Learning Finnish in Finland? Choose Joy as a Survival Strategy – Not a Luxury

Photo by Alex Alvarez on Unsplash.com

If the idea of learning Finnish as a joyful experience is a foreign concept to you, please read on.

In this article, I’m speaking specifically to learning Finnish in Finland (where it is spoken as an official language) because it’s a very different experience than learning it elsewhere just for fun. In Finland, Finnish could be the key to many things in your life, even if “everyone speaks English.” I think we can agree that speaking Finnish in Finland is a different experience from not speaking Finnish in Finland.

I believe that learning language is our birthright as human beings. I do not believe that some are ‘talented’ at learning languages, while others hopeless (even though it sometimes feels this way). 

When we look closer though, we’ll see that how we learn matters a lot – and it can mean the difference between learning or not learning. We need to become more aware of when we’re equating a what (e.g. Finnish) with a how (e.g. boring, fun, excruciating, exhilarating). One is a subject, while the other describes the quality of the experience. Ask yourself, whether you ever equate the two.

How does learning Finnish feel for you now? What emotion(s) do you associate learning Finnish with?

I believe there’s a vast inner landscape within each of us which lets us know when we’re on the right path and when we’ve stepped off into a more difficult trajectory. 

“But Irina, I can’t help how learning feels. I’m just trying to do the assignments and get through this class.”

I get it. I’ve also watched people hit walls in terms of motivation and exhaustion and become increasingly frustrated at how little progress can come from so much effort. (Is it any wonder we need breaks from the whole thing?) Under these circumstances, it can seem cruel to even suggest we add ‘having fun’ to the list. But what if we phrase it this way:

What are you prioritizing in your learning? Is it coming from outside or inside of you?

Years ago while sitting in Finnish class, it dawned on me that my teacher had never faced the challenges I’d faced with Finnish in Finland. She’d learned the language in childhood with her family, not in adulthood ‘out in the world’ like I was. Even if she’d have lived abroad, e.g. learned English in the UK, it wasn’t the same. I could no longer expect her advice to address all the challenges I was facing. Instead, I’d have to find my own path, or create it. So this is what I did.

I’m in no way a perfect human, and what I teach now is partially based on not doing some of what I did. Like many foreigners living in Finland, I’ve experienced burnout, anxiety, depression, unemployment and despair. I’ve felt ignored and overlooked, despite knowing I had something valuable to contribute. 

Joy may seem an odd antidote, but experience continues to show me it’s precisely why, we can’t turn our backs on joy – in life and learning – and expect to keep going! What if joy is the key to turning something that feels like a dreaded chore into an exciting adventure?

Joy may seem an odd antidote, but … we can’t turn our backs on joy – in life and learning – and expect to keep going!

Putting joy in practice

Joy may have never been part of your experience learning Finnish (or maybe it’s been awhile), so let’s start here. To make space for joy, start saying ‘no’ to any endeavour (homework, exercise, course, book, app, etc.) that triggers dread or negativity. 

To make space for joy, start saying ‘no’ to any endeavour that triggers dread or negativity. 

We can sometimes become addicted to certain things feeling bad (e.g. ‘learning Finnish feels bad’), and so becoming aware not to perpetuate this pattern brings us new opportunities which didn’t previously exist – even if it can look like we say no to learning sometimes. Things aren’t always as they seem…

Curiosity is a powerful bridge in the build-up to joy.

Once we’ve made space for joy, it’s time to start choosing (or practice choosing) joy in learning Finnish: what are you drawn to or curious about? (curiosity is a powerful bridge in the build-up to joy) How can you combine this with Finnish? When faced with 2 choices, which feels more joyful?

Learning Finnish (at any level – including re-learning your mother tongue!) has the potential to bring out insecurities, emotional triggers, and old wounds which we’d thought long buried. But the path we’re on also has the potential to transform so much: like having new experiences, growing a whole new piece of your identity, and boosting your confidence! (More on the transformational power of language learning another time)

Learning a language (at any level) has the potential to bring out insecurities, emotional triggers, and old wounds which we’d thought long buried. To counternbalance the challenges, we need joy!

To counterbalance the challenges, we need joy!

We need joy like we need air and water. 

We need to enjoy the experience of learning: 

not only so we can keep on going, but also so our brains learn more optimally.

Don’t worry if joy isn’t where you’re starting from;

Or even if you’re just resting right now,

Use joy like a compass!

A little joy noticed, goes a long way.

You are wired for language. 

Each and every one of us is.

Linguistic adaptation and integration is your birthright,

As is joy.

Joy of learning is your birthright too.

With a lot of love,


TedXOtaniemiED widget 3

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!