How Hard Is It To Learn Finnish (2023)


(Last Updated On: April 13, 2021)

Well, people often assume that Finnish must be similar to the languages of neighboring Sweden or Russia. And that’s why it is a difficult one to learn. Our article tells you why that’s simply not true. Finns often run into questions like “Is Finnish like Swedish?” or “Does everyone in Finland speak Russian?” an easy answer to both questions is not any.

Both Swedish (one of the 2 official languages of Finland) and Russian belong to the Indo-European group of languages, while Finnish may be a Finno-Ugric language. The latter group also includes Hungarian, Estonian, Sámi (spoken by the indigenous people of northern Finland, Sweden and Norway, and northwestern Russia), and a number of other lesser-known languages spoken in areas of Russia. The Finno-Ugric languages share enough common lexical and grammatical features to prove a standard origin. Although these languages have developed separately for thousands of years, it is often seen that common features include:

  1. absence of gender (the same Finnish pronoun, “hän,” denotes both “he” and “she”)
  2. absence of articles (a and therefore the in English)
  3. long words thanks to the structure of the language
  4. numerous grammatical cases
  5. personal possession expressed with suffixes
  6. postpositions in addition to prepositions
  7. no equivalent of the verb “to have”

Why is Finnish in particular a hard language to learn?

The Finnish language – is a Uralic language, which means it is unrelated to other European languages except Hungarian(which is still very distant from it). Finnish uses a wide range of sounds not found in other languages.

In our view, the cases would be the most challenging ones.

In terms of difficulties, Georgian is way more complex with quite a few exotic features.

How Hard Is It To Learn Finnish (1)

How Hard Is It To Learn Finnish (2)

How to Learn Finnish the Natural Way

With a reputation together of the toughest languages within the world, the prospect of learning Finnish could be intimidating to people looking to find out the language, especially first-time language learners. There are two main reasons why Finnish is considered such a difficult language: the primary is that there really is not any other language quite like it. The second reason is that the language uses a grammar structure very different from many of the more widely spoken languages.

But don’t let this deter you! Finnish is such a beautiful language and a rewarding language to learn. Not only that, you can actually start learning to speak Finnish directly. Read on to find out more about the best way to learn Finnish fast!

What Makes Finnish So Unique?

Finnish omits tons of preposition, conjunction, and determiner words like “a”, “the”, “in”, “to”, “from”, etc. Instead of using those words, the language is organized with a series of suffixes. So rather than saying you’re standing “in” somewhere, you’d add “-lla” or “-ssa” to the top of the word for where you’re standing in. This is something which will be a touch bit complicated initially, but it’s actually much easier than you think that to grow familiar with by just paying close attention to when each suffix is used. When it involves Finnish, you actually don’t need to undertake to find out its grammar by studying by the book because it often breaks its own rules.

Finnish also has two extra letters with umlauts that are commonly used, which are “ä” and “ö”. The pronunciation of those letters falls under English’s own “a” and “o”, making it hard for English speakers to listen to the difference between the traditional “a” and therefore the “ä”, same with the “o” sounds. This particularly becomes a drag when speaking. Pronouncing one among these letters incorrectly can turn the word you’re trying to pronounce into a totally different word with a completely different meaning! This is why when you’re starting to learn Finnish if you don’t have a native speaker you can practice with, you should listen to audio from native Finnish speakers as much as possible so you’ll learn the right pronunciations and compare your own pronunciation against that of native speakers.

Much of learning Finnish is about recognizing patterns. Because of that, many of us don’t find much success in Finnish classrooms or with vocabulary apps. The best way to learning Finnish fast is just by doing and doing often. Even though the language is phonetic, meaning that it’s pronounced even as it’s written, it’s still a troublesome language for native English speakers to pronounce. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that you simply practice speaking Finnish more.

More Finnish Words You Already Know

Nowadays, people turn to Google whenever they encounter a problem. They think that they can get all the answers from the internet. It is true that the internet is very helpful in a number of ways, but it has its limitations. There are things in which humans will always stay on top.

If you require linguistic assistance, your first thought will be to open Google Translate. However, when it comes to official files, you cannot rely on machine translation. Looking for Swedish translators? Check this out.

You also shouldn’t try to translate a document yourself, even if you are bilingual. There is a reason why only qualified and trained professionals can provide you with the most accurate results. They know what kind of work has to be done in order for the authorities to accept your documents. They have handled many similar projects in the past and can help you too.

So, if you require the English translation of your document from Greek, here’s what you can do:

A single Finnish word can express what would be a whole sentence in English

Finnish is a highly synthetic language. This means that a word can be made by juxtaposing inflected verbs, nouns, and adjectives, depending on each word’s role in the sentence. Prepositions often appear as suffixes attached to nouns, and other particles can be added to express nuance. This means that ideas requiring an entire sentence to express in English can be conveyed in Finnish with a single word.

Take the wordsöisinköhän.This single word could be translated as the English sentence, ‘I’m wondering if I should eat something.’

How does this work?Syödäis the verb to eat. Here it is conjugated in the first person –söin– and the conditional particle –isiis added. The suffix –denotes a question, and –hänintroduces the idea of doubt.

How Hard Is It To Learn Finnish (3)

How Hard Is It To Learn Finnish (4)

Each Finnish verb has 200 possible endings

There are six groups of verbs. Each verb can be conjugated according to person, number, tense, and mood. There are also passive structures, five infinitive forms, and other particles. This equates to well over 200 possible verb endings for each verb.

Here’s an example:Pidättekö tanssimisesta?(‘Do you like dancing?’)

The verb,pitää(to like) is in the second-person plural form with a –question suffix. The verbtanssia(to dance) is nominalized (tanssiminen), and then inflected in the relative case, which is needed afterpitää.

Consonants within the original word may change

This elaborate inflection system presents a problem for the learner. Before looking up a new word in the dictionary, you must work out what the basic form is. As well as back-tracking to check what the inflections and suffixes mean, this may also involve applying another set of rules: consonant gradation. The lettersk,p, andtcan change or even disappear when the word stem is inflected and has a suffix added to it.

You can see this in the example abovePidättekö tanssimisesta?(‘Do you like dancing?’). The verbpitää(to like) underwent consonant gradation in its stem, with the strong ‘t’ becoming a weak ‘d’.

Here’s another example:Tarkenenkohan? – ‘I wonder if I’ll be warm enough?’

The dictionary form of this verb is actuallytarjeta(to stand the cold). But in this instance, the conjugated verb has undergone consonant gradation from ‘j‘ to ‘k‘, and two particles have been added: –ko, which denotes the question form, and –han, which suggests doubt.

The order of words in a sentence adds emphasis or subtle differences in meaning

Word order is very free in Finnish, but moving words around within a sentence subtly alters its meaning.

For example, the phrasesPöydällä on kirjaandKirja on pöydälläboth translate as ‘There is a book on the table’.

However, there is a slight difference in meaning, due to word order. The former answers the question: ‘What is on the table?’. The latter counters an incorrect statement: ‘There is amagazineon the table.’

If you were describing one person seeing their friend, you might say eitherKimi näki Valtterin(Kimi saw Valtteri) orValtterin näki Kimi. Both have the same meaning, grammatically. But the second sentence emphasizes that it wasKimiwho saw Valtteri, not someone else.

If we wanted to say that Valtteri saw Kimi, it would be:Valtteri näki KiminorKimin näki Valtteri. The inflections dictate who saw whom, whereas the word order gives a more nuanced meaning.

Almost all permutations would generate a meaningful sentence with a slight shift in the emphasis, but without requiring a change in intonation or stress. In English, we use emphatic stress (part of ourtone of voice) to show the difference between ‘Timdrank tea’ (not Tom) and ‘Tim dranktea‘ (not coffee). But the Finns use word order or suffixes to show these nuances in meaning.

Words are spelled the same way they sound

On the whole, Finnish is pronounced as it is written. Each letter represents a sound, and there are no silent letters and very few consonant clusters. Finns struggle to pronounce English words that contain consonant blends, like ‘executive’ /ɪgˈzɛkjʊtɪv/ and ‘educational’ /ɛdjuˈkeɪʃᵊnl/. Words are stressed on the first syllable, so Finns say, rather than Vowel harmony, where only certain combinations of vowels are possible in a word, affects the pronunciation (and spelling) of suffixes such as inSöisinköhänandTarkenenkohan, above.

One challenge for language learners is identifying syllable boundaries in the pronunciation of very long words. But for many foreigners, it is the pronunciation of double vowels and double consonants that causes the most difficulty. To a learner,Tapaan sinut huomenna– ‘I’ll meet you tomorrow’, sounds very similar toTapan sinut huomenna– ‘I’ll kill you tomorrow’. You see the problem.

Finns have an amazing ability to utter extremely long sentences without pausing. This sometimes results in ‘ingressive’ breathiness, where the speaker appears to be breathing in while speaking – a skill I have yet to master.

How Hard Is It To Learn Finnish (5)

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How Hard Is It To Learn Finnish? ›

Finnish is often regarded as one of the most difficult languages to learn. With its verb conjugation, case system, consonant gradation, and clitics it might feel quite difficult sure. However, the difficulty of the language depends a lot on your point of view.

How long does it take to learn basic Finnish? ›

According to this ranking, it should take approximately 1100 hours or 44 weeks on average for an English-speaking learner to reach a general proficiency level in Finnish.

How long does it take to learn Finland? ›

The research has shown that it takes 10 years to learn Finnish fluently, to become fluent.

How hard is it for English speakers to learn Finnish? ›

However, this doesn't mean Finnish is an easy language. It's actually one of the more complex options if you're learning a language from Scandinavia. According to experts, Finnish is one of the more difficult languages for English speakers to learn.

Is it easier to learn Swedish or Finnish? ›

Finnish is a lot more complicated than Swedish. The latter, in fact, is known for its simplicity in both pronunciation and written form. A lot of people are learning it today because of its reach and easy grammar and phonetics. Finnish, on the other hand, is very confusing for the speakers of Swedish.

Which language is closest to Finnish? ›

Finnish belongs to the Baltic-Finnic branch of the Finno-Ugric languages, being most closely related to Estonian, Livonian, Votic, Karelian, Veps, and Ingrian.

What is the hardest thing about learning Finnish? ›

Finnish is often regarded as one of the most difficult languages to learn. With its verb conjugation, case system, consonant gradation, and clitics it might feel quite difficult sure.

What is the longest word in Finnish? ›

Thank you Finland. Lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas – This supposedly is the longest Finnish word with 61 letters, and it means an airplane jet turbine engine auxiliary mechanic non-commissioned officer student. Learn it, you may need to use it one day.

How long is the average Finnish word? ›

Finnish and Hungarian: fewer words, more letters

From the table, we can see that Finnish gets the content across with the least amount of words but with the longest word length, averaging 7.899 letters. That's because Finnish is an agglutinating language, which comes from the Latin word agglutinare, 'to glue together'.

Is duolingo accurate for Finnish? ›

Is Duolingo Finnish good? Duolingo is a good choice for people who are beginning to learn Finnish. It's a fun and interesting way to learn some basic vocabulary and grammar. But it's not a comprehensive app, and won't help those that need to reach a high level of proficiency in Finnish.

What is the 7 hardest language to learn? ›

7 Most Difficult Languages to Learn for Native English Speakers
  • 1 – Chinese (Mandarin)
  • 2 – Arabic.
  • 3 – Japanese.
  • 4 – Korean.
  • 5 – Hungarian.
  • 6 – Finnish.
  • 7 – Xhosa.
Feb 7, 2020

What makes Finnish so difficult? ›

Finnish is a highly synthetic language. This means that a word can be made by juxtaposing inflected verbs, nouns, and adjectives, depending on each word's role in the sentence. Prepositions often appear as suffixes attached to nouns, and other particles can be added to express nuance.

Why is Finnish so unique? ›

Related languages

The Finnish grammar and most Finnish words are very different from those in other European languages, because Finnish is not an Indo-European language. The two other national languages that are Uralic languages as Finnish are Estonian and Hungarian.

Which Nordic language is the most useful? ›

SWEDISH. Swedish is the most popular Nordic and Scandinavian language on our list. It is spoken by approximately 10.5 million people around the world, in countries such as Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Ukraine, and other Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Norway.

Can Finns understand Swedes? ›

Can Finnish people understand Swedish? Finnish people understand Swedish, even though Swedish-speaking Finns only make up 5.2% of Finland's population. In most parts of Finland, the bilinguality is hard to miss, since road signs (almost) everywhere are written in both languages.

Are Finns Germanic or Slavic? ›

No, Finns are not Slavic. They are a Finno-Ugric people. Their language is related to Estonian and Hungarian. A minority of people in Finland have Swedish as their native language.

Is Finnish a dead language? ›

Official status. Today, Finnish is one of two official languages of Finland (the other being Swedish), and has been an official language of the European Union since 1995.

What is the hardest Finnish word to say? ›

  • ostoskärry. (n) shopping cart. metallinen ostoskärry. ...
  • Viro. (p) Estonia.
  • psykologia. (n) psychology.
  • lentokonesuihkuturbiiniapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas. (n) jet engine assistant mechanician non-commissioned officer pupil.
  • yökyöpeli. (n) night person.
  • yrjö (n) puke.
  • broileri. (n) broiler.
  • öylätti. (n) sacramental bread.

Can you learn Finnish in 3 months? ›

Kate took my language learning course Vocabulary Labs quite many months ago and very quickly morphed into a learning beast! She learned Finnish to an A2 level in 3 weeks and a B1 in about 3 months as verified by one of her local language schools. What makes it even more impressive is that Kate is a busy mom of 2.

What is the fastest way to learn Finnish? ›

Duolingo is easy to use, combining listening tasks, multiple choice questions and speaking tests to help get your Finnish language up to speed in as little as five minutes per day. Before you know it, you'll be saying 'Hei' (hello in Finnish), and 'kiitos' (thank you in Finnish) with confidence.

Is Finnish DNA unique? ›

The unique genetic heritage of the Finns — marked by repeated population bottlenecks and isolation from their neighbors in northern Europe — is helping scientists embark on a search for the complex links between genes and diseases.

What is the most famous Finnish word? ›

Guardians of the Finnish language
  • Tai chi is a word recently imported to Finland from Asia. Photo: AP / Lehtikuva.
  • Smoothies were meant to be called pehmelö, but the word failed to catch on. ...
  • “Sauna” is, without a doubt, the most famous Finnish word, and has made its way around the world.

What are the top Finnish swear words? ›

The top 3 Finnish profanities

Vittu, Saatana, and Perkele are the three words that you will hear for sure when someone has to swear in Finnish.

What is the only Finnish word used in English? ›

Widespread. The most commonly used Finnish word in English is sauna, which has also been loaned to many other languages.

What are the most common Finnish swear words? ›

  • 1.1 helvetti.
  • 1.2 hitto, hiisi.
  • 1.3 huora.
  • 1.4 jumalauta.
  • 1.5 kikkeli.
  • 1.6 kusi.
  • 1.7 kyrpä
  • 1.8 molo.

Do most Finnish people know English? ›

There are only a little over twenty thousand native speakers of English in Finland, but due to being a competitive and educated nations, the majority of Finns speak it as their second language. 70% of the population can speak English fluently.

Do Finnish people know how do you speak English? ›

93% of Finns aged 18–64 can speak a foreign language, and 78% can speak two or more. 2,184,000 or 66% can speak both Swedish and English, while 1,003,000 (30%) can speak German and English and 882,000 (27%) Swedish and German.

Is Finnish a rare language? ›

Finnish is one of the 24 official languages of the European Union, yet it is also one of the least widespread with only around 5 million native speakers, about one percent of the EU population.

Why are Finnish so quiet? ›

Customs That Are Kept Silent

Berry says that silence and respect are typical Finnish characteristics. The Finns give others space, don't really like active small-talk and interpret active silences to be an important part of a normal way to communicate.

What do the Finnish call Finnish? ›

Finns refer to their country as 'Suomi', but no-one knows where that name came from, or why, even after centuries of being called Finland, Suomi still survives.

What is the #1 hardest language? ›

Across multiple sources, Mandarin Chinese is the number one language listed as the most challenging to learn. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center puts Mandarin in Category IV, which is the list of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers.

What is the sweetest language in the world? ›

According to a UNESCO survey, Bengali has been classified as the sweetest language in the world. As a language, Bengali is widely spoken all over India, including Assam and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The sweetest language in the world is also recognized in the Constitution of India.

Are Finnish friendly to foreigners? ›

Finnish people are not unfriendly, but they may be reserved and take unkindly to foreigners who try to be overly chatty or familiar. However, you will find that they can also be very warm, generous, and hospitable.

Do Finnish people like small talk? ›

Finns aren't big on small talk, and quiet moments in conversations are not considered awkward. Silence merely means the person doesn't have something essential to say, as Finns feel there's no reason to fill gaps in conversation with idle chatter.

Do Finnish people talk fast? ›

The Finns are said to use 70-140 words per minute, while the Americans produce 125-150 words/min and the word-per-minute rate for the English people is as high as 150-190.

Do Finnish people drink a lot? ›

Nowadays the consumption of alcohol in Finland is over four times as large than it was in the middle of the 20th century. The negative effects of alcohol in Finland are also historically large. In the early 20th century, alcohol consumption in Finland was exceptionally small compared to other European countries.

Who are the Finns descended from? ›

Origins. Like other Western Uralic and Baltic Finnic peoples, Finns originate between the Volga, Oka and Kama rivers in what is now Russia. The genetic basis of future Finns also emerged in this area. There have been at least two noticeable waves of migration to the west by the ancestors of Finns.

What is the ethnicity of the Finnish people? ›

Finland is a relatively ethnically homogeneous country. The dominant ethnicity is Finnish but there are also notable historic minorities of Finland-Swedes, Sami and Roma people. As a result of recent immigration there are now also large groups of ethnic Russians, Estonians, Iraqis and Somalis in the country.

What is the toughest Scandinavian language? ›

Danish is said to be the trickiest Scandinavian language to learn because of its speaking patterns. It is generally spoken more quickly and more softly than other Scandinavian languages.

What is the least spoken Nordic language? ›

Icelandic. Icelandic is perhaps the only one of the Nordic languages that closely resembles old Norse which was spoken by the Vikings. With only three hundred fifty thousand native speakers, this language is the least spoken language of all the North Germanic languages.

What is the hardest Scandinavian language? ›

From the three main Scandinavian languages such as Danish, Swedish and Norwegian – Danish is claimed to be the hardest Scandinavian language to study due to its speaking standard. The manner of speaking in Danish is quicker, compared to the other Scandinavian languages.

How long does it take to reach B2 in Finnish? ›

After only 30 hours of learning, you will have worked through the Finnish intermediate course and reach level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This course adapts to you – to your learning type, your personal learning speed and your preferences.

What is B1 level Finnish? ›

Intermediate level (B1.

1 – Moderate language skills in day-to-day work and leisure situations. Intermediate level B1. 2 – A fluent grasp of language in day-to-day work and leisure situations. Intermediate level B2.


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