I have been living in Finland for seven years. In such a long time I should be speaking Finnish like a local, but I am not, as the majority of expats or international talents. I am purposely not writing “immigrants”, because they usually go immediately to those integration courses, they often don’t speak English and so quite fast they learn the language. Expats or international talents who come to Finland from the international job market and get jobs that require their specific skills and the English language mingle with each other in those international clusters around English language daycares and schools and are able to live in Finland happily for years not speaking more than: kiitos and moi.
Happy expat life until…
That was at the beginning also my story. My husband got a job from the international job market and I came with him and our baby. After about two years I started to feel bad that I don’t know any Finnish. I started some courses but with modest results. Then I started my freelance writing, became busy again, could function well only with English and so the time past. Fast forward, eventually I decided to find a job in Finland. And this is where the problems have begun. Most employers demand not only fluent English skills but also Finnish either fluent or at least a communicative level. I decided to face the problem. I started a full time Finnish course, five hours every day plus at least another two of homework. After that, I started my internship at Laurea as a part of the course.
Ups and downs with Finnish
While at school I felt I can understand and I can speak pretty well, I even passed the test on a B1.1 level and I was so proud of myself until the day I started my internship. On a day one at Laurea, I figured out that this is not the language I’ve learned. I was overwhelmed with the fast pace and spoken forms, I couldn’t understand a word. I felt terribly. I thought it would never work out, I will never learn Finnish.
But I didn’t give up. (OK, I admit, I did gave up; I had almost every day those ups and downs. On my way back home I started to change the radio station from YLE Puhe to YLE Mondo, where I could listen to BBC or NPR stations in English).
At the beginning, I felt too shy to speak, but little by little I opened up. With simple things, simple “small talks” about the weather or kids or weekend’s plans. One day during our lunchtime I suddenly realized I know what others are talking about, I was even able to say something. Hurrah! From that day I forced myself to always say something. Because I realized that when you don’t follow the conversation it is very easy to turn into a standby mode, mind wandering. Of course, it doesn’t happen all the time, I still don’t follow some spontaneous conversations or things related to work. But I can see a light in a tunnel.