As a native English speaker, living in Finland, I’m faced with the challenge of learning the Finnish language, where half the Finns I meet tell me “you have to learn sometime, you muppet” and half tell me “seriously, don’t bother, why would you?”.
Having been here for several months, but surrounded by either other native English-speakers, or Finns who speak English, I’ve not really had to learn much at all, only the most minor basics. This has been disappointing when I go out socially (I choose to believe all those people sitting at my table are not laughing AT me), but hasn’t exactly been a show-stopper – even my Finnish friends threatening me to only talk to me in Suomi hasn’t hit home.
Now, I’ve been looking around for work recently, and been pursuing mostly roles that specify a requirement for English only – because my thought process went something like this:
- Learning a second language, especially Finnish, is hard, and will take a long time;
- Since it will take a long time to achieve decent competency, there is little point studying in the short term, as I look for employment, because my language skills will be negligible;
You can guess the outcome.
As of right now, I can order a couple of beers, I know a couple swear-words and I can pick about 1 word in 100 otherwise. Not great. But despite that, “it” still didn’t click until recently, when in the middle of a discussion about “what should I focus on to find work”, the answer was given to me, in direct, inarguable terms.
At first, I rebelled. “But I won’t know anything usable for ages”, “But every Finn speaks English”, “But it will be [insert X months here depending on my desperation] until I can hold a conversation”. Excuses. And completely contrary to in-a-year-or-so.
Because, as it was so gently pointed out to me, it’s not about being able to speak Finnish now. It’s about being able to speak Finnish ultimately. It’s about showing intent (I intend to live here), about expressing dedication (I know it will take time and effort), and about having (and achieving) goals (I want to be able to communicate with my friends, with my co-workers, with the checkout-chick at the grocery store). If I had learned just 2 words per day, I’d know 300+ words by now.
So, starting now, I’m working through http://thefinnishteacher.weebly.com and fully expect it to take, well, maybe not a year or so, but you know (or rather, I know), it won’t be quick. It won’t be easy. But I’m hoping for progress anyway…. vuodessa tai niin?