In my opinion, the key to learning any new skill is finding a good teacher, and learning Finnish is no exception. The teacher-student relationship doesn't always have to be a formal one, but it's important to have someone to support you in your efforts to answer your questions.
So when people ask me for advice, my first reaction is always to tell them to go find a teacher: someone teaching a Finnish course or giving private Finnish lessons, face to face or online. Every now and then, people tell me that they've tried this already, found it to be no use at all and decided to go on on their own. Of course, that may very well be the best option for them. People are all different, and sometimes, studying all on your own is indeed the best thing you can do for yourself and your learning process. However, for the vast majority of people, the problem isn't that they don't benefit from having a teacher. The problem is that they haven't yet found the right teacher.
When I'm teaching a course (I currently teach at Helsingin työväenopisto in addition to my private lessons), I of course teach anyone who wants to attend. But when it comes to private lessons, I never take on a student if I'm not fully convinced that I have something valuable to offer them, and that I'm able to offer it. This is because I know that my success as a teacher is not just a matter of my skills as a professional, but also really depends on a variety of factors that are completely out of my control. The most important thing is just what you might call personal chemistry - people either click or they don't, and if they don't that doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with the teacher or the student.
We don't always get to choose our teachers, and in many cases you just have to stick with the teacher that you've been assigned and make the best of it. In Finland, the vast majority of teachers are highly qualified and passionate about their work, so even when you don't get to choose your teacher you have a very good chance of landing a great one. Yes, even the ones who look like they'd rather be anywhere else than in class usually turn out to be dedicated pros when you give them a chance.
If you do get to choose, I encourage you to really make an active choice. If your course or private teacher isn't working out for you, try a different one. Ask your friends for recommendations. Also ask the teachers who it didn't work out with - chances are they feel the same way and have a vision of what you need. Obviously, be diplomatic when doing this, but don't be too shy either - a good professional teacher knows that sometimes they're just not the right teacher for a given student. The bottom line is, take some time to look around and see who your options are.
That brings us to the question of the day:
How do you know that you've landed the right teacher?
It's of course a plus if you like your teacher as a person, but don't make the mistake of equating a charming personality with skill as a teacher. Yes, in the ideal situation your teacher is a fun person to work with. However, I know from my own experience as a language learner that some of my best teachers have been boring as anything. The question to ask is, are you learning from them? If the answer is no, why is that? If it's because you get irritated at the very thought of attending yet another incomprehensible class, it's time to move on. If it's because you're not putting in the work, figure out why and try your best to fix any problems that are stopping you from learning. Remember, when it comes down to it it's you who has to take the lead of your learning process and do the work - the teacher is there to help you do it, not to spoon feed you at every step of the way. It's your process, so take charge of it.
It's good to know what you want from a teacher and to keep looking until you find someone whose methods work for you. Not all teaching methods work for everyone, and as education professionals trained for a minimum of five years at university level your teachers know that very well. That's why most of us opt for lots of different types of ways of teaching in our courses, so that there's a better chance of there being something useful there for each and every one of our students. That means that there'll always be some part of the class that won't be optimal for you. If you're in my class, for example, you might be sick and tired of getting up to do yet another five minutes of moving around to Finnish punk music from the 80s, or me asking you to repeat the phrase of the day after me yet another time. If that's the case, please be patient: we'll usually be moving on to something else soon enough!
Whenever I get the luxury of focusing on just one student at a time (which is more and more often these days), I try to find what works for the individual student. In my opinion that's what every pro should be aiming at doing - to find what works for their clients and then doing that. So if you have a private teacher, don't be afraid to ask them for what you need! This of course goes for any courses as well - I love getting feedback, even when it's negative, because that's the best way of learning about the needs of my students and becoming better at what I do.
It's also possible to have many teachers at once. Find ones that complement one another. I love co-teaching courses for precisely this reason.
Have you found the right Finnish teacher or teachers? How did you find them? How did you know that you had come to the right place? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!