The only way to learn Finnish is by speaking it

What are the ideal language conditions for your work community? Hitomi Tabuchi and Massiel of the MONIKA – Multicultural Women’s Association describe why Finnish is the only language spoken in their workplace.
Monika-Naiset employees
MONIKA employees. Photo: Lyyra Virtanen. All rights reserved.

NGO Coordinator Hitomi Tabuchi of MONIKA explains that Finnish is the only common language in her workplace. She points out that using English would mean treating people unequally because some have been educated in English.

– Most people in the world haven’t studied in English, and many don’t speak English at all, she notes.

One such person is Massiel, a trainee at MONIKA, whose English is rudimentary. When Massiel arrived in Finland, she was asked whether she would like to learn Finnish or English. English might have been the easier choice, as Massiel’s first language is Spanish, one of its relatives. But she chose otherwise:

– I’m living in Finland and intend to do so for a long time, so I have to learn Finnish.

Just do it

Massiel mentions her husband, who has not learned Finnish as well as she has. He rarely uses Finnish, as he works in a Spanish-language restaurant and speaks Spanish at home.

Massiel, in contrast, hears and uses Finnish every day at work, which has really supported her language learning.

Hitomi and Massiel agree that it takes a lot of courage to speak a foreign language imperfectly. But even if your Finnish is not flawless and you feel uncomfortable speaking the language, you just have to do it.

Speak Finnish with colleagues

Hitomi says she does not want to speak English even with new colleagues. At first, you may feel rude, but people praise her after about six months.

– If you ask for help in Finnish, it doesn’t matter if you do it wrong or imperfectly. I always have time to listen and teach you how to say it. If you don’t understand something, you can ask me a hundred times – it doesn’t matter. But eventually you will learn, she states.

– If you want to help someone in the long term, you have to keep using Finnish. Be patient. I don’t expect people to speak fluently from the start. It’s normal that it takes time.

Interviewed and written by Lyyra Virtanen.

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