Puhutaan Suomea – The magazine for students of Finnish

Bringing back the recommendations section, today I want to talk about a magazine for people who study Finnish. Its name is Puhutaan suomea, and is published by Artemira.

Puhutaan suomea started its journey in May of last year, and 8 issues have been published this far. A new issue is released every two months. The last issue has recently been published and it’s a double issue for the summer.

Since all the content in the magazine is in Finnish, it’s aimed at students who already have some knowledge of the language, not for beginners. However, the articles are divided into three categories: helppo (easy), keskitaso (medium level), and vaativa (difficult); so students can find the texts that are more suitable for their skills. And of course, they can also try to challenge themselves reading the vaativa articles! In every article there is a vocabulary section where some of the words of the texts are explained. In the easy level texts, the meaning of the words in this list is explained in Finnish, and the English translation is also included. In the medium and difficult level texts, the meanings are only explained in Finnish, without any English translation.

The magazine has different sections: An editorial from the editor in chief, Florin Dimulescu; a news bulletin (uutiskatsaus), a section written by magazine readers in which they present their home countries, called Minun kotimaani on… (my home country is…); elämys, or “experience”, a section where all kinds of interesting articles are welcome; tutustu Suomeen, or “get to know Finland”, a section about Finland, from cities, traditions, typical food, important people, etc. There is also a section about language and grammar, where in each issue there is the explanation of some grammatical aspect and some exercises to practise. This section makes the magazine very useful for learning and practising the language, other than just enjoying the articles and learning without being aware of it. Finally, there is always a calendar of events that will take place around the country in the following weeks after the issue is published, and an interesting interview. The interviews are always about different topics and always related to Finland or to services to promote the learning of this language.

Puhutaan Suomea

In the website of the magazine you can find more extra content and the audio version of the articles, so the students can also listen to the pronunciation of the words. You can also follow the magazine on Facebook and Twitter.

If you are interested in brushing up your Finnish and practise it while enjoying reading articles about many different topics, you can become a subscriber in the website. There are many different options you can choose, for example just the magazine, or an e-version of the magazine as a PDF file with the audio in mp3 files sent to your email, or a CD with this same e-version and the audio. You can check all the options here.

And as an anecdote, I write a little column in the magazine about different aspects of Finland and the way of life here from the point of view of a foreigner. The things that surprise me or the cultural differences that I find along the way, among other things.

Personally, I really enjoy this magazine, since in every issue I learn some new words or I spot some grammatical construction that I still don’t master, and of course, since there is such a big variety in the content of the articles, there is always something interesting. Puhutaan suomea is the only magazine of this kind, a mixture between a magazine and a textbook for people who is studying Finnish, it’s a very good resource for students. And since there are articles of different levels, it suits students who have been studying the language during one year or more. Even very advance students will find it enjoyable, since they still may learn something new, be it a word or just information about other countries, or about a nice Finnish dessert.


Every end is a new beginning

It seems like it was just yesterday when I started teaching in Seinäjoen kansalaisopisto in September, but my courses finished already two weeks ago. It’s always sad to finish a course and having to say goodbye to the students, specially when they have been so lovely as the ones I had there. But life goes on, and it’s time to face new challenges. Next week I will move to Tampere, a city where I have already lived for one year and that I really love, and I will look for a job there.

However, my time in Seinäjoki has been very important for me, since I had the opportunity to start working in Finland and to gain some teaching experience here. My Finnish language skills improved significantly during these months, and I met a lot of nice people.

The library of Seinäjoki

The library of Seinäjoki

I taught four courses, and also substituted other teachers in some lessons, so I could teach English and Spanish from level A1 to advanced courses, which was a very valuable experience. My courses were a beginners’ course of Spanish, an advanced conversation course of English, an advanced conversation course of Spanish, and a language immersion course of English for children of ages 4-6. In the beginners’ course of Spanish I had to use Finnish as the language of instruction, since the students didn’t know any Spanish yet, and that was a big challenge for me, but after a few lessons I started to be more and more fluent when explaining grammar or telling them anecdotes, and I was very positively surprised about how quickly I started to speak Finnish more naturally in the class. And I somehow think that the fact that my students saw that I was speaking Finnish, even if with many mistakes, and we were still communicating effectively was motivating for them, since they could feel that they didn’t need to be afraid of making mistakes when speaking Spanish, because I was making mistakes all the time in Finnish and it was ok. I think that this was the main reason why they weren’t very shy or afraid when it came to speak or write short texts.

The conversation groups were very nice, because all the students had an advanced level of the language, and we used to talk about many different topics and the atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly. There was time of course for some grammatical explanations when needed and many new words came up in the conversations, but something the students told me after the course was that they really liked the fact that it didn’t feel like “going to class” with taking notes and so on, that they felt as if they were meeting some friends in a café just to talk about everything. It’s wonderful to receive positive feedback from the students, and this year I have been very lucky to receive so much of it.

With some of the English conversation group students.

With some of the English conversation group students.

The language immersion group for children was definitely a challenge, since it was the first time I was teaching children of such a young age. I will tell some more about this kind of immersion courses in a separate entry, but I can say that the experience was also very positive and that the last day some of the children hugged me and said that they didn’t want the course to end. The most difficult thing for me with that course was to communicate with the kids, since the way children speak Finnish is a bit different from the way adults speak, and what I had learned. So the first few days I didn’t understand much of what they were telling me and this was an obstacle, of course. But, as they say here, harjoitus tekee mestarin (practice makes perfect) and one day I realized that I was starting to understand them and I could enjoy the funny things children say out of the blue, such as:

– No, I can’t color that drawing.

– Why not?

– Because right now I need to take care of this teddy bear.

In the groups where I taught just some few lessons as substitute teacher I also had a great time, and some students were very happy when they saw me enter in the classroom. With them I could also see that my full-of-mistakes Finnish was not a problem, but something that encouraged the students to speak English or Spanish without the fear of doing it wrong. I used to start every lesson with a new group apologizing for my Finnish, and in several cases they said “no, don’t worry, you speak Finnish much better than we speak Spanish/English!”. As I said, they were all lovely.

Three of my Spanish students.

Three of my Spanish students.

What I have learned teaching these months here has been very valuable, and I can’t wait to keep growing professionally in Tampere. People always say that when you do a job that you love, it doesn’t feel like a job at all, and teaching languages is definitely something that I love and I hope that I will be able to keep enjoying it for many more years to come!

Vapaan sivistystyön koulutuspäivä 28.3.2014 – SUKOL ry

Last Friday I attended a Training Day for language teachers organized by SUKOL ry, the “Federation of Foreign Language Teachers in Finland”, or “Suomen kieltenopettajien liitto”, in Finnish. The event was held in Tampere, and there were more than 100 attendees coming from institutions from all over Finland.

The place of the event was the Tampereen työväenopisto, Sampola, and the premises were very suitable for an event of this kind. The building is rather new, and it was very spacious and even if it was on a Friday and there were probably many courses taking place at the same time, there were no problems concerning the organization.

I arrived by train with some colleagues from Seinäjoen kansalaisopisto around 9 am and there were already some people in the hall. We registered and got a folder with the program for the day, some papers to write notes, a feedback form to give in at the end of the day, a certificate of assistance, and the list of all the participants. I personally considered that having the list of names was a good thing, since we were able to see quickly whether there was going to be some people that we knew. I did recognize the names of two other teachers that I had met online, so I could look for them to say hello.

In the hall, beside the registration desk, there were also some products we could take, like some nice stickers with the slogan “Kieliä? Yes, please!” (Languages? Yes, please!) in many different languages; things that we could buy, like ribbons for the luggage and handbags with the same slogan, etc. There were also many textbooks from different publishers on display, and Otava was presenting some new books of several languages.

There were also some other products on display, and we had the opportunity of participating in the raffle of an Ipad Mini and some books. No, unfortunately I did not win any of the prizes.


Before the sessions started we were offered some coffee for breakfast, and it was a good way of starting to meet everybody. My colleagues and I soon noticed that almost all the attendees were women. We went through the list of names and we saw that there were only 7 men there, and around 100 women. I guess this is quite common in events for language teachers all over the world. Then, a bell started to ring and it was time to go to the auditorium for the beginning of the training day, or “koulutuspäivä”. First we had some welcoming words from the president of SUKOL, Kari Jukarainen; followed by a very funny presentation of the city of Tampere by Marjatta Saari. She not only showed us pictures of the city and explained some things about its story, but also taught us something about the dialect of the city. For this purpose she was wearing a T-shirt and a hat where it was written the word “moro”, which is a very typical way of saying “hello” in Tampere. She was also wearing a tracksuit, and said that it was very typical to wear tracksuits there. Her presentation was very funny and a good way of making people “wake up” and focus on the panels. Since the language used was Finnish, it was a challenge for me to follow the presentations, but I was positively surprised because I found myself understanding quite well most of what was being said.

The first panel was by Tuula Lehtonen, from the Language Center of the University of Helsinki, and was called “Mitä meidän tulisi tietää opiskelijoista, mutta emme uskalla kysyä?(What should we know about the students but don’t dare to ask?). It dealt with some interesting questions, such as “How do we define good language skills?”. She presented the results of some study where they asked this to both Finnish Law students and international students studying in Helsinki, and it was interesting to see that both groups gave similar answers. Aspects such as the ability to interact with other people, even when dealing with complex issues; being able to adapt the communication style to the different situations we may encounter; understanding what people say and being able to write correctly and express ourselves were amongst the more popular answers. The ease of use, the ease of learning the language, and self-confidence when speaking the foreign language were also mentioned. Regarding the ease of learning, some of the students of the study said that it was a gift, something that some people is born with. Personally, I think that this is true to some extent, some people do find it easier than others to learn foreign languages, whereas for other people this is something rather difficult. However, everybody is capable of learning a foreign language, regardless of how long it will take, and everybody needs to dedicate plenty of time, effort, perseverance, and a lot of motivation to the learning process. My favourite aspect of the ones mentioned in the study was “the ability to get things done using the other language”. This is something that happens especially when we are living in the country where the language we learn is spoken, since we need to use it when going to the supermarket, to the doctor, to the bank to open an account, when dealing with official paperwork with the authorities… And it is always a very important boost to our self-confidence when we discover that we are actually able to get things done using only the other language. That feeling right after the first time that you do something important in that language is probably one of the best feelings for language learners, and something we will probably always remember.

Mrs Lehtonen also left an open question in her panel, about how would education be in the future. Would there be robots instead of teachers? Would we teach in groups, instead of being just one teacher in each classroom? Would the new technologies replace live teaching by video-conferences? Only time will tell.

The next panel was a very short presentation by Seppo Niemelä called “Onko vapaalla sivistystyöllä tulevaisuutta?(Will non-formal adult education exist in the future?). And it presented this question and left it unanswered, even if we all hope that the answer is “yes”.

At 12 we had a break for lunch and to continue taking a look to the new textbooks on display. The food was very similar to the food that I have eaten in Finnish universities – varied, with vegetarian and gluten-free options, and a lot of rice and potatoes. And of course, different types of tasty bread and butter.

After lunch we had some workshops in different languages so we could choose the ones we were more interested in. In the first group there were two workshops in Finnish, one in Swedish, and one in English. In the second group there were three in Finnish and one in Spanish. Being a teacher of English and Spanish I obviously attended those two. The English workshop was called “It’s not just what you say, it’s also whom you say it to – Navigating new words in the English language“, and was presented by Robert Hollingsworth, from the Language Center of the University of Tampere. We discussed about what makes a new word new, and what is the definition of “new word”. It was an entertaining presentation where we could all participate and contribute. We went through 10 “new words” in the English language and even learnt some, since there were some words that most of us did not know. As we all expected, the word “selfie” was the first one, and we learnt that even if it started to become very popular just recently, its first use was in Australia in 2002. So maybe it’s not as new as we thought. The speaker was very funny and we all laughed quite much, but we also had time for some serious linguistic issues, such as the factors required for a new word to be born: the existence of a new signified, a new concept, a prominent usage on the internet or real life, and the stamp of an authority (appearing in a dictionary). Most of the participants agreed that the presence in a dictionary was not as important as a regular and extended usage among the speakers. One of the most interesting things that we learnt in this lecture was that the word “unfriend”, so used nowadays as a verb thanks to Facebook, was already used in the Middle Ages as a noun, meaning “someone who is not a friend” or even “an enemy”, as in “he is not my friend anymore, he is my unfriend”. We were not presented with any evidence of this, but it was an interesting fact.

Between the two workshops we had another coffee break with delicious “pulla“. And then it was time for the Spanish workshop led by Luis Alberto Pérez Noyola, called “El español coloquial del ayer y hoy(The colloquial Spanish of yesterday and today). He gave us some papers with detailed explanations about the neutral Spanish, the body language, the social and geographical varieties of the language, etc. But since he was from Mexico, he showed us a bit of some very colloquial slang spoken there, using a song. Since this was a very specific way of speaking, all the words were new for us, except for my Mexican colleague, of course. This ended up taking most of the time, and some people seemed to be a bit confused for having learnt so many new words that they would probably never use. But it was something interesting to see. We also had the opportunity of trying some traditional chocolate from Mexico.

And after the second workshop we had the last panel of the day. It was called “Työnilo – pää(n)asia(Happiness at work, main issues/an issue of the mind), by Marja-Liisa Manka, from the University of Tampere. She told us about the importance of having a positive mindset at work (and in general), how to be a good superior, and how to avoid stress and other health problems that are caused by it. One of the conclusions was that nature is a very powerful ally to calm down and relax. The speaker did have a very positive attitude and somehow passed it on the attendees, who laughed a lot with her jokes, so the whole panel was full of positivity.

And after this last presentation, we had dinner and the publisher Otava presented their new textbooks of each language, so we were seated divided in different tables for different languages. This was a good way of meeting other colleagues who teach the same language(s) and also of getting to know the books and their authors. We could also take the books home, since we liked them quite much. The Spanish textbook that was presented to us was called “Buenas Migas 1” and is designed to last 1 year and a half in our courses. I did find it very complete and easy to use, so I can’t wait to use it in my lessons someday. The English textbook was called “Destinations 1” and it also looks very up-to-date and comprehensive. The food we were offered was delicious and very varied. It made us use several times a “new word” we were taught in the English workshop: food baby.

Buenas Migas_Destinations
Around 7 pm people started to leave, specially the ones who live in different parts of Finland and had to take a train back home, like we did. It was a very good experience and the organization of the event was faultless. All the presentations were interesting and entertaining and it was a very good opportunity to make new contacts from our professional field. Since the experience was so good, I will certainly attend more Training Days organized by SUKOL, specially in they are in Tampere, because I will move there next month.

That being said, I would like to thank SUKOL for organizing such an interesting event!

A delicious research

First of all, sorry for the long absence. A lot of work entails a lack of time, but also a lot of experience from which some blog posts can be born at some point. Hopefully.

Today I want to talk about the curious case of the terms used by several languages to refer to a delicious fruit, the peach. In one of my lessons my student and I realized that this term was very similar in all the languages we knew, except in Spanish. This led me to make a little research and I discovered some interesting issues that I wanted to share here. Of course, there are many more languages in which the term is also different, but at that moment we did not know more than just a few, even if from different language families.


So, where does “peach” come from? It comes from the Latin name of the fruit, persica, through the Old French peach and the Middle English peche. Persica comes from the Greek persikē, meaning “Persian”, since people in the Classical times used to believe that this fruit came from Persia. We also find the Latin name malum Persicum, meaning “Persian apple”. This term is the ancestor of the English peach, but also of the French pêche, the Catalan préssec, the Galician pexego, the Portuguese pêssego, the German Pfirsich, the Finnish persikka, the Gaelic péitseog, the Italian pesco, the Lithuanian persikas, the Latvian persiks, the Dutch perzik, the Romanian piersic, the Russian персик, or the Swedish persika, among others. As we can see, quite a big group.

However, in Spanish this fruit is called melocotón. This term also comes from Latin, but not from the Latin name of the fruit, but from malus cotonus, which meant “Coton apple”which was the Latin name for the quince tree. And why did the name of this tree end up being adapted as the name of another tree? Apparently, Romans used to graft peaches near the roots of the quince trees, believing that this technique would be beneficial for the tree. In some Spanish-speaking countries peaches can also be called duraznos, coming from the Latin “durus acinus”, which means “of hard skin”.



There are other languages in which the term comes also from persica, but there were some modifications. Three Scandinavian languages received the term from German, where we can find the letters “Pf”. In Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic, the “p” was lost and the “f” remained. Therefore, we have fersken, ferskentræ, and ferskja respectively.

So, as we can see, the Latin term for “peach” had a big influence in many present-day languages, and Latin also brought as the Spanish term, even if through a different tree. I hope that you enjoyed this little anecdote and that we do not need to wait 4 more months until the next entry! : )

“An offer he can’t refuse…”

Starting with this quote from the classic movie “The Godfather” by Francis Ford Coppola I want to discuss an interesting topic that I had never thought about until a couple of weeks ago. In one of my English lessons a student was explaining something about her goddaughter, but she didn’t remember the word for this and said it in Finnish: “kummityttö”. Suddenly, all the other students started to say that the word she was looking for was “goddaughter” “because it’s like in “godfather”, like the movie.” This made me think about the difference between Finnish and most of the other languages when referring to these relationships. I have been making a little research and I couldn’t find another language that behaves like Finnish in this.

Most languages refer to the godfather and the godmother including (directly or indirectly) the words for “father” and “mother”, and thus showing the concept of that these people would take over the education of the child should something bad happen to the parents. It would be something like “substitute parents”. Therefore, it is important to include the words for “father” and “mother”. But in Finnish the words that they include are “setä” and “täti”, which mean “uncle” and “aunt”. The godfather is “kummisetä” and the godmother is “kummitäti”.

kummisetä1 kummisetä2

In English we do include the words “father” and “mother”, but this happens in all the languages I have analyzed: In Spanish we say “padrino” and “madrina”, including the root of “padre” and “madre”. Most of the Romance languages also use this method. In Portuguese they have “padrinho” and “madrinha”, similar to the Galician “padriño” and “madriña”. In Catalan, however, they talk about “padrí” and “padrina”, including only the concept of the father. In French they have “parrain” and “marraine”, following the same pattern as their Southern neighbours. In Italian the words are the same as in Spanish: “padrino” and “madrina”, though in the South of the country they also use “compare” and “commare”, keeping the concepts of father and mother but in the end of the words.

German, as Catalan, includes only the masculine concept: “Pate” and “Patin”. But the other Germanic languages follow the most common method, like English. Thus, we have Norwegian, Swedish and Danish that share the terms: “gudfar” and “gudmor”. In Icelandic they have “guðfaðir” and”guðmóðir”, the same roots again. In Faroese the words change a bit as well, but the roots still refer to father and mother: “gudpápar” and “gudmammur”. In Dutch they continue with the Germanic tradition by calling them “peetvader” and “peetmoeder”.

But this trend is not only found in Germanic and Romance languages. In Polish they use a different construction but they include the words for “father” and “mother”: “ojciec chrzestny” (being “ojciec” father”), and “matka chrzestna” (being “matka” mother, and as a funny note: “matka” means trip in Finnish… This is why I love languages!). In Russian they say “крёстный отец” and “крёстная мать”, which makes sense since “отец” means “father” and “мать” is “mother”.

Hungarian, a language of the Finno-Ugric family don’t follow the system of its distant relative, but follow the mainstream path instead: They have “keresztapa” because “apa” means “father”; and “keresztanya”, since “anya” means “mother”.

In Asian languages we have, once again, the same: Chinese children can have a “教父” and a “教母” and, as you can imagine by now, “父” is the character for “father” and “母” means “mother”. Japanese use these same characters but the words change slightly: “代父” and “代母”.

So, why is Finnish so alone in this? Why did they choose to use the words “uncle” and “aunt” instead of “father” and “mother” like the other languages? In my research I haven’t found any other language that behaves like Finnish or even in a different way than the common trend, but there are many languages in the world and there may be other languages that have different ways of expressing this relationship. If someone knows more examples of languages that use “uncle” and “aunt”, or even totally different concepts, I would really like to read about it in the comments. So please, don’t hesitate to share it with us.

What do the animals say?

It has been a while since I wanted to write a post about the sounds animals make in different languages, but I think that this is the right time for that due to a certain song that is getting very famous and raises a very interesting question.

It is rather interesting that even if animals do more or less the same sound in different countries, people have adapted them to the phonetics of their language to put into words these sounds. However, some studies show that animals also “speak different languages”, that is, use different series of sounds in different geographical areas. I have myself noticed that seagulls in Finland and in the North of Spain do not make the same sounds, since in my home-town you can listen to them all the time and somehow you know some of the series of sounds they do every day, but in Finland I have never heard them doing those particular series… Maybe they were speaking Finnish-seagull, who knows?

Let’s start comparing the sound that dogs make in different languages: In English dogs say “woof-woof”, similar to the German “wuff-wuff” and the French “wouaff-wouaff”. But in Spanish dogs say “guau-guau”, similar to the Italian “vau-vau”, the Finnish “hau-hau” and the Estonian “auh-auh”. But then we have other different sounds, like the Russian “gav-gav”, the Korean “mong-mong”, or the Ukranian “breshe”.

When it comes to cats there is more agreement in the different languages, but we can still find some very different examples. In English cats say “meow”, in Spanish, Danish, Hebrew, Portuguese, Hungarian, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish they go “miau”, in Italian and French they say “miao” and in Dutch they say “miauw”. But there are other cat languages, or so can be supposed from the fact that Japanese cats say “nyan”, in Korea they say “yaong”, and in Estonia they say “näu”.


What about cows? In English they say “moo”, which is what they say in most other languages, even if changing a bit the spelling. In Spanish, Portuguese, and Swedish they say “muu”, in Japanese they say “moh”, Norwegian cows go “mø”, and in Finland they say “ammuu”. But Polish cows for some reason say “yazoo”, in Estonia they say “mop”, and Dutch cows say “boe”. These last three examples are a bit curious, aren’t they?

Roosters have also a very peculiar sound that languages have tried to adapt but with different results: English roosters say “cook-a-doodle-do”, but in Spain they say “kikirikii” and in German “kikeriki”. French roosters prefer to say “cocorico”. In Korea rooster prefer to say something shorter, like “ko-ki-oh”, a preference not shared by Finnish (“kukkokiekoo”), Japanese (“kokekoko”), Norwegian (“kykkeliky”) or Swedish (“kuckeliku”).

Another farm animal, the pig, offers also some interesting variations: In English, Spanish, and Portuguese pigs say “oink”, but in Portuguese is often written “óinc”. Finnish pigs say “röh röh”, and Hungarian say “röf röf”. This f-ending is shared with Swedish “nöff nöff”, Norwegian “nøff nøff”, and Danish “øf øf”. French pigs say “groin groin” whereas German pigs say “grunz”. Dutch, Japanese, and Albanian offer the most interesting ones with “knor knor”, “bu-bu”, and “hunk” respectively.

Ducks are said to make the only sound that produces no echo, but how is this written in different languages? English ducks say “quack”, like the Spanish “cuack” and similar to the Finnish “vaak” and Turkish “vak”. French ducks say “coin” but Danish say “rap”, and Hungarian say “háp”. Romanian ducks say “mac”, and Estonian ducks win the prize to the strangest sound with their “prääks”.

English birds say the famous “tweet” that is nowadays well-known everywhere for other reasons, but in other languages they usually say something starting with “p”. In Spain they say “pio-pio”, in Portuguese “piu-piu”, in Swedish and Norwegian “pip pip” and in Japanese “pi pi”. In French they say “cui cui”, in Dutch “tjilp tjilp”, in Japanese “chun chun”, and in Finnish “tsirp tsirp”.

Sheep have two options: They can either say something that starts with “b” or something that starts with “m”. Sheep that preferred the “b” option moved to Spain, Hungary, Russia or Italy “bee”, Holand “bè bè”, England “baa”, France “bêê”, Germany “baehh”, or to Sweden “bä bä”. However, sheep that found easier to pronounce the letter “m” moved to Finland “mää”, Denmark “mæh-mæh”, Greece “maeee”, Japan “meh”, and Turkey “maeh”.

When it comes to horses we can find similar versions of the same sound. English horses say “wehee”, Spanish horses say something like “ihiiihihi”, Finnish horses say “iihahaa”, Dutch say “hihi”, and French, Italian and Japanese say “hiiiii”. But German, Hungarian, and Turkish horses are a bit different: They say “wiihiee”, “nyihaha”, and “e-he-he-he”.

And now, does anybody know what does the fox say in any language? ; )

Feel free to add some other sounds you know, or to correct some of these in the comments.

My affair with Chinese and Japanese

First of all, sorry for not posting much during the summer, but I have been quite busy preparing a moving abroad and other issues. In September the blog will have more activity again, but meanwhile enjoy today’s entry.

Some weeks ago I told Mª Teresa Moya that I would write about my experience studying Chinese and Japanese, so here you are! My affair with Asian languages started around 2005, when my mother bought me a Madarin Chinese phrasebook as a joke. I have always loved learning languages and when I was 9 years old I learnt to count to 10 in several languages, Japanese and Chinese among them. In 2005 people was starting to say that China was becoming a powerful country and that “Chinese is the future”. In this context my mother decided to buy me this phrasebook to see whether I liked the language, but she probably didn’t expect me to devour the book as if it was a novel. I was really intrigued about the symbols that constitute words and I enjoyed looking for similarities in symbols for words with similar meanings. It was a whole new world for me to discover, and I wanted to learn everything I could!

More or less in that same period I also started to get interested in Japanese, and the cause was manga and anime, which is probably the reason why 95% of Japanese students get into the language. After watching many movies and episodes of series in Japanese with subtitles I started to understand words and sentences. Again, my love for languages made it easy for me to assimilate the grammatical constructions and the basics of the language. Of course, the writing system was fascinating and I started to study the syllabaries by myself thanks to the many resources online for Japanese. Since I had liked the Chinese phrasebook, I bought its Japanese counterpart, from the publisher Espasa. People have always said that languages are easy for me and that I learn fast, and they are right, since after a few months studying Japanese by myself I had achieved a basic but good level.

The phrasebooks that became my first contact with these languages

The phrasebooks that became my first contact with these languages

By that time I was a high-school student, and I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to study in university. I had some options in mind, most of them related to languages, and I started to think about a degree on Asian Languages, but it was still early to make a decision. Life was easy back then : ) In the summer of 2006 I took my first Chinese course, a 1 month summer course in the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas of A Coruña. They offered also courses of Japanese and of many other languages, but I could only attend one because they were all at the same time. I had to choose between Chinese and Japanese and I eventually went for the Chinese course because I had learnt more Japanese by myself and I needed some guidance with Chinese. The course was very interesting and I learnt many new things. I was enjoying the language and the difficulties were only challenges. The next summer the same courses were offered again, so I signed up for the Japanese course without a doubt. Since I had been studying the language on my own for some time and the course was for beginners there were many things that I already knew, but I also learnt some other things that my non-organized self-study had missed. However, a few months later I had to make a very important decision. 2007 was the first year that Chinese and Japanese were offered in the official program of the language school, and once again, I could only attend one of them. The decision was difficult, but I chose Chinese because I found it more difficult to study on my own. That September I had to leave Japanese aside for a while.

I started to study in university the same year that I enrolled in the Chinese official course, so I didn’t have much time left to study Japanese as a hobby. But I kept on studying and that same year I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (better known as Noken) and I passed the level 4, which now would be a level 5 after they changed the system. I passed the test after study by myself, except for that summer course, so I was very optimistic about my skills.

I continued studying Chinese in the language school for three years, but after the first and the second year things started to get more and more difficult. I got very good grades in the first and second year, but the third year was also my third year in university and I had a lot of essays to write, a lot of classes, a lot of books to read, and a lot to study. So adding the homework and study of the Chinese lessons was too much. I started to miss some lessons when I had too much work on university and I realised that after missing just one lesson I was completely lost when I came back. One of my classmates helped me a lot by sending me the scanned notes she took in class and the new vocabulary that they were learning, (thank you, Fátima!) but even with her help Chinese was getting more and more difficult and was demanding a higher level of study and dedication that I wasn’t able to give it in that time. When we got at the end of the course and I had the final exams both in university and in the language school I was overwhelmed. I got to the point of crying out of frustration after the lessons because I was feeling that a boat was leaving without me. I did great in university because that was my priority, but I realised that even if I was able to pass the speaking, listening, and grammar parts of the Chinese exam, I wouldn’t pass the writing part, and I needed to pass all 4 parts to pass the course. So then came the next big and hard decision: I did not take the exam. I felt very frustrated because I had put so much effort and so many hours that it was hard to decide not to take the exam and waste all those years of study. Students had the opportunity to take the final exam again in September, but that year I got an Erasmus grant to spend one year studying in Finland, and I had to leave in August, so it wasn’t possible for me to take the exam in September. I remember that when I told my Chinese teacher that I wasn’t going to take the exam and explained to her the situation she understood it and told me: “But don’t quit studying Chinese!”. But I did.

When I moved to Finland I wanted to learn Finnish because I also love this language, so my priority during my stay there was to learn Finnish, so I had no time for Chinese or Japanese. And after my stay I finished my university studies and it was time to decide what I really wanted to do in the future and which steps I had to take to fulfill my dreams. After thinking about it I realised that if I continued studying Chinese or Japanese I would have to dedicate my life to them and the path related to that would imply living in China or Japan for a while to improve my language skills. Without living in Asia I would never be fluent in any of these languages, and I realised that my heart was in a different place. I realised that the path marked by the Asian languages was not what I wanted and that it didn’t make sense to keep making such a big effort in studying them if I was not going to actually “use” them or to need them. Actually, I was going to need a very fluent Finnish to follow my heart, and since this language also requires a complete dedication and I was going to use it and to need it, I decided to go for it.

We could say that Chinese and Japanese have been like a romantic disappointment for me, but I don’t think that I have wasted all the time I spent studying them, because even if I forgot many things and my skills are a bit rusty, everything you learn can be useful at some point and it all enriches your life. I’m probably more skilled when it comes to assimilate grammatical constructions and how languages work after having studied Chinese and Japanese, which by the way, are VERY different from one another. You can see a glimpse of these differences here. People used to ask me “But you study Japanese or Chinese?” “Both”. “But aren’t they all the same?” “No….”

So, that’s the story of my affair with Chinese and Japanese. I don’t consider it finished, though. I’m still fascinated by these languages, so I don’t rule out the possibility of keeping learning a bit more of them, even if just for fun.