Born somewhere between the snow forests of the Ural Mountains and the bend of the mighty Volga, the Finnish language has thrived against great odds.
Elias Lönnrot, the writer of the saga that influenced Tolkien’s Middle Earth, came from Finland — as did Eero Saarinen, the designer who inspired the tulip-style chairs in Star Trek. So did composer Jean Sibelius, whose tone poem Finlandia is considered Finland’s national hymn…with a tune that echoes in Christian churches around the world.Jean Sibelius, part of Eila Hiltunen’s Sibelius Monument in Helsinki, Finland
Table of Contents
About the Finnish Language
Despite how Finnish flourishes today, it had to overcome years of suppression and stigmas, even in its native land. For centuries, Finland was annexed and occupied by forces from both Sweden and Russia — two powers who were locked into geopolitical and religious conflict with each other.
Finland was a Swedish territory for nearly seven hundred years, starting in 1120. During the time of Swedish control, the Finnish language took a back seat to three other languages: Swedish was used for government and administrative purposes; Latin dominated the churches; Middle Saxon (also called Middle Low German) was the language of commerce. Because of the political situation, Finnish speakers were relegated to a secondary status in society, unable to use their native language in any official capacity.
Helsingin tuomiokirkko (Helsinki Cathedral)
For centuries, Finnish was not taught or used in written form. This all changed in the mid-16th century when Mikael Agricola, the Lutheran Bishop of Turku, decided to translate the New Testament into Finnish to make it more accessible for his fellow Finns. Agricola realized that he needed to standardize Finnish writing and spelling, in order to make his translation project work.
Agricola’s efforts led to the development of the modern Finnish language. To this day, Finns commemorate the April 9 anniversary of Agricola’s 1557 death, which has been declared the national day of the Finnish language. (Coincidentally, it’s also the birthday of Elias Lönnrot, who wrote the best-known Finnish epic poem.)
Mikael Agricola, by Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) PD-US (Public domain in the United States, its country of origin, and other countries where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or fewer.)
Finnish faced further challenges in the early 18th century, when it was occupied by Russia during the latter country’s Great Northern War with Sweden, as well as the Russo-Swedish War of 1741-1743. Just as under Swedish rule, a foreign language — in this case, Russian — dominated the upper social strata of Finland. Even so, the Russian government did not obstruct the efforts of Johan Vilhelm Snellman and the Fennoman movement to make Finnish an official language in its native land.
Throughout the 19th century, Finland was subject to further incursions and violence from neighboring countries. From 1809 through 1917, Finland functioned semi-autonomously as the Grand Duchy of Finland. Although the Grand Duchy’s government had some freedom of self-determination in the beginning, and saw steady economic growth, Russian control grew stricter and more dominant over time.
In 1917, when the Russian Empire fell, Finland declared its independence. Finns still celebrate their independence each year on December 6. Now, Finnish is the predominant language in Finland — in government, education, and everyday life.
Language Family, Related Languages, and Dialects
Finnish — called suomi by its native speakers — is a Uralic language, like Hungarian and Estonian. It’s one of two official languages spoken in Finland, used every day by 90% of the Finnish population. By way of contrast, Swedish — Finland’s other official language — is only spoken by about 5% of the population.
Mirroring this, Finnish is a minority language in Sweden, as well as a recognized minority language in Karelia and Russia. Finnish is also an official language of the European Union and the Nordic Council, and is sometimes used in the Finnish part of Sápmi (the indigenous name for Lapland), the traditional home of the Sámi (Saami) people.
The Finnish language counts 5.8 million speakers, of which 5.4 million reside in Finland.
Finnish itself is divided primarily into Western and Eastern dialects. According to Kotimaisten kielten keskus (The Institute for the Languages of Finland), there are eight major dialect groups in Finland, which are each further subdivided into a handful of smaller groups.
Some of these dialect groupings, especially in border areas of the country, are interpreted variously by linguists. For example: Ingrian, a severely endangered language in Finland’s southeast region, is sometimes considered a dialect of Finnish. Many sociolinguists, however, classify Ingrian as an independent Uralic language that’s related to Finnish. Sometimes, the distinction is made between Ingrian (as a separate language) and Ingrian Finnish (as a dialect of Finnish).
Similarly, Karelian is a separate language from Finnish, although it’s very closely related to Finnish — moreso than any other language. Still. it should not be confused with the Karelian Finnish dialects. Since there are strong ties between language and identity, understanding the perceptions of local speakers can go a long way in establishing a respectful rapport with them.
Shops in winter, Oulu, Finland
If you plan to live or work in a particular area of Finland, you might take some time to learn more about its local dialect. Especially in its spoken form, the local dialect can deviate greatly from textbook Finnish. It’s probably best to learn the more neutral Finnish standard first, then enhance your knowledge with particular dialectical variations.
How to Learn Finnish: Hacking the Language for English Speakers
Finnish is rated as a Category III language by the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute. This means that English speakers would find it about as difficult to learn as Greek, Bengali, Hungarian, Armenian, Polish, Urdu, and Farsi (Persian). That said, every learner’s experience is unique.
We’ll look at a few characteristics of Finnish that might be easier to grasp for English speakers. Then, we’ll tackle some of the more challenging features of Finnish.
After that, we’ll talk about how to build an effective study plan. Finally, we’ll take a tour of the many resources you can use to facilitate your Finnish studies while stimulating your interest and supporting your progress toward fluency.
Even a complex language like Finnish can have characteristics that make learning easier. We’ll focus on a few of these that can be particularly helpful for English speakers.
Essentially, Finnish uses the same Latin alphabet as many of its Indo-European cousins — including English. Finnish uses the same 26 letters that are found in the English alphabet, with the addition of three vowels with diacritical (accent) marks.: ä, ö, and å.
Å is called ruotsalainen O (Swedish O). This letter is primarily used in proper names that derive from Swedish. You’ll see it in placenames, especially for areas near the border between Finland and Sweden — such as the Åland Archipelago, the port of Långnäs, and the island of Kråkö.
Be mindful of these “accent marks” (diacritics), which will literally change the meaning of what would otherwise be the same word. For example, säde (ray of light) would mean sade (rain) without its accent mark. It’s helpful to think as the Finns do about this, and see a and ä as two entirely separate letters — as are o and ö.
Antti Leppänen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Every once in a while, you may see the letters š and ž in loanwords. And, speaking of loanwords, that’s where these so-called “borrowed consonants” can generally be found:
Despite the few accented letters, learning to read and write in Finnish is definitely much less of a challenge for English speakers than having to learn a whole different script or set of characters, as you might for some other languages.
We’ll look at a couple of easy ways to type the accented letters in Finnish, which you can use with your regular computer keyboard. (If you’re using a virtual keyboard on a mobile device, those accented letters are likely already built in.)
As compared to English, Finnish pronunciation is fairly straightforward. In general, there is a one-to-one relationship between the letters in a word and the sounds in the word’s pronunciation. While there are some diphthongs, such as the oi combination in the words koira (dog) and poika (boy), you can sound out each vowel in the diphthong and understand how the combined vowel sound is created.
Even as a complete beginner at Finnish, I found I was quickly able to learn to spell simple Finnish words correctly when I heard them.
Optician’s shop, Rauma, Finland
Despite fairly uncomplicated spelling, there are a few aspects of Finnish pronunciation that could throw off English speakers.
For example, Finnish uses a rolled R, which you’ll hear in words like terve (hello) and tervetuloa (welcome). If you’re not familiar with how to produce a rolled R, there are several techniques you can try.
In a little bit, we’ll look at double letters in Finnish, which can also present a pronunciation challenge for learners.
Aside from sauna, which is pronounced very differently in Finnish than in English, there are few Finnish loanwords commonly used in English.
On the other hand, Finnish has many lainasanoja (loanwords) from English, which you can recognize easily and use to build your vocabulary a little more painlessly. These are common words like idea (idea), helikopteri (helicopter), musiikki (music), kitara (guitar), and taksi (taxi).
Helsinki street busker playing glass bottles
Like Russian and a host of other languages, Finnish lacks both definite and indefinite articles. Whether a noun is preceded by a “the,” or “a(n)” is determined by context.
If this sounds complicated, think about the plethora of rules needed in English to explain how these articles are used. If you’re a native English speaker, you don’t need to think twice about this. However, if you were learning English, you’d need to understand some complex rules for using articles.
When you’re learning Finnish, you may discover that it’s surprisingly easy to navigate the language without words meaning “the” or “a(n).”
Just like English, Finnish has no grammatical gender. You’ll never have to worry about memorizing which words are masculine, feminine, or neuter.
And, since there are no definite or indefinite articles, you needn’t be concerned with using the correct version of “the,” as you would in Spanish—in which la, el, las, and los all mean “the,” and have to be used according to certain rules.
There are no gender-specific subject pronouns in Finnish. Hän is used for both “he” and “she,” as well as the gender-neutral, singular “they.”
Spoken Finnish tends to use variations on the subject pronouns. For example, minä (“I”) might be said as minä, mä, mää, or mie. It’s important to know this when you’re talking with native speakers, so you can understand them better. If you start out by using the standard, written forms, you should still be understood.
Just like in English, Finnish has different versions of each subject pronoun for use in possessives. In Finnish, possessive adjectives (like “my” in English) are the same as their corresponding possessive pronouns ( like “mine” in English.)
Whereas English has “I,” “my,” and “mine,” Finnish has minä, minun, and minun.
If you’re not a big fan of memorizing verb conjugations, you’ll be pleased to discover that Finnish has no irregular verbs. This means that all verbs of the same type follow the same patterns.
While there are different ways of classifying verbs in Finnish, most grammars follow the model of six standard verb types. So, once you memorize this set of half-dozen different verb conjugations, you’re set!
Love locks on Helsinki’s Bridge of Love
In standard Finnish, words of three syllables or fewer always put syllable stress on the first syllable. Although this varies in some dialects, it’s a good rule of thumb to learn so that your spoken Finnish can be readily understood.
In Finnish, –ko is added to the end of a conjugated verb to indicate that the verb is being used to ask a question. In some ways, -ko makes things simpler for English speakers, since it makes it easier to identify questions in Finnish.
If you were asking a question for which you’d use “is” or “does” in English, you would use the Finnish verb olla (to be) in the present tense, with -ko added: Onko poika ujo? would mean, “Is the boy shy?”
The noun order is important here, just as it would be in English. If you were to ask, Onko mies velho?, it would mean, “Is the man a wizard?” On the other hand, Onko velho mies? would mean, “Is the wizard a man?”
Finnish has a beautiful word that embodies a concept you will call upon again and again in your Finnish studies: sisu.
There’s no direct translation to English. Sisu refers to a combination of determination, grit, inner strength, courage, tenacity, and perseverance.
Sisu will keep you going, even when you face these elements of the Finnish language that may seem difficult to grasp.
Olavinlinna (St. Olaf’s Castle), Savonlinna, Finland
In Finnish, words are often built with individual building blocks that get stuck together, unchanged. This is called “agglutinative.” (You might think of it as “glued-together” words.)
Agglutination leads to the creation of very long words in Finnish. An interesting example is saippuakivikauppias, which means a seller of caustic (lye) or a soapstone vendor and holds the Guinness world record for “longest palindromic word” (a word that’s spelled the same backwards and forwards).
In many of these languages, you’ll see very long, single words used to express a complex concept — something that a language like English might use multiple words to express. The parts of these words can be broken apart like Legos, and the roots of the words don’t change.
Once you learn to recognize the root words, prefixes, and suffixes in Finnish, you actually have a better shot at decoding — that is, figuring out the meaning of new words from their component parts. This is because the components of the words themselves become modular: If you can understand the individual parts of an unfamiliar word, you can understand the whole.
Words in many languages sometimes inflect (change their form) to reflect their function. In grammatical terms, we’d say that the words are in different cases. In English, you can see this with the related pronouns “I,” “me,” and “mine.”
Because of all the cases, you might learn to express certain basic concepts, such as possession, very differently in Finnish than you would in English.
For instance: Rather than having a verb for “to have,” Finnish uses the verb olla (to be) in conjunction with a pronoun in the adessive case. This changes the ending of the pronoun representing the person who has something.
Therefore, “I have a musical instrument” would be Minulla on soitin. The pronoun minä, meaning “I” in the nominative case, is now minulla.kantele (traditional Finnish stringed instrument)
Similarly, sinulla on koira would mean “you have a dog,” meillä on poni would mean “we have a pony,” and hänella on undulaatti would mean “he/she has a parakeet.”
English rarely uses double vowels — and tends not to change pronunciation much for double consonants.
In Finnish, however, it’s important to learn to hear and pronounce double vowels and consonants correctly, as they directly impact the meaning of words.
Here are a few examples; you can click on the links to hear the words pronounced by native Finnish speakers:
Word with Single Consonant
Meaning in English
Similar Word with Double Consonant
Meaning in English
In order to learn about vowel harmony, you’ll need to grasp the phonetics of so-called “back” vowels (A, O, and U, which are pronounced in the back of your mouth) versus “front” vowels (Ä, Ö, and Y, which are pronounced closer to your lips). There are also two “neutral” vowels, I and E.
Learning the rules of vowel harmony will help you with both your Finnish spelling and pronunciation.
Unlike English and many other languages, Finnish doesn’t have a future verb tense. Generally, the present tense is used to talk about the future in Finnish.
A future time can be indicated by adding words and phrases like ensi viikolla (next week), ensi vuonna (next year), huomenna (tomorrow), or ylihuomenna (the day after tomorrow).
You can also use the genitive case to indicate that action will happen in the future.
A third way to talk about the future in Finnish is to use a conjugated verb like aikoa (to intend) or suunnitella (to plan), along with an infinitive (“to” form) of a verb. Think of English phrases like “I intend to travel” or “I plan to study.”
Kirjakieli, literally meaning “book language,” follows the more regimented standard of the language that’s used in writing. You’ll hear it used in formal speeches and news broadcasts.
Memorial to Aleksis Kivi, celebrated Finnish author,at the Helsinki Railway Square
Puhekieli, on the other hand, is “speech language.” It mirrors the way people speak informally, in everyday life. (You might also see puhekieli used in informal writing — like in social media, online discussion boards, or blog posts.)
As in many languages, Finnish speakers tend to shorten down the formal language when they’re using it in everyday conversation. So, for example, minä olen (I am) is usually just said as olen, since it will be obvious from the way the verb is conjugated that you’re talking about yourself.
In certain parts of Finland — notably, the south — you’ll often hear mä oon (a shortened form of “I am”) in place of minä olen.
Of course, the spoken versions of English and many other languages have such casual speech conventions. It’s not all that unusual to hear phrases like “I’m gonna” in spoken English, as opposed to “I am going to.” The trick is learning both the standard Finnish and the variations that are used in everyday speech.
Exposing yourself to authentic Finnish media, such as radio, television, films, and podcasts, is one of the best ways to hear and absorb the spoken language. We’ll look at several ways you can find such media to incorporate into your studies.
How you plan to use Finnish, in a formal or informal environment, will help you decide how much time to focus on learning kirjakieli versus puhekieli.
Your Plan for Learning Finnish
No matter what resources you decide to use in your studies, remember to tailor your learning to suit your style and your goals: Study when it makes the most sense for you — whether that’s early morning, late night, or during your lunch break. Focus on the most useful vocabulary for your needs.
Uspenskin katedraali (Uspenski Cathedral), an Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Helsinki, Finland
Resources that mesh well with your learning style might enable you to learn faster or remember better. For example, if you’re a visual learner, image-rich resources such as books with charts or video lessons might facilitate your learning. If you’re an auditory learner, you might favor Finnish music, radio programs, podcasts or audio books.
To keep yourself motivated and learning a wide range of vocabulary, try integrating a variety of learning resources into your study routine. Look for resources that cater to your personal interests. It’s enough of a challenge to understand a text or audio in an unfamiliar language without having to force yourself to sit through material you find boring.
Even though learning a language is a serious commitment, it’s important to enjoy your experience. When we’re relaxed and having fun, our brains produce more dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical that gives us a pleasurable sensation, enhances memory retention, and primes our brains for learning.
Julia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Learning doesn’t have to be all formal study. Try to think of creative ways you can integrate Finnish into your life, such as baking bread using a Finnish recipe or playing Finnish word games.
Helsingin tuomiokirkko (Helsinki Cathedral), at Senate Square, illuminated by a light show
The greater the variety of stimulating activities you can incorporate into your Finnish studies, the easier it will be to sustain your motivation for learning — and to remember what you learn.
We’ll explore many types of resources that will keep your learning adventure engaging at every level.
Language Courses and Apps
Especially if you’re starting from scratch, language courses and apps can give you a foundation in Finnish.
The step-by-step Finnish lessons from Mango Languages will get you speaking right away. The limited material is best for beginners — specifically, ones who are planning to use Finnish for travel and a little socializing.
The lessons are peppered with cultural notes and a few grammar explanations. Auditory learners might enjoy the constant audio engagement from the automated coach who leads you through the lessons. Overall, we found Mango Languages to be easy-to-use and helpful for learners who are new to the language.
One of the best-known apps for learning languages, Duolingo offers a gamified approach that introduces new concepts with easy-to-digest lessons. Exercises include translations, short dictations, vocabulary matching, and identifying the sounds of Finnish words.
Duolingo’s Finnish course is relatively short, as compared to its offerings for languages such as French and Spanish. Even so, it can provide a fairly solid introduction to the language for beginners.
Finnish mounted policemen in residential Helsinki neighborhood
Anna, a native Finnish speaker and Finnish teacher, produced a video review of Duolingo’s Finnish course. Although she likes the course overall, she notes that there are a few strange word usages and pronunciation errors. This latter point jibes with the audio issues we noted in our review of Duolingo.
A popular app for language learners, Memrise comes through with numerous Finnish courses. Here are a few courses you might find helpful at the beginner-to-early-intermediate level:
- Survival Finnish has really good, clear audio, with very useful basic phrases for travelers. Unfortunately, it’s very limited, as it only teaches 28 words and phrases.
- Finnish Street Phrases covers conversation and slang, but no there seems to be no audio.
- Beginner’s Finnish by toby1kenobi has a great deal of vocabulary — over five hundred words — as well as clear audio throughout. However, the words don’t seem to be categorized in any particular way. For example, the numbers from one to ten are divided up among four different levels of the course.
- To get a jump start on understanding Finnish, consider learning the 3000 Most Common Finnish Words, which was developed by sehiralti. By presenting you with the most commonly used words first, this course follows the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule.
- The Basic Finnish Grammar course created by leslieulfandre can teach you about pronouns, as well as some of the Finnish cases. It could be a bit confusing, though. For example, hän is defined only as “he” in English; in Finnish, it means both “he” and “she.” The Personal Pronouns unit in the Beginner’s Finnish course by chempsall seems clearer.
- The Finnish Grammar course by rodrigo.p.reis.7, which is based upon the grammar lessons on the Uusi kielemme website, breaks down several of the cases in great detail. One downside, however, is the lack of audio. Still, this course is useful for drilling concepts such as noun declensions (inflections), verb conjugations, and how to make plurals.
Intermediate and advanced learners seem to have fewer choices among Memrise courses than beginners do. And Memrise addresses grammar points more through memorization than explanation. Nonetheless, we consider it an effective way to build vocabulary, especially for beginners.
A podcast-style course, FinnishPod101 will expose you to the spoken language, right from the start. The lessons include vocabulary and grammar tips, as well as cultural tidbits. We found that the organization can be lacking, though. You’ll probably want to supplement this course with other resources.
If you’re “all ears” when you’re learning a language, you may favor the Pimsleur method. We felt that the lessons were structured well and that the audio-heavy approach gave learners the flexibility to study hands-free. However, if you crave written components to your lessons, you might not find Pimsleur as appealing as other types of courses.
Glossika has colloquial Finnish lessons for learners at all levels. The focus is on listening and speaking, but there’s little grammar covered. Based on our experience with Glossika, you may find it overpriced if you’re only planning to study one language with it.
Live Lingua Project hosts both the textbook and the workbook for the Foreign Service Institute’s Conversational Finnish course. Both of these resources come with audio files and incredibly thorough explanations of Finnish grammar, pronunciation, and grammar.
You can also find the complete FSI Conversational Finnish course on the FSI Language Courses website, where you have the option to either access the course online in your browser or download it in its entirety.
The FSI course is completely free. It was designed to teach the language to diplomats, so it can be a bit stilted. Nonetheless, it can give you a comprehensive grounding in the Finnish language.
As we discovered while reviewing this resource, the “catch” is that these courses are dated and have a rather dull interface, hearkening back to the age of photocopied textbooks and audiocassettes.
Beach cabin, Finland
This site is currently “under maintenance”; it seems like there have been no updates since 2017. Nonetheless, there are a number of well-organized, online lessons to explore, and they appear to be free.
At this juncture, the user guide is defunct, several of the links are broken, the audio seems altogether missing, and many of the exercises don’t seem to work well (if at all). All that said, the lessons might be worth a look, if only for their clear cultural notes, dialogues, and grammar explanations.
This is a membership site where you can subscribe, for a moderately expensive monthly fee, to Finnish lessons that include Zoom sessions (as well as independent study).
Osaan Suomea (I Can Speak Finnish)
Ready to plunge into the Gulf of Finland?
How about diving headfirst into Finnish-only language lessons?
Purple lightning on water, Finland
If you’d like to try learning Finnish through Finnish, you can check out Vanajavesi College’s Osaan Suomea (I Can Speak Finnish) program. There are video and audio lessons, written materials, and plenty of interactive exercises. Best of all, the online program appears to be free.
Given our unfavorable reviews of Loecsen, Bluebird Languages, 17 Minute Languages, and Cudoo, we would not count them among our top picks for Finnish learners. These resources tend to be somewhat disorganized, not very intuitive to use, and rife with errors.
Additional Apps and Tools for Learners
Round out your coursework with these supplementary resources and tools.
When you’re ready to start speaking Finnish with a conversation partner, these language exchange apps will facilitate the process of finding someone to chat with or text in Finnish.
We gave Tandem, Hello Talk, and My Language Exchange fairly high marks for their ease of use and large communities of active participants. Speaky is also a solid choice, but we found its features a bit limited.
If you’d like the services of a tutor to give you one-on-one guidance with your Finnish studies, we would say that both italki and Verbling could suit your needs admirably. We also found Preply useful, although not quite as streamlined as Verbling and italki.
Other possible resources for filling your Finnish tutoring needs:
Duolingo’s Finnish course has a simple Finnish/English dictionary, as does FinnishPod101. The Duolingo dictionary is powered by Google Translate and provides limited information, but it can be good for a quick-and-dirty translation. The FinnishPod101 dictionary has two-speed sound clips for each word, shows related words, and even gives a few examples in context.
The Finnish-English dictionary on Suomienglantisanakirja.fi will furnish you with even more details, such as parts of speech and basic word forms. It’s also available as an Android app.
Helsinki harbor panorama
For both iOS and Android, the free Finnish dictionary app from Inspiration Apps provides translations between Finnish and twenty different languages.
For looking up grammar points, Panu Mäkinen’s site is a reliable resource with lots of examples.
Joel Yliluoma’s page on the Finnish grammatical cases breaks down all the inflections Finnish words might undergo to indicate changes in meaning.
Typing in Finnish with a regular QWERTY keyboard is fairly easy. To produce the ä and ö letters often found in Finnish, as well as the Swedish O (å) you can simply type in the following number code while holding down the ALT key of a Windows computer keyboard:
Penn State University has a page devoted to the codes you need to type letters found in Finnish, as well as Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. The codes from Penn State should cover both Windows and Macintosh computers.
The special letters you need for typing on your mobile devices are generally available on the built-in virtual keyboards.
Language Exercises, Games and Flashcards
These resources give you additional practice with Finnish grammar and vocab.
For intermediate to advanced Finnish learners, Clozemaster provides practice with vocabulary in context. Beyond the huge bank of fill-in-the-blanks sentences to try, we discovered that Clozemaster offers some additional features under its paid plan that might be worth a look.
Maybe you shouldn’t play with your food, but you should definitely play with your words!
Digital Dialects brings a little fun to your Finnish studies with a variety of vocabulary topics and retro-style games. In addition to fundamentals like numbers, colors, animal words, and months of the year, there are vocabulary builders, games to teach you Finnish phrases, and games for intermediate learners.
Lingo-Play is styled as a course with lessons, but the Play’s the thing that really keeps you learning. Through word scrambles, true/false questions, and matching, you can quiz yourself on your mastery of Finnish vocab.
Santeri Viinamäki, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Even a simple book of Beginner’s Finnish Word Searches can get you more comfortable with Finnish words. You can also try Double Puzzles #009 – Bilingual Word Search – English Clues – Finnish Words by James Michael Melott or Learn Finnish with Word Search Puzzles by David Solenky.
Quizlet is a hybrid flashcard and language game app. As with Memrise, the quality of the community-sourced content is not always consistent. That said, Quizlet offers flashcard decks for many languages — including Finnish — and, in our experience, the games created from each flashcard deck can add a fun twist.
When it comes to build-your-own flashcard apps, we believe that Anki is one of the most flexible, highly customizable ones available. We would consider Brainscape a good alternative to Anki; Brainscape has a sleeker interface than Anki, but you won’t have quite as many options for tweaking your flashcard decks.
Studying Finnish on-the-go with a flashcard app
Study Stack has hundreds of Finnish flashcard decks to choose from. These pre-made decks are community-sourced from teachers and fellow learners. You can also play word games, such as Hangman, Crossword, and matching, based on individual StudyStack decks. Register to make your own flashcard decks.
We feel that WordBit is a flashcard app with an interesting approach: It superimposes a flashcard over your phone’s lock screen, thereby prompting you to study Finnish each time you open your phone.
Websites and Blogs
Developed by both native Finnish speakers and Finnish learners, a number of websites and blogs furnish you with Finnish vocabulary, grammar explanations, learning tips, and cultural insights, as well as lists of other resources for learning Finnish.
Finnish with Anna is ideal for beginners. She provides a handful of free Finnish worksheets in PDF format for practice. Her site links to her YouTube channel, where she tackles kielioppi (grammar) and sanasto (vocabulary).
The FinnishPod101 blog is regularly updated with articles covering topics such as YouTube channels for learning Finnish, Finnish greetings, Finnish sentence patterns, and telling time in Finnish.
Mural in Kotka, Kymenlaakso province, Finland
Venla: Finnish for beginners offers bite-sized blog entries, primarily about Finnish vocabulary, with some posts dedicated to proverbs and idioms. The Venla blog was last updated in 2017, but there are many interesting posts to explore.
Her Finland was created by Varpu, who also runs a YouTube channel with the same name and focus as the website. Both the website and the channel include cultural information, articles about the Finnish language, and posts recommending resources (such as movies, books, and TV shows) for learning Finnish. You can learn colloquialisms, such as funny Finnish phrases, that will increase your understanding of Finnish culture and worldviews.
Fairy Chamber is a blog from a Niina, an artist and native Finnish speaker. It will help you with basics like introducing yourself in Finnish, colors, months of the year, days of the week, and Finnish personal pronouns. Many of the posts are graced with Niina’s artwork. Niina also hosts a YouTube channel with a Finnish Myths & Folklore playlist. (Those videos are in English, but there are some Finnish subtitles.)
Canadian web developer Sean Potts established Study Finnish as a resource for other English-speaking learners. Although Sean is not a native Finnish speaker, he lives in Finland and gives learners a logical, well-organized guide to Finnish. There are sections of the site for Grammar and Vocabulary, as well as an “Other” section with lists of resources such as Finnish videos and YouTube channels, television and music, documentaries about Finnish history and culture. Potts also proposes various tools and resources you can use in your quest to learn Finnish — things like inflection drills (to practice Finnish cases), additional instructional videos, and flashcard resources.
Learn Finnish by My Way is a bilingual blog. It features grammar tips, as well as suggestions for learning Finnish with social media and other resources. It might be particularly useful for helping intermediate Finnish learners strengthen their reading skills.
Think in Finnish is the brainchild of Ursula, a native English speaker who has been exposed to Finnish throughout her lifetime. Ursula’s interest led her to study the language at a university level, in addition to creating the Think in Finnish website. She uses the site to explain key Finnish concepts, such as how Finnish words are broken into syllables or how various vowel combinations appear in Finnish. Some of her discussions can get a little technical, so it might help if you already are familiar with linguistic and grammar terminology.
Intermediate and advanced learners will probably enjoy The Finnish Teacher, which supplies plentiful grammar explanations — as well as Finnish textbooks (written in Finnish).
Sunrise on a Finnish beach, in winter
Poetry can be especially valuable for intermediate and advanced learners. It introduces symbolic and metaphorical language, as well as highlighting the rhythm and cadences of Finnish.
One of the best-known poems in the Finnish language is Kalevala. Woven together in the 19th century by Elias Lönnrot, a medical doctor and language lover, Kalevala is a multi-volume work, telling the story of creation in the Finnish and Karelian traditions. It is widely considered to be the Finnish national epic.
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, who also created Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, was strongly influenced by reading Kalevala. Tolkien even adapted the Kullervo cycle in Kalevala into prose, in a book called The Story of Kullervo. Reportedly, Tolkien also based Quenya, the Elvish language, largely on Finnish — interwoven with smatterings of Welsh, Greek, Latin, and German.
Luminarium hosts a small selection of Finnish poetry, including lyrical poems and works by modern poets such as Eeva Kilpi. These poems are presented in Finnish, side-by-side with Anniina Jokinen’s English translations. On the main page of the collection, Anniina includes some translation notes and discusses the place of poetry in Finnish society.
Finland may be spoken primarily in one corner of the globe, but there’s a whole world of resources out there for learners. Mix and match different kinds of media so that you get exposure to all kinds of vocabulary in different contexts. By using written materials in conjunction with multimedia resources such as videos, you’ll be able to practice both Finnish reading and improve your understanding of spoken Finnish.
City library, Oulu, Finland
Whether print or electronic, books are still one of the most valuable resources for language learning.
Phrasebooks can be a way to jumpstart your Finnish studies. They’re geared toward the needs of travelers, and they can help learners get their feet wet with basic Finnish vocabulary and common phrases.
The Finnish-English/English-Finnish Dictionary & Phrasebook by Ville Kataja is more of a phrasebook than a dictionary. However, many learners find the included phrases quite useful and practical. There are also many notes on Finnish history and culture, as well as a pronunciation guide and a section on basic Finnish grammar.
Well-known travel company Berlitz publishes a combination Finnish Phrase Book & Dictionary in paperback form. However, some learners complained that their Finnish friends found several errors in the text.
Lonely Planet’s Fast Talk Finnish is an alternative to these phrasebooks. Throughout the book, you’ll see cultural tips on everything from politely asking out your new Finnish friends to types of dishes found in Finnish restaurants. The book includes notes on regional usage, pointing out variations on common words as used in Turku, Helsinki, Oulu, and other areas. It also breaks down words into syllables, showing you where to put the stress.
Several Finnish textbooks can get you started — or help you continue your journey — as a Finnish learner.
Terttu Leney’s Complete Finnish Beginner to Intermediate Course comes in two different formats. The paperback is pricey, but the ebook version for Kindle is more affordable. However, several people who purchased the ebook reported that the promised audio was inaccessible on many portable devices. Leney’s book is not grammar-heavy, but gives you topical lessons with practical examples and cultural notes.
Maija-Hellikki Aaltio has a Finnish for Foreigners series, levels 1 and 2, with both textbooks and workbooks. The lessons in the series seem to offer more grammar instruction than Leney’s Complete Finnish text. With relatively short lessons, learners found the series thorough yet easily digestible.
Leila White’s From Start to Finnish: A Short Course in Finnish is thorough, with lots of good grammar explanations. It also includes exercises with an answer key. However, even used copies are not inexpensive.
Using an e-reader to study Finnish
Finnish Tutor: Grammar and Vocabulary Workbook, by Dr. Riitta-Liisa Valijärvi, provides a wealth of exercises for students at the advanced beginner to upper intermediate levels (A2 through B2 on the CEFR scale). In addition to the grammar exercises, you’ll find exercises to strengthen your Finnish reading and writing skills. You might want to use this in conjunction with a comprehensive Finnish grammar book, however, as several learners found it lacking in essential grammar explanations. Some people also felt that the book was more suited to learners at an intermediate to advanced level.
Intermediate and advanced Finnish learners with some background in linguistics might appreciate Finnish: An Essential Grammar by Fred Karlsson. This book, part of the Routledge Essential Grammars series, is a comprehensive grammar reference that’s available in hardcover, paperback, or as a Kindle ebook.
If you’re a logical-mathematical learner who’d like to get highly technical about Finnish pronunciation, check out Finnish Sound Structure: Phonetics, phonology, phonotactics and prosody by Kari Suomi, Juhani Toivanen and Riikka Ylitalo. This free, downloadable PDF from the University of Oulu digs deep into topics such as pronunciation, vowel harmony, vowel sequences, and even speaker intonation.
Both graded readers and bilingual books are helpful tools for easing into Finnish reading. Many graded readers are also bilingual, giving beginning learners the support they need to understand the Finnish texts.
Nallikari seaside resort, Hietasaari district, Oulu, Finland
First Finnish Reader for beginners by Enni Saarinen is a bilingual, English-Finnish reader. It uses repetition to help you remember the Finnish words you encounter. The stories in the reader dramatize real-life situations such as looking for a job, meeting people, shopping, and studying. Each story is introduced with a glossary, and the Finnish and English texts are side-by-side in the paperback edition. (Although the Kindle (ebook) edition is about half the price of the paperback, some readers complained that the bilingual texts are not displayed on the same pages — so it may not be as good of a value as the paperback version.) The book, which can be used with its accompanying MP3 audio tracks, has material for learners at an elementary level of Finnish to a low intermediate level. You can sample it as a PDF with embedded audio; be warned, however, that the audio files will open in the same browser tab as the text. The series continues with a second volume from the same author.
Learn Finnish: Parallel Text from Polyglot Planet Publishing offers you a line-by-line, stacked English translation of the Finnish text. Unlike the Saarinen series, this book does not appear to have any vocabulary lists or glossaries. It is supposed to be designed for beginning learners, though. One downside may be that the book contains merely four stories. After the sections with parallel Finnish-English text, the same stories are presented completely in Finnish, then completely in English. This may be beneficial if you wish to test your retention of Finnish vocabulary; it removes the temptation to look down at the English text as you’re reading through the Finnish.
In addition to these graded readers, there are several bilingual children’s books you can use for practice, such as Grimmin Satuja (Grimms' Fairy Tales) from Svetlana Bagdasaryan’s My Grandma’s Tales collection or Villijoutsenet – The Wild Swans, an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s work from Ulrich Renz’ Children’s Bilingual Books series.
Sujatha Lalgudi offers a few Finnish-English bilingual books, including Counting Fun / Laskemisen ilo, Where is the Baby / Missa vauva on, amazon link=”1508739838″ title=”My daddy is the best / Minun isani on paras” /], and Jojo’s Easter Egg Hunt / Jonne ja pääsiäismunan metsästys.
Elly Gedye’s Eva the Adventurer / Seikkailija Eeva,, translated by Leena Vesterinen and Elli-Stina Parssinen, brings the fantastic voyages of a young lady to Finnish learners through charming illustrations and simple sentences.
Beyond children’s literature, you can find a bilingual version of the New Testament, which will introduce you to a broader range of vocabulary and more complex sentence structures.
When you’re ready to move beyond bilingual books to full Finnish texts, you might try Helsinki-based author Tuula Pere. She has several heartwarming children’s stories, such as Oopperan hiiri (Opera Mouse), Laakson kehtolaulu (The Lullaby of the Valley), or Lauri – pikku matkamies (Lauri, a Little Traveler).
Online shop Book Depository has an astonishing array of titles for Finnish learners. You’ll find everything from textbooks and children’s books to Harry Potter and Disney stories — as well as romance novels, thrillers, biographies, and fantasies. In addition to many translated works, such as Hobitti (The Hobbit) by J.R.R. Tolkien, there are dozens of homegrown Finnish works.
Once you’ve graduated to intermediate or advanced Finnish lessons, you can try more challenging reading. In addition to the myriad titles on Book Depository, online retail giant Amazon offers a few selections on different topics:
- Learn about the Finnish Civil War through the eyes of celebrated author Frans Eemil Sillanpää in his acclaimed work, Hurskas kurjuus (Meek Heritage).
- Submerse yourself in more history with Kallista hiekkaa: Suomalainen muukalaislegioonalainen Algerian sodassa (Expensive Sand: A Finnish Alien Legionnaire in the Algerian War) by Jaakko Sarlin-Lappeteläinen, as told to Heli Santavuori.
- Explore existentialist thought with Suomalainen eksistentialismi (Finnish Existentialism) by Teemu Jokela.
- Suomalainen transiittikirja: Elämän käännekohtia planeettojen rytmissä (Finnish transit book: Turning points in life in the rhythm of planets) by Raimo Nikula can be your guide to Finnish astrology.
- Take a virtual journey to northeast Finland and Lapland with this beautiful coffee-table book, Suomalainen maisema: Lappi ja Koillismaa (Finnish Landscapes: Lapland and the Northeast).
- Circumnavigate the globe with a Finnish translation of Jules Verne’s classic, Maan ympäri 80 päivässä (Around the World in Eighty Days).
- Devote yourself to Finnish reading with the well-known texts found in Suomalainen Latinalainen Raamattu (the Finnish Latin (Vulgate) Bible). This Kindle ebook edition has verse-by-verse navigation and text-to-speech (machine-generated) narration.
Works by contemporary authors can give advanced learners even more insight into current Finnish culture.
Finnish learners need not look far for free ebooks. Project Gutenberg offers over 2,000 works, including translations from other languages. You can read these online, or download them in various formats (including MOBI for Kindle, EPUB, and plain text).
Farkas Translations has a small handful of works translated into Finnish, such as Alice in Wonderland, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Call of the Wild. You can read these side-by-side with their English versions; some are also available in French, Swedish, Italian, and a few other languages.
Enjoying a Finnish audiobook
Loyal Books has both free ebooks and audiobooks in Finnish, available in several downloadable formats. There’s a short summary, in both English and Finnish, for each book.
News in plain language is available through the Finnish national broadcasting company, Yle. Each story is narrated clearly, at a slow pace, and captioned in Finnish.
Finland today boasts around three hundred newspapers, so you’ll have no shortage of current-events reading material!
Here are a few you might check out:
- Kaleva: Established in 1899, this paper is headquartered in Oulu and is known for some investigative journalism.
- Kauppalehti (“Trade Newspaper”): Based in Helsinki, it focuses on commerce, trade, and financial news.
- Turun Sanomat (“Turku Dispatch”): Considered the top regional newspaper in Southwest Finland, this paper is published in Turku.
- Aamulehti (“Morning Newspaper”): Published in Tampere, western Finland, this daily was founded in 1881.
- Helsingin Sanomat (“Helsinki Times”): Frequently called Hesari and sometimes simply “HS,” this is a newspaper of record in Finland.
- Iltalehti (“Evening Newspaper”): A relative newcomer, Iltalehti was founded in 1980 and is published six times weekly in Helsinki.
- Ilta-Sanomat (“The Evening News”): The largest and most direct competitor to Iltalehti, this tabloid has been around since 1932. It’s also based in Helsinki.
To facilitate reading newspapers and other online content, we find a tool such as Readlang helpful to gloss unfamiliar words. Currently, ReadLang can be used with the Chrome browser; you can also use it to make flashcards.
Auditory inputs like radio programs and music are great for learning in hands-free mode.
You can livestream hundreds of Finnish radio broadcasts through several websites, including TuneIn, Streema, Online Radio Box, and Live Online Radio. Several of these services also offer apps for your mobile device.
Many sources of Finnish music — in a plethora of genres — can be found online. Amazon boasts thousands of Finnish songs and albums in a wide variety of genres. Search for Finnish music or suomalainen musiikkia on Spotify for many more selections.
Finding Finnish music on Spotify
YouTube gives learners a huge variety of Finnish music, accompanied by images (and sometimes, lyrics.)
- Auta Antti! (Help Anti) is hosted by actor and writer Antti Holma. In the podcast, Antti answers listeners’ questions and explores a wide variety of topics, from the everyday to the existential. It’s good for intermediate learners and is somewhat easy to follow, since there’s only one speaker. It’s available on Radiot and Apple Podcasts.
- Bloggers Alexa Dagmara and Linda Juhola bring you Nonsense, which you can stream on Soundcloud. The two friends chat rapidly in Southern Finnish style, truncating many words as they talk about fashion, makeup, everyday life, family, and personal relationships.
- Lilli and Helena are two Finns who live in France. They host Kahvihetkiä maailmalla (Café au lait), in which they interview Finnish expats in places as far-flung as Vietnam, Canada, Panama, and Moscow.
Finnish media website Radiot has several other podcasts you can try, on just about every topic imaginable.
If you like learning with YouTube videos, you’re in luck: There’s no lack of choices when it comes to finding Finnish channels for learners.
Learn Finnish with FinnishPod101.com provides structured playlists for all levels. There’s reading practice, vocabulary, and listening comprehension exercises, as well as study tips and cultural notes. The Learn Finnish with Finking Cap channel has a similar setup, with bite-sized videos for beginners.
KatChats Finnish is hosted by a bilingual Finnish-English speaker. It’s targeted at both beginners and intermediate learners. It has plenty of material about vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Kat also has a series of videos completely in Finnish, with optional English subtitles.
Finnish with Anna is home to a few dozen well-ordered video lessons, with new ones being added on a somewhat regular basis. The videos are generally between ten and twenty minutes long, and cover a wide range of grammar and vocabulary topics. The lessons have clear written material, which Anna reviews slowly and patiently. It would work well for beginners.
To learn to “Speak like a Finn, not like a book,” try LearnFastFinnishDirty. It’s Finnish for beginners, with everyday vocabulary, verb lessons, and an emphasis on speaking. The channel also teaches you to read Finnish news and learn Finnish through music.
The Finnished channel will probably work best for intermediate learners. It uses the “comprehensible input” theory of American linguist Stephen Krashen. The audio portion of the videos is entirely in Finnish; there are Finnish captions, paired with English subtitles, that you can turn on if you are in the lower-intermediate phase of your learning. Rather than emphasizing grammar, the Finnished channel takes a “learn by listening” approach to teach natural, everyday Finnish. There is a lot of repetition; ideally, you should rewatch each video several times, until you understand about 75% of it without the subtitles.
Her Finland isn’t focused entirely on language learning, but there are several videos devoted to it. These include videos recommending books and courses for learning Finnish. A few videos give pronunciation tips, or cover themes such as Finnish greetings and proverbs. The channel is also helpful for learners who want to learn more about Finnish culture and how Finnish people relate to others. The channel is frequently updated with new videos.
Intermediate to advanced learners who are interested in healthy eating, goal-setting, ecology, and fitness might try the juulialilja (July Lily) channel.
To expand your exposure to Finnish as it’s used in entertainment, tune in to Finnish TV programming and try some Finnish cinema. These are programs and films that native Finnish speakers might watch — and they can even serve as conversation starters for you and your Finnish conversation partners.
Take advantage of your TV time to improve your mastery of Finnish
Fear not: Finnish television programming isn’t really as portrayed on Saturday Night Live’s Finnish Talk Show.
There’s a good deal of variety, with shows to suit all different kinds of tastes and interests.
Some Finnish TV shows are available for streaming online from Yle, Finland’s national broadcasting company.
Luottomies (“Wingman”; sometimes called “Credit Man”) is a buddy comedy following the adventure of neighbors Tommi and Juhis. You can watch it with English subtitles or Finnish captions.
Stan Saanila and André Wickström are a Finnish comedy duo who lampoon current events and politics in their series Tämä tästä (“This Here”).
On the other side of the spectrum from comedy, Rankka vuosi (“Tough Year”) is a documentary series about the coronavirus pandemic in Finland.
Through Prime Video and the ad-supported IMDbTV service, Amazon presents a few Finnish series. Look for shows such as Helppo elämä (“Easy Living”), about a man who turns to crime to support his family and Koukussa (“Hooked”), the story of a narcotics agent with a huge conflict between his career and his personal life. For fans of dark comedies like Dead to Me, there’s Mustat lesket (“Black Widows”), which tells the tale of three desperate wives.
Somewhat surprisingly, Netflix has few Finnish series on offer, although you might find the crime dramas Karppi (literally, “Carp,” but called “Deadwind” in English) and Sorjonen (called “Bordertown” in English). Availability of series can vary, depending on the country where you access Netflix. It’s worth checking back every few months to see if new Finnish programming has been added.
You might also be able to access Finnish television programming over your streaming device, possibly for a small monthly charge. Through your Roku, for example, you can access Finland TV, which would typically have regional channels and local programming.
There are over one hundred years of Finnish cinema to explore as you improve your command of the language. Here are a few more recent picks that you can find on streaming platforms.
Armoton maa (which translates as “Ruthless Land,” but is called “Law of the Land” in English) is an intense action drama. A police officer must live with the criminal actions of one son while facing the outrage of another.
Tie pohjoiseen (“Road North”) is a road-trip dramedy, in which estranged family members try to connect for the first time.
Wooden houses in the historic center, Porvoo, Uusimaa Region, Finland
Humor and science fiction fans alike might enjoy Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, which is available for free on YouTube, and subtitled in ten languages. (The English subtitles are open captioned, meaning that they can’t be removed from the video.) Part of an ongoing series, this screwball comedy parodies both Babylon 5 and Star Trek. You can also download it from the Internet Archive.
Additional films you might find through online Finnish media stores:
- Etsinnässä (“Searching for You”) follows the summertime adventures of Joni, as he travels and tries to find meaning in his young life
- Tali–Ihantala 1944, called “1944: The Final Defence” in English, is an historical war film named after a battle site
- Tuntematon Sotilas (“The Unknown Soldier”), based on a famous 1954 novel by celebrated author Väinö Linna
- Autio maa (“Forsaken Land”) is a post-apocalyptic film about twin Finnish brothers
- Teidät tuomitaan elinkautiseen (“You Will Be Sentenced to Life”) is the story of a solitary prisoner whose life takes a dramatic and unexpected turn for the better
- Ricianne Razen tells the tale of its main character, Ricianne, and her interactions and misadventures with friends
Movies can give you a glimpse into everyday Finnish life and language, as well as insight into key points in Finnish history.
As an old Finnish saying goes, ei kukaan ole seppä syntyessään (“no one is born a blacksmith”). In other words, learning to be proficient at any skill takes time, and you will need to allow yourself to make mistakes.
Learning Finnish well takes a great deal of sisu — inner strength, tenacity, determination, and commitment. If you take advantage of the many helpful resources available, you can keep the process interesting, enjoyable, and productive.
Soon, you will reap the rewards for your efforts as you find yourself able to appreciate Finnish films, literature, music, and more in their original language. And you’ll be able to express yourself confidently suomen kielellä (in the Finnish language).
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