Whenever I tell people that I’ve been learning Finnish, one of the first things out of their mouths is usually some version of how Finnish is such a hard language, and how it’s impressive that I’ve gotten to such and such a level in it. And while I don’t want to understate the amount of effort that goes into learning a language — any language — to a high level, every time I have this conversation I get a little bit more frustrated at the state of language education, and how it managed to turn a beautiful and largely straightforward language such as Finnish into something complicated and scary by describing it in overly technical, obfuscated terms.
Now, if you’ve been studying Finnish for a while already, and have only just now come across these posts, I recommend that you try not to think about the grammatical information that your teacher or other resources — especially textbooks and grammars meant for linguists — may have told you. That information isn’t wrong, but much of it was probably compiled by linguists and other language researchers, who have been trained to focus on the nuts and bolts of how a language works, rather than the aspects that will be most relatable to you as a new learner. Unless you are yourself a linguist or language nerd, learning this technical terminology doesn’t always do you much good when learning to speak a new language, especially one like Finnish that lends itself to that sort of analysis.
This, of course, is not to disparage linguists. I myself am a linguist, and there is a lot to be gained from the technical analysis of languages such as Finnish. However, speaking a language and studying it academically are two totally different disciplines, and practitioners of both would do well to keep this in mind, especially when making forays into the other’s field.
In this sequence of posts, I will try to explain some of the aspects of Finnish most known for being confusing to new learners in a manner that doesn’t depend on technical linguistic knowledge, and which should be relatable to speakers of English. Because I’m writing in English, I’m going to assume that all readers have a strong command of that language; if there is enough interest in the future, I might be convinced to translate this series into another language.
Finally: if you’re ever interested in studying Hungarian, 90% of what I mention here applies there as well, and the other 10% doesn’t matter because Hungarian grammar is even more logical than Finnish. But more on that some other time.