I am starting a thread in which I intend to post anything that is however remotely connected with the English language in Finland or its neighbouring countries. I welcome all kinds of comments.

The very first piece of news is: A couple of weeks ago all of Shakespeare's plays were translated into Finnish. This wasn't the first time, though. You can read about the effort [url=http://yle.fi/uutiset/toil_and_trouble_new_finnish_translation_of_shakespeares_works_now_complete... ]here.[/url] Unfortunately the native speaker who is responsible for YLE's English website got the verb wrong in the first sentence.

1 2 3 4
it very cool of the fan also so cool
Diana Colman, who later became Mrs Webster, came to Finland for nine months in September 1952 to teach English and work as a secretary for what is today called the British Council. She was 22 years old and had no experience of teaching of any kind. In spring 1953 her friends strongly urged her to apply for a job as Assistant Lecturer at Helsinki University's English Department, and she got the job after being interviewed by professor Ole Reuter and the three Britons who were working there. Diana Webster has a degree in English Language and Literature from Oxford University.

She returned to Finland in September 1953 and worked for the university for about 40 years and is still living in Finland. Last year she had a personal memoir called Finland Forever published about those first nine months and I have learnt that she is writing another book, probably about the rest of her time here. During the next few weeks, I will post some extracts from her book, which she wrote in English, but it is available in Finnish translation as well. She had thousands of students over the years, including me.

The first extract:

I need not have worried. I must have been recognisable for what I was from a long distance. For one thing, my coat was a scarlet red—an almost unheard-of colour for a coat in Finland at that time—and I must have stood out like a fire-engine on the platform.
'Are you Miss Colman?'
A middle-aged man with a brown, walnut-wrinkled face and a broad smile was approaching up the platform.
'How do you do.'
He shook my hand.
'I'm Eddie Blomberg from the Finn-Brit. Here, let me take that, love,' he said,picking up my suitcase. He didn't comment on its surprising weight.
I was amazed. I thought I was going to meet a Finn and here was a man talking broad Yorkshire.
'I thought I'd take you straight to the Huttunens, where you're going to be living, if that's all right with you, love. You must want to settle in.'
'Thank you, that'd be lovely. I'll be glad to unpack at last.'
As we got into his car, I said: 'You know, I thought you'd be Finnish.'
'Oh, I am!' he laughed. 'My mother was English, though, so she used to speak English to me at home. She was from Yorkshire.'
'Are there a lot of English people in Turku, Mr Blomberg?' I asked hopefully.
'Oh, call me Eddie,' he said. I don't stand on formality. Well, no, there's not. There's one—that's Geoffrey, Geoffrey Matthews, over at t'University—but you'll not be seeing a lot of him, I shouldn't think. Keeps himself to himself a bit, does Geoffrey.'
One! One Englishman only. I could hardly believe it, for wasn't this supposed to be the second largest city in Finland?

Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
The second extract:

I found the bathroom and noticed another strange thing about this house which I had also come across in the flat in Helsinki—nobody in Finland seemed to have lavatory doors that locked: there were no keys, no bolts, no hooks—nothing as far as I could see. Once inside, I wedged my foot against the door and pondered this phenomenon. Did the Finns not really mind someone coming in and seeing them sitting on the lavatory? It seemed very oddly immodest. I even found the same thing later in public lavatories and continued to speculate on the very public private life of the Finns. It took me about three weeks before the mystery was solved, and I realised that the doors locked by turning the handles upwards, but until then I had spent many stressful moments of making it difficult to push the doors open and being prepared to rise quickly and modestly from mid-sit.

There are differences. I once experienced a somewhat similar problem on a train in England in 1991. I was travelling from Paddington, London, to Maidenhead, and when the train stopped at Maidenhead, I was unable to open the door. There was no handle, no knob, no electronic button—nothing. I began to worry that the train would leave and take me to the next station as there were no other people close by to help me.

Then I saw a handle on the outside through the door window and I wound down the window and used the outside handle to open the door. I think that's how it was actually supposed to be done, to prevent anyone from accidentally opening the door when the train was moving.

Amazon has begun to sell books translated into Finnish by the Google electronic translator. This is really hilarious!Emotion: big smile Someone has posted an example of a "translated" sentence in Helsingin Sanomat, Finland's biggest daily. Finnish is structurally so different and complicated compared with English that I can't envisage a machine capable of rendering anything but incomprehensible gibberish.

That's what the example is, anyway. No one will want to buy a book they can't read.

The first conversation lesson.

'What about Milton? Have you read any Milton?'
'Who is Milton?' he asked.
It was almost inconceivable to me that he should not know who Milton was. It was like a French student never having heard of Racine, an Italian one of Dante, or a Finnish student of Runeberg or Kivi.
'Milton,' I said. 'You know, England's greatest poet. He lived in the 17th century. He wrote Paradise Lost.
'What is lost?' asked Mr Lintunen.
'Paradise. That was the name of his great poem—Paradise Lost.
Mr Lintunen had obviously had enough. 'I do not know Milton,' he said. 'Why must I know Milton? I am Finnish. I am not English.'
Why must I know Milton? This profound statement caused an instant readjustment of my ideas. I saw clearly that my question had sprung from the arrogant assumption that everyone must know about things British, especially the very real glories of British literature. It was, I suppose, a hangover from the Imperial Dream in which I had grown up. I had in fact been born in ”the Colonies”, in Sydney, Australia. In Australia in those days, not only expatriates but very many Australians themselves looked to the British Isles as ”home”, and talked about 'going home' when they travelled there.

Life in Australia was permeated with British standards and ideals. From the appalling cooking to the education and the immigration policy, British was Best. Only British literature was taught at school and university, and Australian writers were treated as second or third-class bush hicks.

Diana was 22 years old and had had no training of any kind in teaching. It was understandable that she should try to base her first attempt on English literature. There were almost 200 countries in the world and it was unlikely that the average Finn should be familiar with Milton, or the leading poets or writers of any other country. Some names might of course have rung the bell, but to really know enough about those people to talk about their work or importance was an idea doomed to fail.

Diana should have begun her conversation lessons with everyday situations, not English literature.

Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
I had, through a very limited knowledge of linguistics, confined to those languages with Romance or Germanic roots. I had struggled with the unfamiliar concept to someone whose native language was English that every noun, article or adjective had a gender, with the complex mysteries of the position of German verbs, and with the idea of case endings in Latin. I supposed this preparation enough for learning Finnish. If you had told me that there existed a living language which had no exact equivalent of “yes” or “no”, had only the same word for “he”, “she” and “it”, or which did not have the equivalent of “a” or “the”, I would not have believed you.

Thinking I was good at languages, though, I confidently expected to have learnt Finnish in six months. True, I had heard a rumour that it was a difficult language, but I did not think that would apply to me.

I was soon to be undeceived.
I realised very soon that I would not be able to learn Finnish through my Finnish family, but I still desperately wanted to do so. Every day in the street and in newspapers I would see words of such astounding length and unpronouncability that I longed to know more. I wanted to know what was said under the pictures and in the headlines. I wanted to know at least where one word ended and another began when I heard people speak.

I bought an Agatha Christie detective story in Finnish. I know that she wrote in a style that was simple and direct, that she told a compelling story, and that because of this her books were a standby for learners of foreign languages. I would have preferred the book to be an Easy Reader, but such a thing did not exist in Finnish. I doubt if it would have helped.

I took out my Finnish-English dictionary and began to read the first page word by word. Or I tried to do so. The first sentence had the word mäellä in it. I reached for the dictionary, I looked up M – MÄ but nowhere could I find MÄE. 'Rotten dictionary,' I thought continuing with the next sentence. But there was the same problem in every line: so many important words just did not seem to be in the dictionary. Nobody had told me about consonant change, whereby a word could change its spelling.

I gave up Agatha Christie after page 2.

Finnish may not have an exact equivalent of yes and no, but there sure are quite a few words to convey their meanings!Emotion: smile Spoken and written Finnish are often worlds apart but in good written Finnish the equivalent of it cannot be used to refer to a person. It is true that there is only one word for he and she, though. Diana says she knew some Latin. Consequently, the fact that Finnish has no articles shouldn't have surprised her. Latin has no articles, either. However, if one thinks it necessary, it is possible to use certain words to convey what a and the denote in English. The words used in those contexts are just not called articles.

It would be virtually impossible to put every form of very Finnish word in a dictionary. That's why usually only the nominative singular form of nouns is given. This is the reason Diana couldn't find mäellä (on the/a hill) in her dictionary. The nominative is mäki. Mäillä would be on the hills.

In some rare cases even the initial letter changes: is night; öiden is the plural genitive of the same word.

The Great Finnish silence

It was when we were all sitting drinking coffee that I noticed that the men and the women had automatically separated and that we, the women, were all on one side of the room, with the men all along the side opposite, quite an expanse of floor away. Conversation between the two was impossible even if it had been expected, which it obviously wasn't. In fact, no conversation of any kind seemed to be expected.

This was to be my first real encounter with the Great Finnish Silence. Up to now, I had certainly experienced the difficulty of making anybody talk in English, but I had supposed this was because they were afraid, or shy of speaking English. I had not realised that the light chit-chat, so common to the British, was not a Finnish custom, and that the Finns were perfectly comfortable with silence. I was not. In fact, I had been brought up with the rule that it was impolite to let a silence fall. This of course accounts for the British preoccupation with the weather, because it is a safe, neutral and general topic with which to begin a conversation, or keep one going, with either friends or strangers. It is basically as meaningless as would be the introduction much later of the American 'How are you today?' or 'Have a nice day!' at supermarket checkouts. I was later told by Finnish friends that Finns only say what they mean. If the British did that, they too would be silent.

Diana is very polite with regard to Finns not speaking English to her. No doubt many were shy or slightly afraid of speaking a foreign language. She may have been the first foreigner some of the Finns had ever met. As she said, there was only one Englishman in Turku in 1952. I am sure there wasn't a surplus of other nationalities, either. Finland, like many other countries that had been involved in the Second World War, was a poor country and as there was little tourism and international business, foreigners didn't abound here.

Another reason for the taciturnity must have been the fact that most Finns simply didn't know English in those days. The educational system favoured the rich and most children attended free schools provided by the state and in them no foreign languages were taught. Even if a child's parents could afford the school fees of an academic school and he was smart enough to gain access to such a school, German was in most cases the first foreign language taught in that school. English surpassed German in the late fifties.

It wasn't until the 1970s that an equitable school system was introduced and money was no longer a factor in education—only the student's brain mattered.
There is an article entitled Life Without English in today's Helsingin Sanomat, the leading Finnish newspaper. It is about Finns who speak no English. In 2009, Jyväskylä University and Statistics Finland conducted a survey and asked people about their knowledge of English. 10 to 15 percent of the people said they knew no English. Only one percent of 15 to 24-year-olds said they knew no English whereas the figure was considerable higher, 39 percent, among 65 to 79-year-olds.

"Knowledge of English" doesn't necessarily mean the person can converse fluently in English, though, but he can at least get by in English and be understood. The author mentions the fact that a Finn may be inclined to belittle his knowledge while a person from southern Europe proudly declares he "speaks English" even though he only knows a few words.

The article also tells the story of a 44-year-old who studied English at school but learnt precious little. Later, he seriously tried to learn English in the Netherlands by taking several English courses there. The results were skimpy.

I know from personal experience that 10 to 15 percent of people find it extremely difficult to learn foreign languages. Everyone can learn some words, of course, but forming meaningful sentences may prove an insurmountable task.

There is a strong desire to learn foreign languages in Finland. Not many people are content being monolingual. Most people crave broader horizons.
Teachers: We supply a list of EFL job vacancies
Show more