Have you ever seen a movie by the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki?
His films are a great introduction to the Finnish culture and the Finnish language as well. The movies are known for their long silent moments and very short, even unfriendly dialogues. For example: a guy enters a coffee shop and orders a coffee by saying: "Kahvi" (coffee). The waiter answers: "Kaksi euroa" (two euros). Nothing more, nothing less. And some people say Finnish language is hard to learn!
Of course, the truth is more complex. Let me explain why.
In Finnish language there does not exist a word for "please". But there are other ways to be polite and those means are not present in Kaurismäki's film. Finnish people are actually not so rude as the movie implies, and that makes it so fascinating. The film plays with cultural stereotypes.
Some researchers claim that the language we speak influences the way we see the world around us. For example, if we think of the Finnish personal pronoun hän -one word for both sexes, he and she- we may think it has a connection with the Finnish perception of gender equality. I don't know if it is true or not, but surely understanding a language helps you to understand the culture as well.
I know that in Finland it is quite easy to manage your personal and even working life in English. But if you are looking for a job or want to make friends with Finnish people, I strongly advice you to learn at least some Finnish. It will help you both in social and professional life.
In fact, most of the Finnish employers require at least the basic knowledge of Finnish from their employees. Not to mention the benefits in your everyday life. Knowing some Finnish helps you to communicate with your neighbours, colleagues, and the cashier in the grocery store. And I promise: if you take the trouble to learn some Finnish, you will see the Finns and the Finnish society in a completely new light. Probably it will enrich your life in Finland.
This does not mean you have to be fluent in Finnish. It is enough if reach a decent level in conversational, reading and writing skills. What is a decent level, is up to you.
When you have taken the first steps, the next thing is to open your mouth and speak Finnish. You can start next time you go to a coffee shop. You can learn the proper words from Aki Kaurismäki's films.
More words and expressions -even the polite ones- are available in my Finnish lessons starting next Friday 11 January. I hope to see you there!
*Jenni Turunen is a Finnish language teacher with a long experience in teaching to immigrants, both adults and children. You can follow her Finnish lessons in Foreigner.fi every Friday.