a small dictionary that costs about $10 US on Amazon and is practically the same dictionary as Langenscheidt's Universal Finnish Dictionary mentioned above (Apa Publications which is part of Langenscheidt bought Berlitz Publishing in 2002).

16) Suomi-englanti-suomi sanakirja (Ilkka Rekiaro & Douglas Robinson – published by Gummerus)
- This is a medium-sized (roughly 65,000 entries) bi-directional dictionary between English and Finnish. It costs approximately $60 US on Amazon.
- Most entries show idiomatic uses and several translations but none of the Finnish entries include grammatical information or cross-references to lists of model words for declension or conjugation.

17) Suomi-englanti-suomi sanakirja (Raija Hurme - published by WSOY)
- This is another medium-sized (roughly 119,000 words in total) bi-directional dictionary between English and Finnish. It may be hard to find on Amazon, but most sellers offer it for around $70 US or 40 Euros.
- As with the dictionary published by Gummerus above most entries show idiomatic uses and several translations but none of the Finnish entries include grammatical information or cross-references to lists of model words for declension or conjugation.
- This dictionary is also available on a USB-flash drive for about 30 Euros.

18) Englanti-suomi suursanakirja (Raija Hurme)
- This is a larger (roughly 160,000 entries) dictionary of English-to-Finnish. It may be hard to find on Amazon but it can be bought from Finland for roughly 90 Euros.
- Most entries show idiomatic uses and several translations but there is no inflectional information given for Finnish words.
- This dictionary is available on CD-ROM as “Englanti-suomi CD-ROM suursanakirja”.

19) Uusi suomi-englanti suursanakirja (Raija Hurme)
- This is a larger (roughly 160,000 entries) dictionary of Finnish-to-English. It may be hard to find on Amazon but it can be bought from Finland for roughly 90 Euros.
- Most entries here show idiomatic uses and several translations but there is no inflectional information given for any of the entries.
- This dictionary is available on CD-ROM as “Suomi-englanti CD-ROM suursanakirja”.

20) Suuri englanti-suomi sanakirja (published by Gummerus)
- This is a large dictionary (about 70,000 entries) of English to Finnish. It may be hard to find on Amazon but it can be bought in Finland for roughly 80 Euros (although it can be sometimes found on sale for as low as 17 Euros (!))
- When compared to "Englanti-suomi suursanakirja" in 14), Gummerus' dictionary gives better treatment of idiomatic uses with example sentences in the headwords. However it also suffers from the same problem in that it doesn't give inflectional information for Finnish words.

21) Nykysuomen sanakirja (edited by Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seurassa – published by WSOY)
- This is large monolingual dictionary in three volumes (roughly 200 000 entries) which provides grammatical / inflectional information for each entry by making a cross-reference to the appropriate inflectional chart of a model word at the beginning of the dictionary.
- This dictionary was last edited in 1961 and despite its age, is still treated by translators and educated Finns with a good deal of respect. It is also difficult to obtain, and nowadays it is most likely to be found in libraries of research universities.

22) Kielitoimiston sanakirja (edited by Kotimaisten kielten tutkimuskeskus)
- This is a large monolingual dictionary in three volumes (roughly 100 000 entries) which also provides grammatical / inflectional information of each entry by referencing each headword (where applicable) to a model-word and its inflected forms at the beginning of the dictionary. The cost of the dictionary is roughly 80 Euros. The version on CD-ROM costs roughly 120 Euros.
- The printed version of this dictionary is from 2006 and is based on an electronic version from 2004. Despite its recent publication, this dictionary is meant to complement rather than replace the older “Nykysuomen sanakirja” mentioned above.
- This dictionary can be ordered from the publisher or from Finnish bookstores. See “Links” in the last section of this profile.

23) Oikeeta Suomee. Suomen puhekielen sanakirja (Dictionary of Spoken Finnish) (Vesa Jarva & Timo Nurmi)
- This is a useful albeit expensive dictionary for those learning Finnish that comprises roughly 7,000 entries of spoken/colloquial Finnish.
- The dictionary is mainly in Finnish but it includes translations of the headword into English and example sentences of the headword in use.
- It costs roughly 35 Euros.

24) Suomen sanakirja opiskelijoille ja ulkomaalaisille (Finnish Dictionary for Students and Foreign Learners) (Timo Nurmi)
- This is another useful but expensive dictionary for learners of Finnish that comprises roughly 17,000 words and their inflections.
- The dictionary is entirely in Finnish and the inflectional information for each headword is presented adjacent to the heading. There's no cross-referencing of words to a table of model-words at the beginning of the dictionary.
- It costs roughly 45 Euros.

25) Finnish dictionary for the language learner (Zsuzsanna Oinas)
- This is an useful but somewhat less expensive dictionary for learners of Finnish that comprises roughly 13,000 words and their core inflections.
- The dictionary is Finnish to English and the inflectional information for each headword is presented adjacent to the heading.There's no cross-referencing of words to a table of model-words at the beginning of the dictionary.
- The headwords in turn are divided by theme (e.g. travel, food) which may be an advantage to some learners.
- It costs roughly 25 Euros.

26) Finnish: An Essential Grammar (Fred Karlsson)
- This is a handy and user-friendly reference guide to Finnish grammar. It costs approximately $35 US on Amazon.
- It is part of Routledge’s series of descriptive grammars meant for students learning how to use the target language.

*AVOID the Finnish dictionary that is compiled by Aino Wuolle and published by Hippocrene Books. That dictionary is inadequate and contains less information than the free online Finnish-English dictionary from that I have listed under the section “Links”.

**Interesting note for students of Finnish: Getting a Finnish dictionary meant for non-English-speakers may be an inexpensive way to get a Finnish dictionary that shows inflectional information of Finnish words if the standard “Kielitoimiston sanakirja” of 100,000 headwords in 22) under “BOOKS” is too expensive at 80 Euros. For some reason bilingual Finnish dictionaries for speakers of English, French, Italian and Spanish do NOT provide inflectional information for Finnish words. However the following bilingual dictionaries do include such information for the Finnish words and are often in stock in larger Finnish bookstores as of 2011.


i) Mägi, Ruth et al. (ed.) “Soome-eesti seletav sõnaraamat”. Tallinn: TEA Kirjastus, 2007. (Finnish-Estonian explanatory dictionary, 50,000 headwords, ISBN-13 978-9985715178, 40-70 Euros, almost every Finnish headword conveniently has the inflectional stems standing adjacent to the headword itself)

ii) Pihel, Kalju & Arno Pikamäe (eds.) “Soome-eesti sõnaraamat” (4th ed.). Tallinn: Valgus, 2007. (Finnish-Estonian dictionary, 50,000 headwords, ISBN-13 978-9985680544, 20-30 Euros, almost every Finnish headword is cross-referenced to a model word in a table for inflections in the appendices)

iii) Vaba, Mari (ed.) “Soome-eesti / eesti-soome taskusõnastik”. Tallinn: TEA Kirjastus, 2003. (Finnish-Estonian / Estonian-Finnish pocket dictionary, 30,000 headwords, ISBN-13 978-9985713402, 10-20 Euros, almost every Finnish headword conveniently has the inflectional stems standing adjacent to the headword itself)

iv) Valdek, Pall et al. (ed.) “Soome-eesti suursõnaraamat I-II”. Tallinn: Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2003. (Large Finnish-Estonian dictionary, 90,000 headwords and entries, 2 volumes, ISBN-13 978-9985790021, 40-60 Euros, almost every Finnish headword is cross-referenced to a model word in a table for inflections in the appendices)


Katara, Pekka & Schellbach-Kopra, Ingrid (eds.) “Suomi-saksa suursanakirja (8. painos)”. Helsinki, WSOYpro, 1997. (Large Finnish-German dictionary, 100,000 headwords and entries, ISBN-13 978-9510214855, 90-110 Euros, almost every Finnish headword is cross-referenced to a model word in a table for inflections in the appendices)


Papp, István (ed.) “Finn-magyar kéziszótár”. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1993. (Finnish-Hungarian concise dictionary, 49,000 headwords, ISBN-13 978-9630564984, 15-50 Euros, almost every Finnish headword is cross-referenced to a model word in a table for inflections in the appendices)


Cantell, Ilse et al. (ed.) “Suomi-ruotsi suursanakirja (3. tark. p)”. Helsinki: WSOYpro, 2004. (Large Finnish-Swedish Dictionary (3rd ed.), 135,000 headwords, ISBN-13 978-9510247143, 90-110 Euros, almost every Finnish headword is cross-referenced to a model word in a table for inflections in the appendices)

Students of Finnish who know any one of Estonian, German, Hungarian or Swedish are in luck as certain Finnish dictionaries meant specifically for them contain inflectional information of Finnish headwords. However all learners of Finnish can use these dictionaries if all that they're after are the inflectional stems of a Finnish word.

For a learner of Finnish who doesn't know any Estonian, German, Hungarian or Swedish, the best choice from this list of 7 dictionaries depends on price, coverage and ease of use.

If cost were by far the overriding factor, then the Finnish-Estonian dictionaries ii) and iii) or the Finnish-Hungarian one could be the way to go (10-50 Euros for a dictionary containing between 10,000 and 50,000 headwords, depending on the dictionary that you choose in the end).

If coverage and cost were the overriding factors, then the large Finnish-Estonian dictionary iv) could be the way to go (40-60 Euros for a dictionary of 90,000 headwords with each headword cross-referenced to a model word in a table of inflections for these model words.)

If coverage, cost and ease of use were the overriding factors, then the Finnish-Estonian explanatory dictionary i) could be the way to go (40-70 Euros for a dictionary of 50,000 headwords with almost every headword showing the core inflected forms)

For myself, it'd be a toss-up between the Finnish-Estonian dictionaries i) and iv) or effectively a matter of ease of use versus quantity of headwords. Almost every headword in the Finnish-Estonian explanatory dictionary i) has a list of its core inflected forms rather than cross-referencing to a model word in the appendix as in the large Finnish-Estonian dictionary iv). Yet this same large Finnish-Estonian dictionary iv) has almost twice the headwords (90,000 headwords versus 50,000 in i)). The retail price of each dictionary varies but it's common to find either dictionary fetching at least 40 Euros and so the outlay should be almost the same. In either case, paying about 40 Euros would be much easier to stand than paying 80 Euros for the standard Finnish explanatory dictionary or at least 90 Euros for WSOYpro's large Finnish-German or Finnish-Swedish dictionaries.

***If you need to buy Finnish books, you have a choice between Suomalainen kirjakauppa (“Finnish Bookstore”), Akateeminen kirjakauppa (“Academic Bookstore”),,, and All of these offer online purchasing but beware of shipping costs (see below for more information). Adlibris is a Swedish bookseller which does business throughout Scandinavia while, and are Finnish operations. sometimes offers dictionaries at lower prices than the competition and was also where I bought a copy of Gummerus' new and large English-Finnish dictionary for 17 Euros rather than the regular price of approximately 80 Euros. Despite its name and focus on selling Russian books, Ruslania also carries Finnish books. Shipping costs to places outside the EU may be high, and combined with customs could make securing Finnish materials more expensive than one would anticipate. In the UK, Bay Foreign Language Books Ltd. carries some Finnish learning materials while in the USA, Schoenhof’s and North Wind Books carry such material. See “Links” at the end of this profile for URLs to these shops.

There are courses for foreigners who want to learn Finnish in Finland. One can study either at a Finnish university during the academic year, or in a summer course offered at the university. In some cases it is not necessary for one to be enrolled as a regular university student, and so one may learn the language as a working professional. There are also private schools which teach Finnish to foreigners. The “Links” section at the end of this profile provides information on schools or colleges which offer Finnish classes.

University of California (Berkeley), Indiana University, University of Minnesota, Lakehead University (Canada), University of Toronto, and University College London among other non-Finnish universities offer classes in Finnish. Occasionally, there may be Finnish classes on weekends or evenings for children of Finnish origin (“heritage language courses”) or any interested adults regardless of ethnic origin held at Finnish cultural centers or Finnish churches.


Discussions, posts or logs on HTLAL involving Finnish:
- 6WC - Finnish (MGF)
- Accelerated Challenge (Feb) - Finnish
- The Awesome Difficulty of Korean, Finnish
- A Few Finnish Questions
- Changes in Spoken Finnish
- Chung at work / Chung pri práci
- Determined to learn Finnish
- Easiest Finno-Ugric language?
- Estonian/Finnish/Hungarian "cheat sheet"
- Evita's TAC 2008 - Finnish
- Feanarosurion's Finnish Journey
- Finnish & Estonian
- Finnish books
- Finnish Dictionary + Example Sentences
- Finnish: Hard as its reputation?
- Finnish Language Grammar Thread
- Finnish language materials
- Finnish: most difficult language?
- Finnish Online Resources
- Finnish Partitive Sing. and Plu.
- Finnish thread
- Hungarian or Finnish - please help!
- Learning Finnish
- Mick's 2010 TAC Log Multilingual Bliss!
- Mick’s 2012 log Teams *jäŋe / *ledús & Žá
- MoqT Log - Team *jäŋe/*ledús for TAC 2012
- My journal for Finnish
- My journey through Finnish
- Serpent’s log
- The Sound of Finnish
- What makes finnish so hard?
- 日本語+Suomi

Other forums or discussions from other forums
- Unilang's discussion forum for Finnish
- WordReference's discussion forum for Finnish
- An active discussion board about Finland and Finnish life. It includes a sub-forum for learning Finnish which is called "Kielikoulu" (scroll down to the group "Finland Forum Regulars")
- Discussion about mutual intelligibility between Estonian and Finnish on WordReference

General treatment and descriptions of Finnish's learning difficulty
- Wikipedia's article on Finnish
- Finnish tutorial at
- Sketch of Finnish at

Dictionaries and other databases
- A database on various language families including Nostratic (source of some of my etymological material under the “Vocabulary” section):
- A website on language difficulty for native speakers of English
- A dictionary of many languages including Finnish. When looking up Finnish words, the dictionary provides not only translations into other languages but it usually provides at least a few inflected forms of a Finnish word. This would be most useful for people who are learning Finnish without a printed dictionary that provides such information.
- The Finnish equivalent of Urban Dictionary, Urbaanisanakirja
- Looking up Finnish entries in English Wiktionary may also be useful as most of the Finnish entries there include full inflectional tables (i.e. they're more explicit and comprehensive than what you may find in the hard-copy of a Finnish dictionary). Looking up Finnish entries in Finnish Wiktionary may also be useful as a headword's page sometimes gives idiomatic phrases and/or example sentences.
- Website of the Research Institute of the Languages of Finland (mostly in Finnish - it includes links to the updated monolingual dictionaries that I mentioned earlier in the review).
- Information on the dictionary as a hard copy
- Information on the dictionary as a CD-ROM

Online courses or downloadable material
- Audio of Meri Lehtinen's “Basic Course in Finnish” from Indiana University as .mp3 files
- FSI Finnish Graded Reader hosted at ERIC (textbook only)
- Spoken Finnish Vols. 1 and 2 hosted at ERIC (textbooks only)
- Online courses from the ONENESS online language-learning project (includes Finnish)
- Self-study / Itseopiskelu (Online course for self-study affiliated with the University of Jyväskylä. Some sections require free registration)
- Suomea, ole hyvä!
- Supisuomea
- Tavataan taas!
- Uuno
- Vilma (Graded texts on Finnish society with glossaries of difficult vocabulary and comprehension exercises but not suitable for novices learning on their own as glossaries and notes are in Finnish only)
- Ymmärrä suomea
- Finnish Language Lessons Podcast
- Murrepeli or game of dialects from YLE (Finnish national broadcaster).
- Bezpłatny kurs języka fińskiego (for speakers of Polish)
- Lexin (picture dictionary from Sweden with most sections translated into Finnish)
- Изучаем финский язык (for speakers of Russian)
- Finn nyelvleckék (lessons for speakers of Hungarian derived from parts 1 and 2 of "Finnish for Foreigners" by M-H Aaltio - 60 lessons planned, 44 available as of Oct. 28, 2012)
- Online reference of Finnish grammar from the point of view of English-speakers
- A SUPERB website with notes on Finnish grammar, thematic lists of vocabulary, and reviews and bibliographical information of various courses and dictionaries published in Finland.
- Online edition of Iso suomen kielioppi which is a large reference manual on Finnish grammar (in Finnish only)

Other links related to Finnish courses
- List of Finnish learning materials with bibliographical information and reviews
- UCLA’s page on Finnish as part of the Language Materials Project (contains database of learning material for Finnish as well as links to Finland-related portals and websites)
- Order form from Finn Guild for Leney and Needham's “Finn Talk” series.
- Announcement by Gregory S. Isola (email: Greg@Finn.St) who is planning to release an updated version of Lehtinen's “Basic Course in Finnish” by December 2010.
- List of sites providing information on learning Finnish in Finland at universities or private schools.

Bookstores that have Finnish inventory
- Adlibris
- Akateeminen Kirjakauppa
- Bay Foreign Language Books Ltd.
- Northwind Books
- Schoenhof's
- Suomalainen Kirjakauppa

Literature and authentic texts
- Audiobook at Librivox of Juhani Aho's Helsinkiin (public domain in the USA - check copyright status for other countries)
- Website of the Finnish Literature Society with some online texts from Finnish literature of the 19th century
- Online collection of children's storybooks in Finnish from the International Children's Digital Library.
- Free content in Finnish at Wikisource including full online text of Kalevala and selected works by Minna Canth and Juhani Aho among other writers.

Downloadable/streamed media
- Selkouutiset or daily broadcasts of news from the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) in "Simple Finnish" meant for immigrants and others who are learning Finnish as a foreign language.
- YLE's streaming service for radio and television (some content can be played only within Finland or via a Finnish IP address), instructions in English to listen to or watch programs in Finnish or Swedish from YLE's archives.
- List of Finnish radio stations with internet streaming.

Edited by Chung on 28 October 2012 at 7:56am

21 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
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 Message 2 of 14
25 January 2010 at 4:21am | IP Logged 
I welcome corrections and comments from native speakers of Finnish. I'm still learning this language and my knowledge is still rather limited. Despite there being a profile for Finnish on this site, I have received permission from the administrator to create a revised one. I am aware of other language-learning materials published in Finland (e.g. “From Start to Finnish”, “Hyvin menee”, “Suomea paremmin”) but I have not included them in this profile as I have not had a chance to try them out.

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 Message 3 of 14
25 January 2010 at 6:18am | IP Logged 
Wow, great job! I especially liked your description of the different texts available. Very impressive...
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 Message 4 of 14
26 January 2010 at 2:14am | IP Logged 
Grazie, newyorkeric.
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 Message 5 of 14
27 January 2010 at 10:09am | IP Logged 
Well done, you've written a very informative profile. I especially appreciate the links listed at the bottom, there were a few that I wasn't aware of.
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 Message 6 of 14
27 January 2010 at 9:57pm | IP Logged 
Kiitos ja ei kestä, mick33.
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 Message 7 of 14
17 April 2010 at 4:57pm | IP Logged 
Wau, toi on tosi hieno profiili! Meni varmasti aika pitkä aika sen valmistelemisessa ja kirjoittamisessa. Just great!
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 Message 8 of 14
17 April 2010 at 5:55pm | IP Logged 
Kiitoksia paljon

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