Languages

Finns take it to extremes with languages and the number of languages we speak is generally met in awe anywhere in the anglosphere.

Let me start off by recounting the languages I’ve studied in my life:

I started English in third grade. German I started in fifth grade, then came Swedish at seventh and French at eighth. At high school I stayed with an Italian family on a school trip, they only spoke Italian. So I learnt the basics of Italian. At university I dabbled in Spanish. And after graduation I figured it would be useful to learn at least the alphabets in Russian. All in all, I’ve studied seven foreign languages.

Mind you, I’m only fluent in Finnish and English.

Now anywhere else in the world I’d be dubbed as a language genius (by myself mostly) but in Finland it’s a fairly normal occurrence. Most Finns will start English as their first foreign language (about 90% according to SUKOL) in third grade. Then comes the obligatory Swedish with Finland being a bilingual country and all.

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Just leave the birds alone.

With already two foreign languages in the bag, it’s easy to add a few more. According to the Teacher’s Union in Finland, about 49% of high school students studied at least three foreign languages.

Now to most this seems rather excessive unless you plan a career in the diplomatic service. But when you think about, you’ll realise that our mother tongue is Finnish. And who speaks Finnish? Yep, only Finns. So if we ever want to venture outside our borders, we’ll need to learn another language. We haven’t got any convenient ex-colonies that we’ve converted to the niceties of the Finnish language.

And after Finnish, all the other languages seem so easy. I laugh at the mere mention of English grammar.

Having studied the language does not, however, mean that you speak the language. Because speaking would require verbal communications which does not come naturally to us.

That said, I can order a beer in at least those seven languages. And surely that counts for something?

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Hermit language

When I was in Britain, the fact that I spoke several languages was always met with awe.

Most Finns speak English and Swedish in addition to Finnish. That’s what you get when your country only has 5 million people and a language that’s related to Estonian.

Swedish is a nod to the fact that we have a large Swedish-speaking minority. And the fact that Finland was mostly just a rather wooded suburd of Sweden last millenium.

English is a necessity in the modern world and we’re taught it from a very young age. Most TV-shows are in English (none of that horrible voice-over business) with subtitles. Me and my sister learnt English by watching Cartoon Network.

But today I met a colleague’s son who’s trilingual – he’s fluent in English, French and German. I’d say his languages trump mine. Easily.

Bloody hermit languages…