27 September 2012

Being a Baby

The average baby starts babbling at about 5 months old and can start forming adequate sounds a few months after that. At this point in time, the baby is growing their receptive language skills, taking in vocabulary and slowly learning what each sound and syllable means. The first words are then usually said by the baby when they are 11 to 14 months old and the lexicon of the child only grows from there.

When I came to Finland, I started thinking of myself as only a Finnish baby. No, I am hardly an American teenager anymore. I prefer to look at the fact that I am comparable to a child and that I'll only grow from here. I arrived a little over a month ago knowing a handful of words and accent sounds. At that point in time, I was a Finnish 14 month old baby. But over the course of this month I've managed to pick up more words and phrases and a general understanding of the Finnish language- now my best guess is that I'm a 19 month old baby, a person with a knowledge of more than just a few words and grammatical endings, but not quite yet able to speak it. I'm falling into the world of being a toddler.

Because I was unable to sign up for a university course in instructional Finnish for foreigners, I'm going to have to stick out these next few months learning Finnish the way I learned English and French- via receptive language skills and practice. Which in all honesty is not a bad way to learn a language, because I'm fluent in English and my French isn't half bad (thank you thank you thank you mom). My host parents understand how it is to teach a child a language (they raised 5 children to speak fluent Finnish, plus 2 other exchange students) and we're slowly working on total immersion for me. They speak to me in Finnish first and if I don't understand it then they switch to English (which, in essence, is my equivalent of baby talk). Sometimes Aapeli, my youngest host brother, translates for me or decides he'd rather only talk to me in English, but sometimes he refuses to do anything but Finnish and that's what's best for me. I've also got a group of friends here, and although we speak mainly in English, sometimes they break off into Finnish and I can follow along just a little bit. It's a rewarding feeling to be able to follow along in conversations, especially Finnish conversations, because everyone says how hard it is to learn a language and this proves how far I've come.

I'd like to add that the Finnish language is not as scary, hard, or mentally taxing as everyone says it is. It's a language that merely makes sense, and when you figure out the patterns you can do so much. If you want to come to Finland for your exchange, don't stress when it comes to learning the language. If you want to go anywhere on your exchange that speaks a foreign language, don't stress about learning another language. Don't shove your brain full of texts, audio CDs, computer programs, and flash cards hoping to retain all of that information. It will give you an okay base but you won't be able to do much after that and you don't want to shame yourself for feeling as if you haven't prepared enough. Babies haven't prepared at all when they're born. They don't spend nine months in the womb with an audio CD slowly counting to them in whatever language they need to learn. You need to always remember that you are learning a language like a baby learns a language- slowly, curiously, but always assuredly. Ignore the people that tell you a language is impossible to learn (I heard that a lot back in Alaska and also here in Finland), because those people aren't encouraging and it's not beneficial to you to give them attention. Babies learn languages because there really isn't a way for them not to. I'm learning Finnish because there really isn't a way for me not to. I've set my mind in determination to learn this language and if you have the right mindset and the curiosity and learning ability of a baby, you can do it too.


  1. I totally agree about being a baby! Although I still think it's very important to study the language as much as possible before departure, the stronger your base the sooner you can "grow up". My host family doesn't speak English, so for communication I'm thankful every day for what I studied before I came (but of course I certainly agree it shouldn't be something to stress about or put yourself down over). Glad you're doing well in Finland! :)

    1. Thank you! I hope Spain is treating you well. :)
      I understand where you come from when you say that it's important to study before you go, but with a language like Finnish it's so difficult. There are a lot of Spanish language resources out there, but Finnish is so crazy that not many people or places can help you learn so you really have to start when you arrive. But when it comes to any language I think you can go to the country without studying much and still do fine if you're determined enough. Total immersion works wonders. :)