I’d like to ask what your suggestions are for someone (me) who is trying to become proficient in speaking Finnish again after not speaking it for many years. I find that I can still form sentences and have rudimentary conversations in Finnish with myself in my head, but, those don’t last very long due to losing my vocabulary. I’d just like to be able to speak with my Finnish friends again, and feel confident speaking face to face when I come to visit.
This is such an important topic, thank you for asking this question!
An important part of getting really good at a language is accepting the fact that your progress won’t be linear. There will be months and sometimes years that will go by where you aren’t doing anything you’re your Finnish skills, which means that you will forget some of the things that you have learned, and everything will kind of rust over. Starting to speak Finnish after a long break can feel like banging your head against a wall. Why can’t I remember any vocabulary? Shouldn’t I know this by now?
Here are some things that have worked for my students and also for me personally when I’ve needed to recover or reactivate other languages. (Hi Spanish, Hungarian, and Swedish! Hola, hej, szia!)
1. Let go of should. You know what you know now and that’s enough. Yes, you used to know more, were able to speak more fluently and were able to express yourself in many situations. That doesn’t matter, your current skills are what they are and they’re enough as they are, for now. Sometimes, language learners are so busy beating themselves up about what they feel they should know that they don’t have any energy at all left for learning. Don’t let that happen to you! So, accept where you are now and then start thinking about where you want to get to.
2. Think of other things that you’re good at. What skills are applicable in this situation? For example, if you’re someone who likes to paint, you probably have the experience of not having done it for a while, picking it back up and having to face the fact that you’re not the painter you used to be. This goes for anything that requires skill, whether it’s reading, writing, posting on social media, yoga, tennis, running, knitting, cooking… How did you overcome the challenge of picking something back up again in other parts of your life? What has worked for you previously? Can you do the same with Finnish?
3. Start by reviving some of your passive language skills. Listen to something or read something that you enjoy. Listening to music is one great option, as that’s something that can be enjoyable even if you don’t understand a single word.
3. Get into a routine of actively doing something in Finnish regularly. It sounds like you’re already doing some of this, which is great! Talk to yourself in Finnish for 5 minutes every morning, write a few words in a journal, comment on social media posts in Finnish. Do whatever feels like the easiest and most fun way of getting rid of the rust you’ve accumulated.
4. Think about using a textbook to help you revise what you already know. If you go this route, it might be worth getting a new textbook for a fresh take on familiar things. A good option for someone who wants to revise the very basics while also broadening and deepending their skills is Sun suomi, which has explanations in English. Another good textbook for revision is Oma suomi 1 (level 0 to A2) and 2 (level A2 to B1). If you can handle a heavy layout and aren’t too thrown off by typos, a textbook called Finnish tutor is also a great resource for revision.
One caveat: the language in a lot of Finnish textbooks for beginners gets quite difficult quite quickly, so don’t be angry at yourself if your level A2 (lower intermediate) textbook feels really demanding when you used to be at B2 (advanced). Of course, if you already have a textbook that you know and like, there’s nothing wrong with revising with that one! The books that I’ve mentioned here are the ones that I think might be the best in this situation, but they definitely aren’t the only options available, far from it.
5. Find a course to attend. Finnishcourses.fi is good place to start looking, and Kielibuusti is another. If you’re not in Finland, there are many great online courses available. Taking a few private lessons is another great way to get rid of that rust and to regain confidence in your skills in an efficient way.
6. Find ways to start using the language again in real life. Think of the situations that you’d like to speak Finnish in and then get into those situations. If you're not in Finland, think about what you can do online.
Remember to let go of the should and trust the process. The skills you had aren’t lost forever, they’re just rusty. It will take some time to get to the place where you once were, but it will happen quite quickly if you let it.
Onnea matkaan, sä pystyt siihen!
Good luck, you can do it!
Readers, what are your tips for speaking Finnish again after a long break? Comment below or on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or Twitter.
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Ask a Finnish Teacher / Toiminimi Mari Nikonen
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