One reason Finns switch to English when you’re around

A funny thing happened to me at work the other day. I walked over to a coworker’s desk and straight into a 4-person conversation that was going on in Finnish. I watched the conversation switch from Finnish to English to accommodate my arrival, and guess what I did next?


I commented in English, as I was expected to. And then proceeded to change the subject and bring up whatever it was I came to see my coworker about…in English.

On my walk home today, I had time to mull over what happened in that moment, and I wanted to share my thoughts on why these situations are probably the most important situations you’ll face while learning Finnish. I constantly strive to be positive, but in this post, I wanted to give you a bit of insight into what goes on in my head when I’m not being positive. Maybe you can relate.

The funny thing is, it’s not what you do that matters most, it’s how you interpret what the whole thing means.

So here’s what I pieced together:

– It wasn’t hard to stand in my own shoes for starters. My first thought when it happened was to feel hurt. How am I supposed to improve my Finnish when it feels like opportunities are literally closed off to me? How can I learn to cope if the opportunities aren’t being offered at all? What’s the point of spending all this time in a country, learning so much about the language if I don’t get to speak it on a regular basis? I let myself feel this pain for the moment, and I also acknowledged that it wasn’t the only way to see the situation. As hard as it was, and as reluctant as I felt to do it at first, I then tried to interpret this from my coworkers’ perspective.

– My coworkers were being accommodating. They saw me there, they had this nagging feeling that they were excluding me. That nagging feeling was telling them to include me in the conversation and so that I could understand and feel included, they switched languages. They have no way of knowing how many hours I’ve spent learning Finnish, or how when I’m given the chance, I speak Finnish and just ask questions if I don’t understand something, because they have never witnessed these things. They don’t usually happen at the office. So the more I thought about it, the more grateful I felt to have such inclusive coworkers.

Still, there had to be something to do about this, right? So what next?

Do I blame myself for failing to pick up the thread and speak Finnish?
Do I conclude that my coworkers don’t want to speak Finnish with me?
Do I stop speaking Finnish at work?

No to all of the above.
It seems to me that the only way to bridge the gap is to start a conversation. Will there be times when English is more appropriate? Sure! Was this one of them? I don’t know. Yet, I can still let people know my point of view, and acknowledge theirs as well, even thank them for their kind gesture. I decided to start by writing this post, and then I’ll start conversing.

Learning Finnish is an endeavour that has challenged me personally for over 5 years. It’s also been extremely worthwhile and has pushed me to grow in all sorts of ways I never expected. If your Finnish progress is stalling and you’re wondering what to do about it, join me for a free webinar tomorrow, Sunday August 9th about the 3 reasons you probably won’t learn Finnish in the way you expect. Don’t worry if you can’t make it live, there will be a recording available, but only for those who register ahead of time!

You can save your seat by clicking here:

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P.S. Why not share this post with a Finnish friend? It might help them to see your point of view, or vice versa.

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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. Click here to find out more!