One trap that foreigners can find themselves falling into over here in Finland is that situation where your understanding of the native tongue becomes little more than the formalities and trivialities.

It’s especially difficult when you’re in your 30’s because as Jerry Seinfeld once very accurately pointed out you’re at a point where “you are not looking or interviewing for new friends, you have the ones you’ve got and that is it,” they make an acceptance of your lingual capabilities and you remain stuck in that rut of being able to communicate properly with about five people.

I have endeavoured to combat the stereotype Brit but it is hard to try and chuck new words and phrases into the same conversations you have been having with the same people for months and months. After all there is only so many ways of saying “what’s your Netflix password?” in Finnish.

ft-kanalakana

When I consider the reality of not being able to communicate properly in Finnish I surmise that it is about as disadvantageous to my life as only being able to walk backwards. Yet I do find it hard to motivate myself to get to the next level of understanding. I am encouraged by those around me to speak more but alas, we English speakers do have an in-built sense of superiority when it comes to language. When one doth share the tongue of those masters; Swift, Melville, Dickens, Orwell, Heller, LeGuin, Ballard, Miller, Golding it is hard not to.

Maybe I should set my sights into becoming what Joseph Conrad was to English literature but in Finnish; I could get a job on the Viking Line and write a tale about a friend who has ‘gone native’ in Tallinn after a heavy booze cruise.

Maybe I should set my sights into becoming what Joseph Conrad was to English literature but in Finnish; I could get a job on the Viking Line and write a tale about a friend who has ‘gone native’ in Tallinn after a heavy booze cruise.

On occasion I attend my local library and try to take part in the Language Cafe, which is an informal weekly group of Finnish language novices, who like myself need to exercise their confabulation muscles.

It is excellent for utilising and learning new words but also pleasant to speak to others in similar situations as yours. Like those poor briney wretches adrift on Gericault’s raft struggling to reach a port of comprehension, we come together and assist one and another through this storm of linguistic vicissitude.

They also have free biscuits.

To make the weekly powwow even more appealing there is even a competitive edge; find your equal in language ability and bedevil them with any Finnish obscurities or specialist subjects that you may know and rejoice in concealed mirth as they scratch their head and fumble with their iPhone translator, trying to figure out what it means.

Last week’s meeting we were talking about our favourite places around Helsinki, a subject that I wouldn’t have a problem boring people with in any language.

After sitting through my fellow non-native speakers list shop names and watching them draw palaces in the air with their fingers whilst we shouted out our guesses like it was an imaginary version of Pictionary, I took the opportunity to list my favourite bookshops, swimming pools and second hand shops before reciting the menu of my favourite Korean restaurant, like a blundering budget tour guide.

But essentially I enjoy these sessions and they do help with progress, I do recommend them to anybody in a situation like mine. It’s never too late to try and catch up, for us non-Finnish speakers the best time to learn the language was ten years ago, the second best time is now!