Level 2 – Learner-friendly Finnish
The following situation may well sound familiar: you attend Finnish classes, where you generally understand most of what the teacher says. Then you join your colleagues for lunch as they are chatting away in Finnish … and you can hardly make out anything they are saying. Your brain starts to overheat as you try to separate out at least the main words – are they even speaking the same language?
When talking Finnish with you one-to-one, the chances are that they at least slow down a bit, but there would be a few other things they could do to help you follow what they are saying. If you’ve read the previous article in this series and already got permission to take a turn at being the teacher, here are a few things you can suggest:
Phonemes are the individual sounds of speech, and Finnish – with its double vowels, double consonants, and wide range of vowels and vowel combinations – is a language in which clear pronunciation is pretty important for understanding. You don’t want to mix your ‘tuli’ with your ‘tuuli’, nor your ‘silli’ with your ‘siili’.
It might help to explain to your colleague that speaking clearly is not the same as speaking slowly or loudly. The important thing is just to make sure each sound is fully pronounced and that the ends of words don’t disappear, as they easily do in everyday conversation. It’s also helpful to give the learner’s brain a moment to catch up by pausing briefly between each sentence or similar ‘unit’ of what you are saying.
Language is meant to be rich – but perhaps your workmate’s words and sentences sometimes get a bit too complex or too playful. It takes some time to learn to control one’s use of jargon, slang, and complex sentences, but anyone can get better at it with practice. Indeed, the important thing here is not so much to simply cut out certain words, but rather to develop a ‘post-speech-filter’, monitoring what you are saying and repeating things in other words if the vocabulary might be difficult, or checking if the other person understands a particular word.
If your workmate learns to do this, their rich language can even become a valuable source of learning for you, because you get to hear, for example, new work-related jargon and then immediately get an explanation of the word or phrase or an opportunity to check that you understand.
Even in your native language, it’s hard to follow someone if they keep jumping around from topic to topic, so aiming to speak about just one thing at a time will definitely make your workmate’s speech more learner-friendly.
They can also go even further by paying attention to how they summarise topics or sections of a story and then move onto the next one. After a conversation about books, for example, they might say ’Really interesting to hear about those books – I’ll be sure to take a look at them myself! How about films? Are there any you have particularly enjoyed recently?’ These kinds of concluding statements and clear introductions of new topics make the conversation much easier to follow.
Getting your colleague to use more expression and gesture will not only make them more understandable, but also most likely make your conversations livelier and more fun! These can range from simple descriptive gestures, such as an eating movement when inviting someone to lunch, to more creative use of gestures and expressions, such as acting out parts of a story one is telling. It is also good to make use of related objects in the surrounding environment, such as pointing to a calendar and the different days when asking ‘Milloin hän palauttaa raportin?’ (When will they report the report?).
Using expressions and gestures also supports communication in another way: it will most likely make the Finnish learner feel free to do the same. This in turn can make them bolder and more engaged in speaking and communicating, as the conversation will feel more like a joint endeavour to share meaning, with each person actively using all the verbal and non-verbal resources they have.
As a concluding tip, and perhaps rather an obvious one, this is just a reminder to your colleague that all the previous tips are not meant to be applied in a one-size-fits-all manner. The idea is to make just enough adjustments so that the conversations flow well, and to make the kind of adjustments that that Finnish learner would like and would find most helpful. After all, the goal of every Finnish learner who is aiming for fluency is ultimately to understand all kinds of native (and non-native) speakers of Finnish as they speak in their normal way in all kinds of different situations.