It’s not what you think – On speaking Finnish fluently

During our discussion event last week, someone asked an excellent question:

“How long did it take you to feel comfortable speaking Finnish?”

I’ve heard this question before and I almost always find it impossibly hard to answer. Instead of trying to answer it, today I’ll explain why it’s such a hard question, in the hopes that it’ll give you an insider’s perspective.


I did this photoshoot for an article about language learning & job hunting back in 2010. This was honestly the only time I cracked open this giant grammar book (instead preferring to seek out places where I felt comfortable saying little things here & there).

Last week I talked about perfectionist tendencies in my 4 minute rant video. Well I think this question reflects a bit of that. We tend to think that when we ‘feel comfortable’ in Finnish (or any other language), we get everything right, we feeling so much better and at ease, but really, it’s a bit of a chicken & egg issue. Here’s why:

Your mental state affects your perceptions. Your perceptions affect your understanding and your performance. In simple terms, if you’re stressed, you’re not going to learn much. If you’re at ease, you’re much more likely to understand what’s going on around you.

[Tweet “If you’re stressed, you’re not going to learn much. If you’re at ease, you will. via @irinapravet”]

So what happens when you start feeling ‘comfortable’ in Finnish? You feel more relaxed, at ease and safe – willing to take risks. What doesn’t happen? You understand everything and can express yourself perfectly. How long does this take to acheive? Well you tell me. It’s directly related to your effort and consistency, and in my opinion, impossible to generalize. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but the best advice I can give you on this front is to seek out situations where you feel calm and at ease. They exist, but they’re different for everyone. It’s worth putting on your comfort-seeking goggles and having a look around.

In the meantime, please drop me a comment below and let me know where you’ve felt comfortable speaking Finnish (or the other language you’re learning) and how you’ve managed to revisit that environment to keep learning. Your tip could be of great help to someone else!

Until next time,


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Hi! I’m Irina.

I’m a multibelonger to Finland, Canada and Romania, without ONE language or culture to call my own – I have several. My intention is to be present where I am and find inner peace and harmony where ever life takes me. I’m embracing the gems of the ongoing cultural and linguistic transition which is my life and hope to inspire others interested in doing the same. Read my story & more about what I do here.

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