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How to learn Finnish

I share my Finnish language learning journey and the tips that helped me.

Elle Nish outside in wintery landscape.

overview and motivation 

There are a few myths travelling around in society that describe Finnish as ‘the hardest language to learn’ and ‘that there is no point to learning Finnish because everyone speaks English’. Certainly learning any language is challenging, but language learning is a step-by-step process and each step in itself is small and easy. For example, just learning one word. The reasons to learn Finnish are infinite, but here are a few:

  • To have interaction with people who only speak Finnish, for example, rural areas, children or the elderly generation. 
  • People feel more comfortable speaking in their mother language. 
  • When living in a new country it is important to learn the language as a gesture for tradition and so that the culture and history remain. Too many languages have been lost. 
  • Vocabulary and grammar are interesting. 
  • To keep your mind challenged. 
  • For non-EU students, if you study in Finnish you don’t have a tuition fee. 

my learning journey

My Finnish language learning journey began three years ago, just before I left to live in Finland. Before coming to study here I had never been to Finland. I signed up for Her Finland’s conversational Finnish for beginners course and also Pimsleur’s Finnish course. Both of these courses focused on speaking, which is usually the skill that is hardest to develop out of writing, reading, listening and speaking. These courses aren’t free, so more free resources coming later. I would study for two hours every morning after my morning exercise. 

Once beginning my degree I jumped on the wonderful train of Finnish courses. The University of the Arts Helsinki has Finnish courses 1-4. Aalto and the University of Helsinki have many more Finnish courses including speaking and grammar specific. All students in Finnish universities have the right to apply to courses at other universities through JOOpas. Currently, I am doing my 8th Finnish course, which focuses on grammar. Last year I passed the YKI intermediate-level test, which meant that my degree is now in Finnish and I no longer hand to pay my tuition fee. This year I have a few courses that are in Finnish and I am going to write my thesis in Finnish. 

There is still a long long road to go. I dream of being fluent one day. Read on for some top tips on learning Finnish. 

finding speaking practice 

After one semester with the Finnish 1 course, I did something very very brave. I sent an email to all students in the Academy of Fine Arts and the Theatre Academy asking for someone to speak Finnish with me. I am so grateful for all of the kind replies and people that had sat and spoke with me when I was such a beginner. The moral of the story is that you have to put yourself out there and be brave. Embrace your mistakes as much as possible. 

When going through my day I would keep an eye out for little situations in which I could speak Finnish. For example commenting on something, giving a compliment, saying good morning or ordering a coffee. I would be very reflective on these situations. If I didn’t speak Finnish I would reflect on why? Was I feeling shy, was I missing vocabulary, how could I encourage myself for next time? Then when I did speak in Finnish I would fully congratulate, high five and praise myself. 

Alias Junior is a super fun game for speaking Finnish. Other activities like telling stories together or conversation cards really help to make the conversation easy and interesting. 

It is normal that a Finnish person will switch to English. They are intending on being polite. You can simply ask them to speak in Finnish (puhutaan suomeksi) and keep replying in Finnish. 

library resources 

The libraries in Finland and Helsinki are excellent and have heaps of resources that empower speaking, reading, writing and listening Finnish skills. Language cafes are accessible groups where you can practice your Finnish at any level. 

My favourite library resource has been childrens’ books. I love browsing the kids’ section and bringing home an armload of beautiful tales with artsy illustrations. Reading out loud really helps with pronunciation. My favourite book is Lentävä pingviini by Oliver Jeffers. The library also offers audiobooks that you can listen to on all devices. Listening to a Finnish audiobook is my go-to when daily commuting. 

The library of course has all of the ‘textbooks’, for example, Suomen mestari 1-4, as well as the accompanying CD, which is valuable for listening practice. Lastly, there is a large collection of books in ‘selkosuomeksi’, which means ‘in simple Finnish’. These books are fantastic because they are in more easily comprehensible language. I would recommend going into the library and asking the librarian ‘missä selkokirjat ovat?’/’where are the simple books?’  

my secret power for vocabulary

Number one on the very top of my Finnish learning tips is Anki! Anki is a program in which you can make flashcards with the new Finnish words you will learn. The program utilises spaced-repetition learning which is highly effective and efficient. It is really the best. 

finding your own passion and reasons

These are just the ways that I myself have learnt a language. Each person is wonderfully unique with their own learning style and reasons for learning. If a certain method is not fueling your learning, try another method. 

It is important to find your why. Ask yourself ‘why am I learning Finnish?’ Your answer can help you to know your passion and goals. This passion and goals can help get you through challenges. 

creating a learning space and habits

Language learning has many skills involved. There is time management, reflection, self-encouragement, communication and so on. By creating learning spaces and habits your brain will know that it is time to focus on Finnish. Some examples include: 

  • Placing books in Finnish beside your bed that you are excited to read.
  • Training yourself that when you have a spare moment, instead of going to another app on your phone, go to Anki or Duolingo or another language learning app. 
  • Dedicating a small piece of your schedule to language learning. 
  • Having a desk space or library where you only focus in. 

Language learning is a lifestyle and practice, so incorporate it into your daily routine. 

Quick summary by language aspect categories

You can learn Finnish! Finnish language learning is awesome. 


  • Look for little daily opportunities to speak Finnish. 
  • Ask people to speak in Finnish with you. Say, ‘puhutaan suomeksi’. 
  • Read out loud. 


  • Audiobooks and music. 
  • Pay close attention when you hear Finnish. 


  • Selko suomeksi books are in simple Finnish. 
  • Children’s books are wonderful. 
  • Attend a Finnish course or borrow a textbook for exercises. 
  • Read slowly. Take your time. 


  • Begin writing emails and messages in Finnish.

Elle Nish

Life of an art student

In this blog, Uniarts Helsinki students share their experiences as art students from different academies and perspectives, in their own words. If you want to learn even more regarding studying and student life in Uniarts and Helsinki, you can ask directly from our student ambassadors.

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