29 Oct

How to learn Finnish – three stories behind the language barrier

Finnish language skills are often emphasized as a key factor to adapt in Finland’s society as a foreigner. Jana, Juan and Dani share their struggle and success with the language and give tips to those still learning Finnish. They also send greetings to Finns: please be more open and supportive towards persons learning the language – it is neither simple nor impossible.


Dani has learnt Finnish while dancing and volunteering. He believes that immigrants need more interaction with Finns.

“Volunteer work is a key for integration”

Dani, 29, Middle East

“Finnish language has a very special pronunciation and sounds, such as y, ö and ä. In the beginning I had to concentrate on saying those very carefully and repeat many times the most complicated words to learn them well. Still sometimes I mix up with some Finnish words, especially if the only difference between two words is just one vocal or consonant.

I have friends who have been here over 8 years, but still they don’t speak Finnish. I think that the basic problem among immigrants, especially those from African and Middle East countries, is that they spend time together talking in their own language. Often the best way to learn is to end up in the situation where you don’t have a choice but to speak local language.

When I came to Finland, I stayed first in Kemi, in the very North of Finland. After a year there I moved to Tampere to study mechanics. Studying taught me so much more than any of those language courses before.

Still the most important language teacher to me has been social dancing and volunteering. I dance couple dances, and from dance schools and events I have got many Finnish friends. I believe that one social hobby is much better than trying to find somebody to talk with in the nightclubs and bars, as many foreigners do.

I have volunteered for example for construction projects in some rural areas, and for the Finnish Red Cross Hunger day fundraising and friendship service taking elderly people out for walks. I have enjoyed those moments, and I believe that those kind of activities are the key for integration.

I would hope that, in general, Finland would allow and arrange more possibilities of experiences and interactions among natives and immigrants. I know people who have big difficulties to choice what to do in their free time. Often they are lonely and do not have much information about activities.”

Dani’s tip for you: I would recommend to listen Finnish music and go to the nearest language cafes. Almost every city has one. In the language café not only you can have conversations with Finnish people, but you can also learn about culture and hear stories about how it is to live in Finland.



Jana is grateful for her boyfriend and Selkosanomat, a easy-to-read newspaper, for supporting her to improve her Finnish.

“You have to overcome your own barriers”

Jana, 26, Czech Republic

“I have met many people that have expectations that they can learn a language fast. But learning a language well requires time and determination.

I came to Finland four years ago, when I moved in with my Finnish boyfriend. I realized soon that if I wanted to become part of the Finnish society and befriend Finns, I would need to learn their language.

My boyfriend was very helpful and supportive repeating words and talking slowly to me, but of course he was not a professional teacher. In the beginning I had to be a self-learner. I kept a notebook and wrote down every Finnish word I heard. I did online courses, as Supisuomea by Yle, watched learning videos and went through all the study material I got in my hands. Luckily there are many free opportunities nowadays.

For me, as for many other people, the most difficult phase in learning a language is to start speaking it. You have to overcome your own barriers, especially the fear of making mistakes. After staying three months in Finland I found a language café, which was a meeting point for Finnish language learners in the local library. As a beginner I only knew how to present myself in Finnish, but just listening to others helped me. It was also nice to notice that I was not the only one struggling with the language.

I want to stay in Finland and I would like to build my life, career and family here with my boyfriend. This is why I have also worked hard to write well Finnish. I have studied Finnish even harder after I got into the University of Helsinki to study international politics.

Perhaps the most valuable experience for my language skills has been my experience at the Finnish Centre for Ease to Read, Selkokeskus. It produces easy to understand material in Finnish meant for people with special needs, as immigrants. Their newspaper, Selkosanomat, is still part of my weekly reading routines and I have also written articles for it, for example an interview of Teemu Selänne.

As I am finishing my studies now, I support The Finnish Red Cross’ Finnish language group for immigrant women in East-Helsinki and I am looking for a job where I could take advantage of my Finnish skills. As hard as it is getting a professional job here, I feel that it is not yet my time to give up.

Finnish makes me feel humble as there is still much to learn. So far, all the work I have done has been worth it. I feel that I am now closer to Finns.”

Jana’s tip for you: Start using language early and don’t wait till saving up money for a course. Use your imagination and remember free resources!


Juan wrote in the paper “sports” in Finnish when he had to decide one thing that has affected his language skills the most.


“Do not listen too much to experiences of others, yours is unique”

Juan, 35, Ecuador

“I come from culture, where we are very dedicated in spoken communication and speaking skills are even considered more important than writing skills. In my village we have every week meetings where we talk hours.

Coming to Finland five years ago was not easy because in the beginning I was not able to understand anything. I was not even able to go to the market alone.

I met other ´latinos´ and they claimed that it is very easy to learn Finnish. But for me it took time, and I felt disappointed as I trusted too much what others said to me.

A key to learning a language is to get involved with local people. Yes, my wife is Finnish, but between me and her it is more natural to speak Spanish – the language we have used since we met the first time.

Because I like sports, immediately after coming to Finland I searched for a volleyball team to play with. I found one team consisting only of Finnish players. It was perfect, except one thing. Nobody talked with me. I was astonished: is this country this prejudiced? Yet I went there every week. After playing ten months in silence I ended up sending an email to the group leader asking why they do not speak with me. He explained that they did not know how much I understand nor what they should say to me. Afterwards I was invited to a party where it changed and they started to talk with me. Nowadays they are like my family.

Of course I also attended some courses, as basic language courses and an integration course for immigrants. Besides sports, studying in a technical school has improved the most my Finnish skills because there I really have needed to apply my skills and vocabulary.

Learning Finnish is essential in order to live here. It is neither impossible, nor easy. I have seen people that speak several languages, but even after many years in Finland they cannot speak Finnish. The best way to learn a language is to be social with locals and do it in a way you like. Do not listen too much to experiences of others, because everybody´s learning experience is unique.”

Juan’s tip for you: Get involved with the Finnish people, be proactive and do what you love.

Text and photos: Mirkka Helkkula

22 Oct

Min farmor var flykting

Hur är det att fly sitt hem? Journalist Elin von Wright frågade sin farmor som flydde från Viborg när vinterkriget bröt ut. Lyssna på hennes upplevelse.

Det är sista november 1939. Min farmor vaknar tidigt på morgonen av att telefonen ringer. ”Nyt se on alkanut, se sota” hör hon sedan. Vinterkriget har precis brutit ut och de som bor i Viborg tvingas fly sina hem. Min farmor, Marianne von Wright (född Alfthan) är en av dem.

Hon tvingas tillsammans med sin mamma och bror lämna sitt hem, alla sina ägodelar och vänner bakom sig. Med enbart en liten kappsäck i handen sätter min farmor sig i bilen som ska köra dem till släktingar i Borgå.

– Jag var tolv år då vinterkriget bröt ut. Först skulle vi gå till en slags lagerlokal. Det fanns inte skyddsrum på den tiden. Där minns jag att jag stod och tittade ut genom fönstret, det hördes flygplansljud och ryssarna hade bombat järnvägsstation i Viborg bara en bit ifrån. Följande dag satte vi oss sedan i en bil och åkte till mina morföräldrar som bodde i Borgå.

Många förstår inte hur det är att uppleva krig”

Min farmors pappa blev kvar i Viborg. Han var inkallad under hela kriget. Först när kriget var slut kunde han återförenas med sin familj.

– På något sätt tänkte man att det här är nog ett misstag. Nu åker vi, men imorgon får vi väl höra att de inte gått över gränsen och börjat skjuta. Därför tog vi inte mycket med oss. Jag trodde nog att vi skulle få åka tillbaka. Det var först då fortsättningskriget kom till ett slut som man insåg att vi inte kommer att kunna återvända.

Farmor är upprörd över de attityder som finns emot flyktingar idag.

– Det verkar som att det finns flera generationer i Finland som bara tänker på vinterkriget eller fortsättningskrig som något historiskt eller någonting som finns i historieböckerna. De tänker inte på att det finns levande människor som har upplevt krig.

Elin von Wright

15 Oct

Levyllinen musiikkia monikulttuurisen Suomen puolesta


Monikulttuurisuuden puolesta on viimeisen vuoden aikana osoitettu mieltä, kirjoitettu kärkeviä kolumneja, haastettu somessa ja pidetty työpajoja. Mikään keino ei ole ollut liian pieni tai suuri tärkeän aiheen edistämiseksi. Nyt myös tusina suomalaisia muusikkoja on lähtenyt kantamaan kortensa monikulttuurisuuden kekoon yhteisellä levyprojektilla, koska he uskovat, että musiikillakin voi vaikuttaa.

Suomen maahanmuutto- ja monikulttuurisuuskeskustelu velloi vahvana loppukesästä. Kannanottoja tehtiin niin puolesta kuin vastaan eikä ylilyönneiltä vältytty. Pelko väritti jo valmiiksi polarisoitunutta keskustelua ja rakentavaan, järkiperäiseen mutta kuitenkin inhimilliset aspektit huomioon ottavaan debattiin oli hankala päästä. Sen sijaan, että maahanmuutto olisi nähty mahdollisuutena, eteenpäin sysäävänä voimana, se tuntui pikemminkin joko lamaannuttavan tai provosoivan ihmisiä. Muusikko Vili Mustalampi päätti, että asialle oli tehtävä jotain.

– Olin tehnyt laulun työnimellä Saman taivaan alla. Kyseisessä kappaleessa kertoja tutustuu hymyilevään kerjäläiseen ja kokee sen myötä vahvaa yhteenkuuluvuutta kaikkiin ihmisiin riippumatta siitä, mistä he ovat kotoisin. Yhden biisin sijaan sain idean kuitenkin tehdä kokonaisen albumillisen musiikkia monikulttuurisen ja suvaitsevaisen Suomen puolesta, Vili kertoo.

Vili asuu Italian Milanossa, mutta ei antanut seikan estää ideansa toteuttamista. Hän alkoi kerätä projektiinsa kiinnostuneita muusikoita, joiden avulla biisit saataisiin äänitettyä. Hän otti yhteyttä myös ystäväänsä Riku Luukkoseen, jonka some-taidot tulivat tarpeeseen. Näin sai alkunsa Saman taivaan alla -levyprojekti.

Vapaaehtoistyönä toteutettavalla levylle on saatu mukaan vaikuttava kokoelma suomalaisia artisteja. Lisäksi projektiin osallistuu vaihteleva määrä graafikkoja, äänittäjiä ja muita musiikin ammattilaisia.

– Haasteena oli löytää kaikki tarvittava aika artistien haalimiseen ja projektista tiedottamiseen. Myös ammattilaisten löytäminen mietitytti, koska kaikkien piti lähteä mukaan vapaaehtoistyön mentaliteetilla.

Sekä Vili ja Riku uskovat, että siellä missä on tahtoa, on myös keinoja. Samalla tavalla kuin inspiraatiota levyyn antaneessa Meillä on unelma -mielenosoituksessa, joka kahdessa päivässä keräsi kasaan yli 15 000 henkilöä osoittamaan mieltä rasismia vastaan, myös levyprojektin kohdalla oli nopeasti todettavissa suvaitsevaisuuden ja hyvän tahdon yhdistävä voima.

– Kun mukaan ilmoittautui lisää artisteja, projektin uskottavuus kasvoi ja enemmän porukkaa kiinnostui. Ja niinhän se on, että jos joku juttu vaan pitää tehdä ja siihen uskoo täysillä, palaset loksahtavat paikalleen ennemmin tai myöhemmin, Riku kertoo.

Musiikki vaikutuskanavana

Monelle muusikolle musiikki on luonteva väylä vaikuttaa yhteiskunnallisesti. Esimerkiksi projektissa mukana olevalle Tero Vesterisen yhtyeelle hyväntekeväisyys oli tuttu asia, sillä he ovat tehneet vaikuttamistyötä myös aiemmin esimerkiksi Miessakit ry:n kanssa väkivaltaa vastaan. Siksi heille oli luontaista lähteä mukaan musisoimaan myös monikulttuurisuuden puolesta.

– Olen tutustunut muualta Suomeen muuttaneisiin tyyppeihin jo ennen ala-astetta. Martinlaaksossa asui samalla pihalla Vietnamista tulleita pakolaisia ja ala-asteella oli pari luokkatoveria, joiden isät olivat alun perin maailman muilta kolkilta kotoisin. Itselleni on siis kovin luontevaa, että Suomessa asuu ja elää kaiken maailman porukkaa, Vesterinen kuvailee omaa suhdettaan monikulttuurisuuteen.

“Itselleni on kovin luontevaa, että Suomessa asuu ja elää kaiken maailman porukkaa.”
– Tero Vesterinen

Vesterinen näkee, että myös musiikin tekeminen itsessään kasvattaa suvaitsevaisuuteen.

– Musiikki on luonnostaan, ainakin itselleni, monikulttuurista. Se on niin valtava sekoitus kaikenlaisten kulttuurien säveliä, rytmejä ja tarinoita, että tuntuu kovin luontevalta musiikin keinoin koittaa vaikuttaa jengin ajatuksiin tämän asian suhteen.

Saman taivaan alla -levyn avulla ei kuitenkaan vaikuteta pelkästään ajatuksiin, vaan sillä autetaan myös konkreettisesti; tuotot menevät lyhentämättömänä Suomen Punaisen Ristin keräykseen maahanmuuttajien kotoutumista tukevan vapaaehtoistoiminnan järjestämiseen, kuten esimerkiksi suomen kielen opetukseen. Myös tulevan levynjulkaisukonsertin tulot menevät samaan keräykseen. 

Yhdessä yhteisten asioiden eteen

Vesterisen yhtyeineen lisäksi levyllä on mukana muita pop-muusikoita, kuten Anssi Kela ja Mikko Kuustonen, räppärit Paleface, Muikku ja Shaka ja etnistä musiikkia soittavat SuperHelle, Vili Mustalampi, Shava & Pelle sekä Norlan. Iskelmällisempää otetta levylle tuovat Tuure Kilpeläinen ja Suora Lähetys ja reggea-henkeä Puppa J. Lisäksi mukana ovat myös jo M.A.Numminen, Ninni Poijärvi ja Plutonium 74. Vaikka artistit ovat musiikkityyliltään hyvin erilaisia, yhdistää heitä silti ainakin yksi asia – usko suvaitsevampaan Suomeen.

– Levyn tavoite on saada nekin ihmiset, jotka vielä pelkäävät kohdata ihmisiä vieraista kulttuureista, pysähtymään hetkeksi ja kuuntelemaan, mitä sanottavaa näillä upeilla artisteilla on asiasta. Ehkä onnistumme hieman laajentamaan ymmärryksen kehää ja vähentämään ennakkoluuloja, Vili pohtii.

Saman taivaan alla -levyn on määrä valmistua vuoden loppuun mennessä. Levyn tekemistä ja artistien kuulumisia voit seurata projektin Facebook-sivulla.

Teksti: Riikka Hietajärvi

13 Oct

“Enjoy every little moment of travelling”

Alexandra and Sini travelled to Austria17-year-old Alexandra Gäddnäs (left), a volunteer from Åland’s district of the Finnish Red Cross travelled together with Sini Heinolainen (right), a volunteer from Uusimaa district, to Austria for the friendship camp for two weeks in July. Now Alexandra shares with us what they experienced and what she learned about different cultures.

Destination: Langenlois, Austria in July 2015.

Purpose of the trip: We participated in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movements’ International Youth Camp with a special focus on friendship. It was the 60th anniversary friendship camp organized by the Austrian Red Cross. We were 60 young people from 22 different countries.

Languages used: English, Finnish and Swedish. The participants spoke over fifteen different languages.

Weather: +27 to +42 degrees.

Living arrangements: We lived on a campus. Girls and boys lived separately and every room had its own bathroom. Everyone got a bed, a chair and some drawers. We used the whole school as our camp site, as there we had also the most of the activities.

Why you chose to go to this trip?

I wanted to do something different in the summer. The camp seemed an awesome opportunity to get to know cultures from all over the world.

What surprised you the most about the culture and cultural differences?

It wasn’t the differences, but the other way around. We came from very different backgrounds but on the camp we were all so alike. Everybody took care of each other and tried their best to be friendly and share their life stories to others. I learned that nationalities do not matter, because we aren’t that different actually. It was very easy to get new friends, because we were all the time together. Now I have dozens of new and close Facebook friends from the camp.

The camp was all about the people and the little happy moments they gave me.

What were the highlights of your experience?

I remember one night very clear. It was the night of the peace walk and we laid down in the grass next to a big bonfire and people were playing guitar and singing. The stars shined so bright, and it was one of those moments that made my camp. The camp was all about the people and the little happy moments that they gave me.

One day we did a trip to the old concentration camp. It was a very touching experience in overall.

How has the trip expanded your worldview?

At the time the camp started it was the last days of Ramadan, Islamic Holy month, and one of my best friends at the camp was a Muslim. It was my first time experiencing another religion practices so close. It helped me to understand other religions and what religion can mean in the everyday live.

I also got new ideas and tools to use in my volunteer activities in Finland, for example how to create campaigns against bullying.

If you could change one thing about your experience, what would it be?

I would have been more outgoing in the beginning, even though it is normal to be a bit shy when you don´t know people. Also, I would have tried to come up with more questions when we had a holocaust survivor with us one night. He had so much to share.

Did you have any ”I want my mommy/wifi/bed moments”?

When the heat had burned my poor Finnish skin, I really missed home; my own bed and my mother that always knows the right medication. But I quickly realized that at least 30% of all people on camp were paramedics and 100% were great at hugging.

Alexandra’s best travel tips:

You can’t drink too much water when it is hot. Try local food, because if you don´t, you will miss the half of the point of traveling. Remember to enjoy, enjoy every little moment and keep a diary to collect the little moments and capture them forever.

You too want to travel with the Finnish Red Cross?

Keep your eyes open on the Finnish Red Cross website and social media channels, and ask your local Red Cross officers if they know any youth trips coming. Then just do the application, don’t overthink it and just be you!

Text: Alexandra Gäddnäs