The 3 Missing Links we Overlook in Traditional Language Learning

In this post, I share the 3 missing links at the root of the vast majority of why people struggle to learn Finnish (or other languages). I’ve built my entire career around helping educate people and support them in integrating these 3 missing pieces into their approaches to learning Finnish. This is the 1st time I talk about these in this way, so I’d love to hear your insights, questions and reactions in the comments below!


About 10 years ago, around the time I started actively learning Finnish, I got obsessed with understanding why certain people were learning and others weren’t. What started out as a personal burning question turned into conversations, experiments and eventually, a career.

But back then, I really just wanted to know how I could learn Finnish faster, more efficiently and while having a ton of fun – and help those for whom it was a struggle, ie. in cases like:

  • Learning basic Finnish but not being able to go further than basics
  • Going to courses but not being able to use what you learn outside of class
  • Always being spoken to in English, despite trying to speak in Finnish
  • Wanting to speak better but not knowing what else to do except sign up for another course

Sound familiar? The list goes on and on! In order to understand what is really going on here?, we need to take a step back and realize we tend to think of ‘language learning’ as:

  • Courses, Books, Apps
  • Attending a language café or doing a language exchange
  • Working with a private tutor, etc.

With so many options , what could we possibly be missing?! And still, none of these explain the setbacks we face, or why many people ping-pong between resources and methods without really understanding why it’s not working.

Based on my experience, I believe we need to widen the scope of what we usually consider ‘language learning’…


Making Choices in The Information Age


Here’s the thing: when you’re trying to choose between courses, books and apps, everyone is trying to get you to do their thing: this method, that course, this new app, online language community or tutor!


This is learning in the information age: we are bombarded with options and all their potential benefits. But what do you really need? The answer to this question needs to be crystal clear if you’re to know what’s right for you.


The information to help us make better choices is completely lacking. So it’s no wonder people really struggle to identify their needs. There is so much confusion around this! So end up trying a ton of things, hoping that we’ll get lucky and hit those potential benefits. But if we don’t, we start to feel further off-course than when we started.


When I was actively learning Finnish, I actually couldn’t see a clear path towards fluency, so I had to make my own (more like carving it out of stone with my bare hands, but that’s another story). I wanted to make the path easier for those who come after me, so I started and sharing what I learned.


What we need is the awareness to make better choices that suit your unique needs. This is why everything I do is aimed at helping you become aware of 3 often overlooked parts of language learning that hold the key to easier, enjoyable and efficient learning – yes, these save you time, money and energy too.


Did you get that?

In order to make progress we don’t need to try everything, but we do need to get very clear on what you – as a unique individual – really need. If you can do that, learning gets to be the amazing adventure it was meant to be!


The 3 Missing Elements in Language Learning


In my opinion, we absolutely need to widen our scope of what we consider relevant to learning a language, especially when we live in a foreign country and are already navigating a ton of change.

If I could wave a magic wand and help you have a huge language epiphany, here are the 3 missing pieces I’d like you to know about on your language learning journey:

  • An awareness of the experience
  • The freedom to make choices based on your needs
  • An awareness of your direction (What do I need right now?)

Below, I discuss each one and give you some examples of what’s possible.


1) An awareness of the experience

Experience is everything that we associate with learning and speaking Finnish. From our emotions, mood, thoughts, beliefs, and ease of the experience as we’re doing it.

Basically, what does it feel like when you’re learning, speaking, using, or even thinking about the language? This is unique to every individual and is entirely subjective. (I talk about this in detail in my Tedx talk.)


One of my favourite examples of this comes from my first client, a South American living in Iceland. Despite having been there for 10 years, she wasn’t feeling ‘at home’ where she was. As we brought more awareness of her subjective experience and how it was affecting her, she actually went to work one day and started speaking Icelandic (not something she usually did). She came home and kept speaking Icelandic! No one was more shocked than she was.

Although she’d studied the language, she wasn’t actively using it and didn’t even know she could go a day speaking it. She called me up and was in disbelief about how this happened even though our work didn’t directly focus on language. When we bring awareness to the experience, we really can tap into a well-spring of energy!

Ryan* was convinced he had to sign up for yet another Finnish course. But every time he did, life would get in the way of his best intentions: kids get sick, work gets busy. He’d miss a few classes, fall behind then spend the rest of the course struggling to catch up. For years, he dutifully signed up for courses and struggle through, but he wasn’t seeing his Finnish improve.

When we started working together, he began to understand how ‘feeling behind’ and ‘struggling to keep up’ coloured his experience of learning Finnish, and wasn’t supporting his progress. He realized he didn’t need to sign up for any courses to be learning Finnish. He could design his own way of learning that suited his schedule and personal learning preferences – and he could keep learning year-round! (Which he’s now doing after completing the FTNE program!)


2) The freedom to make choices based on your needs


Once we acknowledge that our experience of learning is infinitely unique, it’s easy to see why we need to choose how we’re going to learn. We can start where it feels easiest and most exciting. And yet, I see many students continue to take courses even when they’re bored or uninspired because they think it’s ‘the only way to learn.’


Years ago, I signed up for a Finnish course and decided to drop out on the first day. My experience in class (frustrated, angry, with a tinge of despair) showed me this would not be an enjoyable way for me to learn. If I stayed, my experience would continue to be frustrating and uninspiring – not an ideal learning environment. I didn’t know what I’d do instead but I was sure this class wasn’t the way for me.

I had many classmates who felt equally uninspired that first day, decide to stay in the course. Over two weeks, I watched their energy and motivation sink. They would leave every day feeling discouraged and angry, and rant about how bad it was. This was not how I chose to use my precious time and energy. Instead, I found my own fun and creative ways to teach myself.


When we’re aware of our experience (emotions, thoughts, beliefs, ease, etc.) we’re able to make choices that feel good and easy, instead of fighting a constant struggle. As adults, we all have the freedom to make choices which are right for us.


3) An awareness of the process: What do I need right now?


I’ll use a bicycle metaphor:

Say ‘experience’ and ‘free choices’ are the wheels on our Finnish bicycle, then ‘an awareness of the process’ is the pedals.

We can have all the feel-good experiences and freedom we want, but we still need momentum, and a direction. We know how we want to feel and can make choices, so what do we learn right now?


Karen’s* job was mostly in English, but a few, more stressful tasks, had to be done in Finnish. Although she wanted to improve her Finnish, she’d decide on a strategy, try it for awhile and drop it. She was struggling to find the internal motivation to do things consistently.

Through working together, Karen gained new insight into the language learning process. She began to intuitively understand why what she’d tried before wasn’t working and resolve the inner conflict. As a result, she actually started enjoying the process, feeling really positive about the changes and seeing real progress too.

Anna* was attending a Finnish course twice a week and committed to doing what it takes to learn Finnish. But a few months into the course, she was overwhelmed with grammar and struggling to use what she was learning.

She intuitively felt things weren’t progressing as they should and started to think ‘there has to be a better way…’ Through working together, she began to see that language is learned in a way that was never covered in her Finnish course. She’d tell me: “This makes so much sense! I can’t believe I’ve never thought of it before.” Her intuition had been correct all along! And now she could actually see the path forward (and make decisions that felt right for her).


Curious about how it all comes together?

The 3 missing link above are what I teach and infuse into everything I do. If you feel pulled to learn more, here are some options to explore:


  • 1-on-1 coaching aka. working with me individually, whether related to language learning, cultural transitions or the intersection between them. You can read more about it here.


  • Finnish Through New Eyes: this is the ultimate immersive program for those ready to jump in with both feet and integrate all 3 missing links (above). Language learning is an incredible, awe-inspiring experience when you prioritise feeling good, cater to your unique needs and level. Click here for details.


I’ve never written about these topics in this way, so I’d love to know…

  • What stories came up for you when you read about the 3 missing links (experience, freedom to choose, process awareness)?


  • Which of these 3 missing links do you think would make the biggest difference in your Finnish right now?


  • do you have any questions/something unclear about anything mentioned in this post?

Let’s start a conversation: leave a comment below!


This is the 1st time I explain my work in this way. So I’d love to hear your insights, questions and reactions in the comments below!

*Names changed

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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!