Tag: Finnish language

YKI Test: How It Was / Do’s and Don’ts

This summer has been quite busy for me, as I was preparing to take a YKI Test (yleinen kielitutkinto). It’s a Finnish language test that is required for different purposes, most often official (Finnish citizenship, employer’s requirement, etc.). There are three test levels, and the most common one is intermediate level. This is the one I’ll be talking about.

I’m not sure what I have been thinking about when I was choosing the date. The test is organized several times a year, and I somehow thought that summer will be slow and I’ll have plenty of time to study. However, summer is that time of the year that people n Finland enjoy sun, “white nights” and, occasionally, nice weather. It is also THE time for parties and celebrations, and this is why we didn’t have any free weekends in July. It’s not easy to be constantly divided between a desire to walk in sunny streets of Helsinki and enjoy some book and ice cream in the park or stay at home and study for the test. So, from the timing prospective, although autumn and winter are generally busy seasons, I think I’d choose November or January for test taking purposes. Darkness really helps studying 🙂

Another thing to keep in mind about timing is that it takes around 2 months to get the results. In practice it means that if you fail the first time, you’ll always have to skip the next available test date, because at the time the registration starts you don’t know you results yet. For example, if you take a test in April, you get you results in June. Next test will be held in August, but registration is already in May. It’s not bad per se, and one can use that gap time to prepare, but it might be crucial for those that need to pass a test by a certain date.

It’s important to register on time. One thing I learned in the process, there is no unified registration start time apart from the date. Some places open as early as 8am, some at 12pm and so on. Most places also require immediate payment of the test fee. If you are in Helsinki, most test places are gone within the first 15 min or so. My issue was that I didn’t know about immediate payment part, and as I didn’t have my e-codes with me, I had to chose the test center that offered “pay later” option.

There are four parts of the test: writing, reading comprehension, listening comprehension and speaking. All of those are timed. Everything was as described on Finnish Board of Education site, except that listening comprehension part it is 20 min of actual test and then 10 min of moving the marked answers from the booklet to the answer sheet. I didn’t have any problems with the time, but I think it’s because I did a lot of similar tests before: one similar language test (TOEFL) and a lot of multiple choice question tests while studying in States. Loosing scores just because you didn’t have time to finish a task is not good. On the bright side, this is something that can be fixed by training and practicing.

In terms of difficulty, it’s not so black and white. I can’t say that whether YKI test was easy or difficult. Its content varied and tasks had different level of complexity. Maybe the easiest way to describe it is to have a look at each section separately.

Reading comprehension section had the most different levels of tasks complexity. One group of tasks was very short texts (one or two paragraphs) with three questions to answer. This was very difficult for me. Questions were very detailed, and texts had lots of words I didn’t know. Given that they were short, there was no chance to get more context. I had to guess a few times and just write my best guesses. Other group of tasks were mid-size texts and true or false questions. There it was important to read the question carefully and compare the statement to what’s actually said in the text. It was not so difficult, apart from a couple of questions written in an especially complex way. The third group of tasks – long texts with multiple choice questions was the one I liked the most. Plenty of text, which means you have better chances to pick up the main ideas, and a lot of chances to get it right even without understanding everything. For example, if you know that two other options are wrong, then the remaining one is the right one.

Listening comprehension was tricky. Some tasks were very easy and in some tasks I wouldn’t understand everything. All of the tasks involved listening, and required either writing down the answer in your own words, or choosing right or wrong, or multiple choice questions. In few cases, the question would name a number of answers you need to give. For example, list the reasons why this or that happened (2 reasons). And I would understand only one or none at all 🙂 I don’t know how those answers of mine will be graded, but hopefully not too low.

Speaking was tricky, but not complex. We had a very short time to prepare ourselves and think what to say before we would start to speak. The hardest part was somewhere in the middle when there are 6 different situations, and you need to say something about each. They moved fast, it was almost always 30 sec to think and 20 sec to say something. I didn’t have any watch showing a count of seconds, so I never knew whether I still have time or whether I need to wrap up quickly. A couple of times recording would stop in the middle of my sentence, and other times I would have 10 sec of silence as I finished before time. Not sure whether it was a good or bad thing, but it’s really hard to do without having a watch. I didn’t do any practice for speaking – I speak every day at work and elsewhere, but I think practicing speaking with timer could help me to understand better how to make a good use of speaking time.

Writing was a relaxed part. There are only three tasks and generous 50 min to finish them. One task was to write an opinion piece, and you can choose the topic. When I was getting ready for the test, this was the hardest part for me. I would always make mistakes, consult with a dictionary, browse grammar book for an hour take a break, and then quickly try to write something. At the actual test it went quite smoothly, and after I was done with the first task, I felt like the situation is under control.

All in all, the YKI test was quite tricky, it was easier than I expected, although it took a toll on me. It takes 4.5 hours on Saturday, and I needed a lot of time to recover. There was one long break half way through (30 min), and one short bathroom break after the first part. The “lunch” break was nice to have as there is time to put yourself together, have a snack and continue with new energy.

The results will be available only in two months, so I will know how I did on the test only in October. In the meantime, I’ll write a separate post on how I studied for the test and some tips. It’s not an easy test, but also is not the end of the world. Good luck to those who are taking the test in November 🙂

How to Learn Finnish and Stay Sane

I’ve been learning Finnish for some time now, and I had my fair share of ups and downs. So, I decided to go over my learning experience to figure out what caused my falls and what I can do better. I noticed that my learning difficulties is a direct result of a certain line of thinking. There are particular thoughts that block my efforts at times. I tried to collect these thoughts together and add some tips on how to manage frustration and achieve some progress along the way. This list is not conclusive, and there are other ideas that get into my head whenever I take a Finnish grammar book, but I found those listed below particularly harmful and tricky to deal with. Mainly, it’s a manual for me, but I’ll be happy if it helps someone else too. So, here they are:

“Finnish is a difficult language”

Source: Vivas.us

We all heard it many times. There is a statistic out there confirming this fact too, so I’m not going to argue this thesis. Instead, let’s travel in time and go back to our first experience of learning any foreign language. Didn’t it feel overwhelming? Wasn’t it tricky and hard? I vividly remember trying to speak English to our native-speaking teachers in a summer school camp. They were smiling and nodding, but I could tell that they didn’t understand what I was trying to say. It was upsetting. Same applies to any other learning experience. For example, riding a bike. How easy was it when you first tried it? How many times you fell down and hit yourself before you could keep your balance and turn the pedals? When you try something for the first time it’s always hard. Don’t allow yourself to overthink the difficulty of the task at hand. You’ll get better over time, if you practice a lot. Fails are inevitable, so, instead of fearing them, accept them and move forward.

“I don’t have skills to learn this language”

language skills

To be honest, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a language skill. To be good at languages you need a good memory (to be able to form a vocabulary and have a good command of rules) and logic (to understand how rules work and how different topics are interrelated). Both of those can be improved. Memorize poems or browse Internet for some exercises to hone your logic thinking skills. There are some useful apps too. Through some trial and research I’m sure you’ll find something that works for you. Can’t improve both? Focus on one. You’ll soon notice how it affects your studies. I did some memory exercises and it helped me to enhance my Finnish vocabulary. Of course, I still have some bad days, when the word I learned in the morning is completely out there and living its own life somewhere else outside my head by the evening. But the number of good days increased too, and this does feel good. Also, doesn’t let yourself think that you can’t do something. Of course, you can. Everything is possible and is not predetermined in any way by some given abilities. You just use what you have and work with it.

“Finnish language doesn’t make any sense”

Many times when I start diving into a new grammar rule, I look like this:


It does make sense though and the more you learn the more you’ll notice it. Any language is like a spider net – even the smallest threads are a part of a big system. You just need to keep observing – I’m sure you’ll spot something! Finnish is a very interesting language, because most of the words capture the main essence of things they name. For example, the verb “uskaltaa” means “to dare”. It’s related to word “usko” – faith, believe. Indeed, daring to do something requires a strong belief. Another example – “paino” means weight, and the verb “painottaa” means “to emphasize”. And again, emphasizing is, in fact, putting more “weight” on something. It’s always exciting to uncover hidden connections and it makes the process a lot more fun too. If you can’t wrap your head around the concept of the Finnish language right now, don’t get discouraged. The most important thing is to continue learning efforts. The meaning will unveil itself along the way.

“It takes too much time to learn Finnish”

after 5 min of study

Sometimes, I start thinking how long it will take me to perform a certain task. For example, I think that it might take me one more year to be able to draft a decent email to a friend. It will probably take me 2 to 3 years to master emails about professional topics. Although, it’s only an approximation, it’s scary. If you also like to run these annoying calculations from time to time, try to look into the future, say 5 years from now. If you stop any efforts now, 5 years from now nothing changes. However, if you continue to learn, 5 years later you’ll be able to do something you can’t do today. For example, have a conversation with a doctor or an interview in Finnish. Also, if you stop your language accounting and use this time to learn new words or practice a grammar rule, you’ll be one step closer to your goal. Even 5 min a day makes a difference. To conclude, don’t be carried away by the negative thoughts – try to focus on your goals and move forward no matter what. Sooner or later, you’ll achieve them!

start studying

Hope this was helpful to you! Have a great rest of the week everyone!

Teräsmies, Aku Ankka and Others – Unfamiliar Names of Familiar Characters

It was a late gloomy evening in Helsinki. Winter didn’t want to give up, and the weather outside was depressing. I was at the language course. The lesson seemed to last forever, and all of us were tired. To mobilize our remaining energy, the teacher started showing us pictures from the Finnish Spider Man comic books, explaining that Finnish Spider Man’s name is “Hämähäkkimies” (“hämähäkki” – spider, “mies” – man).

By then, I already knew that Donald Duck comic books, for some reason, were wildly popular among Finnish kids, and that’s Donald’s Finnish name is Aku Ankka. Again, it’s a direct translation trick: “ankka” is “duck” and “Aku” stands for “Donald”. In Russia, for example, most superheroes and folk tales characters also have their names translated, but Disney crew and characters from children novels keep their English names transliterated to Cyrillic. So, Pocahontas, for example, is still Pocahontas, it’s just spelled differently – Покахонтас.

I got interested in the topic, and researched it a bit further. Turned out that in Finland almost all characters of kids cartoons and books have Finnish names. I was thinking that maybe this is done so that kids could actually pronounce names and could understand peculiar features of particular heroes. I found the book on how modern authors revise and revive folktales – “Folktales Retold: A Critical Overview of Stories Updated for Children” by Amie A. Doughty.

Apparently, I was right in my guesses. Fairy tales don’t usually mention specific countries or cultures and character names are often quite basic. This is why authors try to make these stories more country specific. Translation of names or giving names to supporting characters is one of the methods to achieve this goal. There is one more thing about Finland though that I need to mention. Not all names are translated in Finnish adaptations, and even within the same story there might be a mix of original and translated names. For example, in “Peter Pan”, Wendy turns to “Leena”, Captain Hook to “Kapteeni Koukku”, Tinkerbell is “Tiikerililja”, but Peter Pan is still good old Peter Pan.

Overall, it seems that the approach to translation of names is not unified. I guess it also depends on who works on a particular performance/play/cartoon/movie/book.

Anyway, I hope by now you are ready to meet some locals 😉 You can play a game – read the Finnish version first, and try to guess who it is without looking at the answer 🙂

Kissanainen – Cat Woman

Teräsmies – Superman

Salama – Flash

Lepakkomies – Batman

Ihmenainen – Wonder Woman

Vihrea Lyhty – Green Lantern

Hämähäkkimies – Spider Man

Herra Fantastinen – Mister Fantastic

Kapteeni Amerikka – Captain America

Musta Leski – Black Widow

Rautamies – Iron Man

Hessu Hopo – Goofy

Ankka – Daisy Duck

Aku Ankka – Donald Duck

Roope Ankka – Scrooge McDuck

Tupu, Hupu, Lupu – Dewey, Huey and Louie

Tuhkimo – Cinderella

Paavo Pesusieni – SpongeBob SquarePants

Puss in Boots – Saapasjalkakissa

Teini-Ikäiset Mutanttininjakilpikonnat – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Tiku ja Taku – Chip ’n’ Dale

Mikki Hiiri – Mickey Mouse

Risto Reipas – Christopher Robin

Nalle Puh – Winnie-the-Pooh

Ruusunen – Sleeping Beauty


The “Week of Misunderstandings”

I have complicated relationships with Finnish language. One week we are best friends: I speak Finnish at the store, at the coffee shop, at the bakery, at the R-Kioski, and I understand what people reply to me. I read short articles in newspapers, and with some help from sanakirja.org, I understand it. I message Markku or our Finnish friends in Finnish. I feel great, and I make plans to buy a fiction book in Finnish or watch the Finnish movie without subtitles.

But another week comes and we are fighting. I’m so angry at it, I won’t even speak. Progress I thought I was making is suddenly just an illusion. The words I was using last week, words that I thought are completely “mine”, escape my memory. I’m feeling lost and tired.

This week is like that. I call it the “week of misunderstandings”.

My first struggle was at the police station. I was looking for information on which room I needed to go. I decided to go to the line formed under a poster in English describing exactly what I needed to get. Spent one hour in that line only to learn that it was a wrong one and I had to go to another section of the station.

I went there. There was a machine issuing queuing number, but the description next to buttons was in Finnish and Swedish. I had no idea which button to press as there were three of them. There was also a huge poster in Finnish with a Swedish translation on top of the machine, but I could only understand “if you need”. Finnish is hard, but official Finnish language is even harder. Whatever – I pressed one of the buttons, got the number and started waiting. My number showed up on the screen in 20 minutes, and I was pleasantly surprised that the waiting was so short. I explained to the officer what I needed, and he said that, unfortunately, I chose the wrong line, and I need to go back to the machine and press another button. He also notified me that average waiting time is approximately 2 hours.

Fine. I got another ticket and waited again. My number came up in 2,5 hours. So, by that time, I spent in the police office 4 hours total due to wrong queuing. Finally, my number showed up! I went to the desk, and explained again what I needed, and the woman looked confused. I started thinking: “O Gee, please, please, please, don’t tell me it’s a wrong line again!” The woman told me in Finnish: “Hetkinen” (i.e. “wait a minute”). Then she left and these 10 minutes felt like eternity. She returned with a young guy with both ears pierced. He spoke English. I explained what I needed yet once again. He said he was happy to help and it took him 5 min to process my request.

I know I could deal with it in a more efficient way. I could ask someone before getting in any of those lines, but there was no info desk and all officers were sitting behind their counters while dealing with customers. I could use Google translate to figure out what the poster says. But I was very stressed, tired and not thinking clearly. My fault.

To add to that, this week we were also going through a new portion of grammar rules at the language course I attend. My Ukrainian classmate recently told me: “I start thinking it’s easier to persuade my wife to move out of Finland than to learn this language”. We are studying now a genitive case. The problem is that it’s very similar to partitive case that we have already covered before, but yet you use them in different situations.

So, the teacher was explaining to us that if you say “kutsuin Pedron meille” (using a genitive case), it means that you invited Pedro to your place and that you expect that Pedro will come. But if you say “kutsuin Pedroa meille” (using a partitive case), it means exactly the same, except you think that Pedro will not show up. Someone cried: “Noooo, it can’t be true.” Someone said: “Fffff”. I was mostly thinking that if I invite someone and then I use genitive case to say this, this someone is better to show up because I don’t waste my genitive for nothing and I don’t like to be mistaken 🙂

Every time we ask the teacher to clarify something especially difficult, he says either to wait until we start book No. 5/6/7, etc., where we’ll focus on it more closely. Or he simply says that most of the Finnish speakers don’t know what the right approach to this issue is and which form is correct, so we shouldn’t worry too much. Which makes us question our decision to learn this language even more.

There is that, but there is also an ongoing repair work in our house (a.k.a. remontti). It means that at least once a week someone calls our doorbell. Electricians to fix the socket that doesn’t work. Painters to put a protection tape around the door. Guys fixing air circulation and heating system. Internet company workers renovating the fiber-optic cords and connections. You got the picture. And here I am – with a vocabulary of a 4 year old.

Last week I was staying home the whole time because I got some awful flu. The guy showed up one day with a metallic ladder explaining me in Finnish what exactly he came to fix. I really didn’t care at the time. I had fever and cough, and my intellectual abilities at the time were close to zero. I was thinking – ok, he is wearing a workman overalls, he has a box with instruments and a ladder. He probably is going to fix something in the celling. I didn’t understand a word, said ok, and simply let him in. Turned out he wanted to check if the fiber optic cables work properly after he fixed them two weeks ago. Language might fail you, but logic is always there for you.

Today I went outside and the exit door was locked. There was a note in Finnish next to it. I understood only one word – ovi (“door”), and figured it meant what it meant. That the door was out of operation. So, I continued to keller – a basement floor, where there are storage closets for each apartment in our block. There were approximately 12 to 15 doors there. Some of them with signs in Finnish I didn’t understand. Internet didn’t work there, so I couldn’t google. I tried opening each of them, and finally found the right one. On my way back, I got lost and didn’t remember what was the door that leads to the stairs. Tried elevator and it wasn’t working. Spotted one of the workers and asked in English where I need to go. She showed me where to go. I was so happy! When I reached our floor, I noticed that there is a different name on our door. I found myself in a different block of our apartment complex. I was close to tears, but went back and finally found the right way.

I know that this is temporary. I know that it takes time. I know I have guts to go on. But I want to tell you it’s a difficult and upsetting experience. And this is exactly what makes me so happy when I get something right.

Soon, we’ll write a test on Module 2, and start Module 3. We will move to the book No. 2, which is thicker and longer than the first one. I can’t wait for it, because it means I’ll make one more step to being more independent in my everyday life and to having less weeks of misunderstandings like this one.

Have a good weekend everyone!