Thursday, 21 January 2010

Haluan harjoitella suomea !

Don't worry reader, this post is not going to be in Finnish; I wish I could (although two languages in one blog is already quite a challenge), but not yet. Anyway, if I'm not going to write this all in Finnish, I will write about Finnish. And in case you don't know a word of it, the title here-up means "I want to practice Finnish !".

Yes, I do want - and need - to practice. I've been here for over two years now. I've had several Finnish language classes - although they started to be really efficient only when I met my current teacher, just a year ago. For the last four months, she has spoken only Finnish during the classes, and I understand pretty much everything. It's a lot harder "in real life" but I can see myself improving. But my passive knowledge is way over my active knowledge; I just can't utter a complete sentence yet. Although I keep making excuses to myself (that language has three times more caseforms than latin ! the vocabulary is so completely different than any other language ! the spoken language is impossible to understand when you've learnt written language at school !), I'm not proud of all this.

One might think that when living in a country and sharing an appartment with a local, you find many occasions to speak the language. To be honest, it doesn't work with me. Outside, in shops and public places, I try to answer in Finnish as often as I can; but when a problem comes up and I can't follow, people will understand I'm a foreigner and go on in English. And I'll be happy of it, because it's too complicated to negotiate something with a shop attendant, or any kind of service worker that's got other customers to take care of, in a language you don't master properly. I study and work in English, TV is mainly in English, and most of my friends are French.

At home, speaking Finnish is a challenge too. Mr Bear and I have spoken English together since we've met each other. It's a very strong habit to overcome. It's also an effort for me because I need to think long before making any kind of sentence, and so does Mr Bear who's not used to choose his words so carefully. My level is still so low that it impairs communication, and when you're home after a hard day's work, you just want to make the other understand what you mean without too much trouble. Mr Bear also strongly appreciates having a chance to practice English with me, he's got no one else to talk to in that language.

But still ! I'm starting to realize that I'm wasting all the efforts I've put in learning the language in the last two years. The easiest vocabulary slips out of my mind by lack of use. The most common sentences require a lot of thinking, while if I could hear them every day they would soon be imprinted in my mind. Moreover, my Finnish course is becoming more and more demanding; I need now to write long stories and speak during classes, and if I don't practice I won't be able to follow for long.

So I decided it's enough and I'll speak Finnish at home. I've made that decision before but never kept my promise; this time I will, if only because some people will be reading this and I don't want to look weak to my readers. I've tried tonight, I felt it was the right time.

The problem is, Mr Bear doesn't seem to share that feeling. So far he's never answered to me or adressed me in Finnish. If I keep saying "mitä ?" (what ?), "en ymmärrä englantia !" (I don't understand English !), sometimes he'll repeat in Finnish, sometimes he just won't repeat at all. If I ask "miksi et puhu suomea minulle ?" (why don't you speak Finnish to me ?), he won't answer either, although I can see a slightly sheepish look on his face. He probably hopes I'll be giving up after a while like I did before, but this time I won't. Even if I have to speak alone for the next six month, I'll be the strongest minded for a change.

A friend told me I only write about my personal life on this blog when I'm angry. This time I really am not. I can understand Mr Bear very well, although I don't think I would act the way he does. I know he doesn't think Finnish will be a real asset for me here, since I can manage pretty well without it. I understand it's hard for him to change our way to communicate, and although it's his mother tongue, selecting easy words and repeating everything twice without even being sure that I undestand correctly is a real burden on every day life. I wish I didn't have to impose all this to him. But right now I don't have a choice anymore, and no one else to turn to, so we are in the same boat.

Reader, you're my witness: I'm taking this challenge and I'll let you know how it goes. Anyway, I've already prepared how to say "put your cacao cup in the dishwasher !", so at least the most important part of communication is covered...


  1. I've been here for almost a decade and I can't use or understand the language. I'm not even ashamed (or maybe a tiny wee bit... ><).

    I admire your determination and strong will! Everything I lack, haha. I'm too lazy and in my everyday life, I rarely use any language; I just shut up and it works like this. But my English is getting worse and worse, spoken and written, which is rather depressing.

    After 2 years you seem to be doing well language-wise, I thought you had been here for a bit longer than that.

  2. Salut,

    As-tu essayé de faire un cours tandem communication à l'université de Helsinki ? Tu parles français à un étudiant avec qui tu parles aussi finnois, alternativement. C'est souple et assez efficace pour faire des progrès en finnois. L'option parler finnois après avoir parlé anglais longtemps avec son partenaire n'est pas la plus simple. Bonne chance

  3. Hang in there Nath, I'm sure it will be hell at the beginning but if you stick with speaking Finnish to him, he will end up at some point answering you in Finnish also... but it's true that finding someone else to speak Finnish with regularly might be less a burden for both of you. Maybe Nana's right and you should try to do this discussing-with-a-local thing?

  4. On est un peu dans la meme situation que vous. Quand on s'est rencontrés, on avait que l'anglais en langue commune. Elle avait un peu étudiée le francais mais entre theorie et pratique il y a une grande marche. C'est elle qui a insisté des centaines de fois sur le fait que je doive parler francais et non anglais pour qu'elle progresse. Et a force d'énervements, de grands silences, après 4ans et demi ensemble, je dirais qu'on est parvenu à 50% de la communication en finnois+francais et 50% en anglais. Cotoyer nos familles aide l'autre à progresser et maintenant avec un bébé, les progrès sont fulgurants car on parle sa propre langue au bébé et l'autre entend, c'est comme apprendre la langue depuis le début.

    Sois têtue, ca marchera! Et parle finnois dans sa famille meme si tu te sens ridicule, ils finiront par accepter le fait que tu veuilles parler finnois. Et puis parle-lui francais à l'occasion, ca lui rappelera qu'il a la vie un peu trop facile à parler finnois partout et anglais à la maison. Ou invite-le à des soirées francophones pour le ridiculiser comme ca t'es arrivé trop de fois. Il comprendra alors ta situation et que tu as un besoin enorme d'apprendre sa langue.

    Bon courage et tiens-lui tête!

  5. Thanks for your support, people !

    @sanjuro: you don't hang out with Finns ?

    @Nana: j'ai déjà essayé un tandem, ça n'a pas trop marché. Et puis parler une fois par semaine avec un étranger, ça me paraît moins efficace que tous les jours avec un proche :D Mais je devrai peut-être faire ça si je vois que ça pose vraiment de trop gros problèmes à la maison.

    @Miss Spooky Muffin: yes I'll consider that possibility as well, but it feels weird to go out and talk to a stranger when you've got a local at home !

    @Jockbatt: C'est rassurant de savoir que chez vous, ça a marché ! Le bébé, c'est peut-être un peu trop demander pour pratiquer le finnois, mais je parle pas mal avec ses parents qui ne parlent pas anglais. En fait plutôt avec sa mère, puisque le père ne parle pas du tout :D Seulement c'est seulement occasionnel, au maximum une fois par semaine, pas suffisant. La petite Amélie ne sait pas la chance qu'elle aura d'être bilingue sans efforts :)