Language learning supports

Last last night, I hit one of the many small milestones I give myself in the ongoing quest of learning/teaching myself Finnish. I hit 650 words covered in my Memrise vocabulary course. This is very slightly over 20 per cent of the quest.

If you spend any time around the world of language learning online, you tend to come across any number of methods that promise to make things easy to learn to be fluent in a language. There is Fluent in 3 Months, for example, and then there is Duolingo which everyone rams down your throat when it comes to educational software.

If you drill down to what you need to learn to be able to speak a language, it generally amounts to learning a lot of words, and learning the framework for putting it together. So a lot depends on your response to the idea that to at least have a fighting chance of learning a language you need to learn some grammar, and you need to learn some words, a number in the thousands. A lot of people, particularly English native speakers, have problems with both because they have never been motivated enough to handle this for any language other than their own, and very often, they have not gotten a decent grammatical framework in their own language owing to teaching policy changes over the last 30-40 years. In that context, easy solutions seem enticing; but they do not remove the need to learn some grammar and learn some vocabulary.

There are no discussions around “what is fluency anyway” which removes from you the need to learn these things.

So currently I am learning Finnish (again) in a country where, it must be said, teaching support is thin on the ground. My tools in this task are (a) four weeks of Finnish in Finland in 1998 (b) a bunch of text books acquired around then (c) (d) YLE’s website (e) Memrise (f) Facebook and (g) a notebook.

Tunein gives me access to radio to listen to. I listen (if I am awake) to the morning program on YLE Puhe because it covers international news so I have context that I can get an idea of what’s going on. What matters is that I learn to hear words that I’m learning else where.

YLE has the news in Easy Finnish for learners. One of the most useful things there is that as you pick up Finnish vocabulary, this gets easier and easier to read. Facebook has newsfeeds from a bunch of Finnish media organisations. I don’t have time to read them all but most days I get to look at things and try and figure what is happening in Finland. Yesterday was National Nature Day in Finland, a day on which Finns are encouraged to go out and enjoy the wonderful nature around them. I can categorically say that Finland is a stunning country and I fully endorse this exercise. Bring mosquito repellent.

But for those to work for you, for the radio and the newspapers to start making sense you need to start looking at vocabulary and basically, a lot depends on how you want to approach that; either via long printed lists, or handwriting your own lists, your own testing cards for example. I’ve always know that you don’t learn vocabulary by trying to learn it off, but by constantly testing yourself and aside from creating some system to do it yourself, Memrise is actually the handiest tool to do that. They dress what they are doing up in some science in terms of identifying when you get tested on stuff which I haven’t fully worked out yet but it doesn’t matter. The important thing from my point of view is that Memrise has a handful of Finnish tools, including one vocabulary list of 3000 words and another list of verbs as a vocab list. They have similar large lists for other languages.

Learning 3000 words of Finnish isn’t going to mean I speak or write Finnish although it does mean I understand more of it, so the other thing that I am now doing most days (now that I have 600 words or so to play with) is write some Finnish – simple and all as it is – daily.

So I have a daily schedule that now involves the following:

  • reviewing the vocab I already have
  • learning new vocab
  • learning new verbs
  • conjugating verbs per info in my grammar book
  • reading the news in Easy Finnish from YLE

The thing is, learning a language takes time and effort. I’ve targetted next year to see about taking advanced Finnish exams which means the ante has to be upped as I get better. I know from past experience that the more words I know, in general, the easier subsequent words become to learn as you start to develop a language instinct. I know from past experience that the more I read, the better I will write.

There is really only one thing missing from all this and that is the problem relating to speaking. I am not yet doing any of that. I know there are online options for language exchange but the last time I looked for one, my language interest wasn’t available. But I’m resourceful and I dare say that I will figure something out, either through finding an online message board in Finnish related to some other interest I have, or by hacking the Finnish community on twitter. There are always doors which can be opened.