Quite often I hear people say that Finnish is such a difficult language because words are long and hard to remember. Probably you have heard of words like 'juoksentelisinkohan' (should I run around aimlessly?) or even 'lentokonesuihkuturbiiniapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas' (someone who is studying to become an airplane mechanic in the army).
Don’t let these examples discourage you. In this text I will give you some advice on how to make sense of long words that are important in real life. I promise, they are not so difficult after all.
First you have to check if the word is a compound word. If it is, you just need to separate the different words it is made of. Let’s take an example: 'työssäoppimisjakso'. At first sight this word may look incomprehensible. The meaning can be found in smaller parts.
You can easily separate the first word because of the rule of vowel harmony. Remember that vowels ä, ö and y can’t be in the same word with a, o or u.
So, the first part of this compound word is 'työssä', which means 'at work'. Now, the next part is 'oppimis', the stem of the word 'oppiminen', learning. And the last part is 'jakso', which means time or period.
Now that you have understood all three parts of the word, you can easily understand the meaning: 'työssäoppimisjakso' means internship, a period in your studies when you learn new things at work.
Finnish language uses many endings and suffixes that can make words look pretty long
Actually compound words are a fundamental part of Finnish language. Many Finnish people are passionate about them. There is even a Facebook group called 'Yhdyssana on yhdyssana' (Compound word is a compound word). People share pictures of misspelled compound words and are worried about other people’s writing skills.
Look first at the end of the word
But not all long words are compound words. Finnish language uses many endings and suffixes that can make words look pretty long. When you see a long word, look first at the end of the word. Can you find any suffixes or endings? Remember that there can be many suffixes at the same time.
For example the word 'koulussammekin' has three different endings added to the stem 'koulu', school: local ending 'ssa' means 'inside', possessive suffix 'mme' means 'our' and 'kin' means 'also'. Now we have a meaning for this long word: 'in our school too'.
Finnish is a lively and productive language. New words are made all the time by compounding words and adding suffixes. Now that you know the system, you can break any word, no matter how long, into smaller parts, even this one: 'yhdyssanatehtävä'.