skip to Main Content
Live now – dream later stays online but isn't updating anymore. Saana currently works as the editor-in-chief and writes exclusively for responsible travel media Valpas at

Is Learning Finnish Really THAT Difficult?

  • Suomeksi
  • In English
I have spent the past two weeks writing articles for my freelance job quite intensively. I enjoy it so much, this is exactly what I want to do for a living, but the negative side is I have less time for blogging. Especially now, when we have a baby in the house… but I will tell more about it later.

While spending my days writing articles, I’ve come across the complexity of the Finnish language, over and over again. You have probably heard that Finnish is not the easiest language to learn. It’s not impossible though, I know many foreigners who speak fluent Finnish, but indeed it’s not the easiest one. And, to be honest, in case you are not living in Finland or working in a Finnish company, it’s not the most useful language either.

But can Finnish really be THAT difficult? I stumbled upon some funny examples, so have a look and tell me your opinion.

One of the reasons for Finnish being a tricky language is that you hardly ever benefit from other languages you know. Why is that? Because even if a word would be pretty much the same in every other language, it won’t be that in Finnish.


Is Finnish language really THAT difficult? | Live now – dream later travel blog


Sometimes it might also get a bit confusing, as one Finnish word can have so many meanings.


Is learning Finnish language really THAT difficult? | Live now – dream later travel blog


Yet, I think what really makes learning Finnish difficult are long words and how our words bend. We don’t have prepositions, but we add all the attributes at the end of the word. And the rules for that are not so straightforward.

Just to give you an example, instead of saying ‘on the table’ we say ‘pöydällä’, where the basic word, ‘a table’ is ‘pöytä’. In most languages, the attribute would be placed in front of the word, but in Finnish we add ‘-llä’ at the end of the word. And that’s not all: we also change the letter ‘t’ in the middle of the word ‘pöytä’ for the letter ‘d’.

Simple, eh?

Please note, this is also exactly the reason why Finnish doesn’t work with Google Translator. So don’t even try using that. The sentences just won’t make any kind of sense. There is no such translation robot that could do Finnish.


Is learning Finnish language really THAT difficult? | Live now – dream later travel blog


So, now we have learned that one Finnish word can have several meanings and we are bending words without any rules that would make sense. Imagine how it is to form sentences in Finnish.


Is learning Finnish language really THAT difficult? | Live now – dream later travel blog


In the end, Finns are a shy nation. We don’t do small talk, we don’t sit next to a stranger on a bus or a train, and despite some exceptions, like myself, Finns don’t normally speak much. So you can have a nice conversation in Finnish by using only a few short words.


Is learning Finnish language really THAT difficult? | Live now – dream later travel blog


If you ever have considered learning Finnish, this post didn’t probably encourage you much. But I do know people who actually want to learn Finnish, and the best reason that I have heard is “I want to learn Finnish because it sounds like a language from outer space. If aliens ever attack, I bet they are speaking Finnish.”

And if you are crazy enough, and you took this post as a challenge rather than a mission impossible, here are some tips for learning Finnish. I hope you’ll find them helpful. Happy language learning!


Is learning Finnish language really THAT difficult? | Live now – dream later travel blog


Are you tempted to start learning Finnish – or have you already started? Do you find it difficult? Share your thoughts on comments below ↓

Pin the scary truth about learning Finnish for later:

Is learning Finnish language really THAT difficult? | Live now – dream later travel blog

Find and follow Live now – dream later on social media:


This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Haha! I’ve just found this! Or should I say….Mä löytän tämä juuri nyt! – I try! Constructing questionable sentences with the vocabulary I have accumulated in my brain, it’s a fun game. A hit and miss, fun game! 😉

    1. Haha, hit and miss indeed! At shortest you would say “Löysin tämän juuri”. 😛 You’ll get there, you’ve done amazing job learning Finnish by yourself! By Midsummer you’ll be fluent, right?

      1. Kiitos! I will get to practice it a lot up on northern Finland I’m sure! I can’t imagine I’ll be fluent in 3 months, but you never know! 😉

  2. If someone like Sheldon Cooper had been asked to invent an artificial language, he could accidently have created something like Finnish 😉

    At first, I want to add a point that really needs some getting used to: Finnish uses long and short sounds more than other languages. Example:
    – muu, partitive: muuta, abessive: muutta
    – mutta
    – muta, partitive: mutaa
    – muuttaa, imperative and conegative: muuta
    That’s six words and word forms that only differ by length (muuttaa, muuta, muutta, mutta, mutaa, muta). There is also sata, sataa, saattaa (imperative and conegative: saata): you can say something like saattaa sataa. Another set of words is tuuli, tuli, tulli. German and English do use short and long sounds, but not like that.

    However, some characteristics that learners might consider difficult are not worse than other languages. As a German (from the country that used to have a law called Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, look it up on wikipedia), I wouldn’t consider long words to be bad in principal. Also, I was amazed to see that some words are build up using the same pieces: When you agree to a contract, you write your name (or something derived from your name) beneath it. Whereas English uses a completely different word for that (“sign”), German, Russian and Finnish express it exactly like that: unterschreiben, подписать (podpisat’), allekirjoittaa. Literaly, this is beneath+write. So although “sign” is shorter than “allekirjoittaa”, the latter is intelligible by its parts, without learning an additional word.

    Finnish spelling seems easy, I mean really, really easy: Germans like to think their spelling was easy and straight-forward, and compared to English and French it is. However, compared to Finnish, it is not. I’ll give you an example of something that is part of a language of which the spelling is widely considered coherent with its pronounciation: In order to write long vowels, we have 3 ways in German: using a double vowel, adding an “h” after a single vowel, or force learners to learn the correct pronounciation without marking it in the written word. Then there are some “buts”: Only a, e and o can be duplicated. u, ä, ö and ü can only take a “h”. A long “i” is “ie” in the middle of a word, but “ih” at the beginning (or it’s just “i”). Sometimes, it’s even “ieh” for no obvious reason. “aa” and “oo” can turn into “ä” and “ö” e.g. when pluralizing nouns, they keep their long length, but still you don’t write äh/öh even though it would seem more logical. In Finnish, you just use a double letter for a long sound. Although this simple principle yields words like “päättää” (or vaate -> inessive: vaatteessa, inessive with 3rd person possessive: vaatteessaan), which look somehow unusual to people outside of Finland, it makes a part of that language easier, a part which is quite difficult in many languages. It must be awful for Finnish people to learn French spelling!

    Your example with pöytä – pöydälle is not worse than German: In German, we put a preposition before the word for “table” (der Tisch), but still modify the noun and the article in order to express the difference between “on” and “onto”. In this specific example, it’s even funnier to compare singular and plural. So:
    pöydällä – auf dem Tisch
    pöydälle – auf den Tisch
    pöydillä – auf den Tischen
    pöydille – auf die Tische
    Of course, articles and suffixes depend on if the noun is male, female, or neuter, and there is no way to find the plural of a noun other than by knowning it. In Finnish, at least you have all the information in one place (the suffix), and the t->d change is not unusual (just like the about 15 other patterns).

    In Finnish, you have rules like “When forming the imperfect tense of a verb whose stem ends in -a, the final a turns into an o if the stem has 2 syllables and the first syllable also contains an a.” (auttaa -> auttoi, antaa -> antoi). If Finnish was like French, such rules would apply to only 90% of all verbs that look like they could undergo this change. The ruleset in Finnish is large, really large, but at least it’s used.

    Many people who say that they are skilled in languages actually want to say that they easily recognise patterns that are similar to patterns they already know. Only few of them want to start from scratch, with nothing similar at hand at all. Only few are really willing to learn lots of rules and then use them in simple examples. This creates problems with unique grammatical phenomena. Some people try to make you believe you could learn a foreign language without studying grammar, but when trying to learn Finnish, this won’t work for most people. Finnish works in a way that is so different from indo-european languages that you need a lot of time until you actually know how to express really simple things. Explaining “mennä tekemään” or “kieltää tekemästä” requires speaking about grammar. Most people probably don’t like the idea of a “3rd infinitive”, even less of an infinitive taking case endings. Those who don’t want to hear about grammar will run away at that exact moment, and you won’t be able to stop them.

    With Finnish, the difficult part is to find out how much grammar you need in the beginning so that on the one hand you can feel progress, and on the other hand you don’t feel an urgent need to screem and to run away. That is a fine line.

    1. Wow, Alex, it seems like you’ve really given this a thought! Thanks for your great comment, although I’m afraid it’ll scare all the rest of the learners we have left! 😀

      You mentioned you’re German, and you seem to know a lot about Finnish and other languages as well. I assume you’ve been studying different languages a lot? As a Finn it’s sometimes so difficult to step on the boots of a foreigner trying to learn our language. I agree with you that the spelling is easy, and we actually say words as they’re written (no silent h’s or anything like that) but the similarity of the words with very different meanings, and the changing letters in the middle of the words (like pöytä –> pöydällä) must be confusing. Not to mention the compound words, even the most of the Finns can’t get them right! 😀

      I’d love to know about your relation to languages? Have you just been studying a lot out of interest, or are you perhaps a linguist by profession?

      1. Hi Saana,

        to me, this is just personal interest. In fact, I’m a computer scientist developing software. Very precise language is important to me, because otherwise wrong things will end up in software. Most funny or not so funny software problems that you might have heard or read about are related to imprecisely phrased requirements… like Mars rovers missing Mars because someone didn’t properly say which values are in meters and which values are in feet.

        When Finns learn English, don’t they run into the same issues as speakers of English who try to learn Finnish? Such as: totally different words, totally different grammer, totally different way to represent sounds in writing? Do you know the “ghoti” joke? See If this word existed, English pronounciation rules would let it sound like “fish”. The words “tough”, “though”, “through” and “thought” don’t sound similar to each other. Isn’t that disturbing? Or do Finnish children start with English so early that it becomes natural to them?

        Anyway, the change of t to d, as in pöytä -> pöydan, is not that confusing. Example of bad changes: In French, you have verbs like “aller” (to go) which have forms like “je vais” (I go), “j’irai” (I will go) or “j’aille” (I go, but used in subclauses if expressed as a wish, a necessity, or a fear). If you don’t know that, you would never guess that these are forms of the same word. Changing a “t” into a “d” is only a small change. Also, it’s again regular if you know that the t changes at all (counter-example: auto, auton; the stem simply doesn’t gradate): the weak grade (in this case: d) is used if you append a suffix which consists of one consonant or which starts with two consonants, and if no long vowel follows the t (pöydan, pöydällä, pöydältä, pöydälle etc, but pöytää, pöytään, pöytänä), provided that the suffix is not a possessive and not an enclitic (“our table” is pöytämme, not pöydämme, because mme is a possessive and thus can’t trigger the weak grade on its own despite of its two consonants).

        Compare this systematic change to German: The plural of “Apfel” (apple) is “Äpfel”. Why? No idea. Foreigners are generally recommended to memorize each noun along with its plural form. “Falle” (trap) -> plural “Fallen”, “Fall” (case) -> plural “Fälle”. There is also a verb “fällen”, which means to cut a tree. There are even nouns that are identical in singular, but different in plural: mother = Mutter, Mütter, whereas nut (the screw thing, not the food) = Mutter, Muttern. Strauß, Strauße = ostrich, ostriches; Strauß, Sträuße = bunch, bunches (of flowers). We can identify foreigners, even if they are speaking perfectly otherwise, because they will sooner or later drop in a wrong plural form even after having lived in Germany for 10 years.

        As to similar words with totally different meaning, this is not a specific issue of Finnish. In French, you might accidently order poison instead of fish if you don’t properly differentiate between voiced and unvoiced “s”. That’s not better than tavata/tappaa (minä tapaan/tapan), it’s just bad in a different way. In general, French becomes unintelligible if you don’t pay attention to voiced verses unvoiced sounds. This is certainly difficult for Finns (the problem doesn’t exist in Finnish), but less difficult for Russians, who have the same feature in their language. Finnish probably become unintelligible if you don’t get long and short sounds right, which is a real problem for Russians because they don’t use lengths to differentiate words.

        One could probably go one like this, saying which specific feature is probably difficult for speakers of which language.

        Of course, one problem (or challenge) remains: With a ruleset as large as in Finnish, people need years of daily training until they even have a chance to get this right in real time (and can thus speak). But I’m convinced that it’s possible to learn to write Finnish correctly, assuming that the learner is able to understand and use rules, and that the learner has enough time to learn. On the other hand, someone who only relies on memorizing words and recognizing patterns will fail with Finnish because the amount to memorize would be too much.

      2. How does it work the other way round? If Finnish is difficult for English speakers (i personally don’t think it is) then why is it not really strange, confusing and difficult the other way round – for a Finn learning English? You guys seem to do so well with English so why isn’t Finnish-English really hard too?

      3. Hi Phil and sorry for the late reply. I think one of the main reasons is that we hear English everywhere since childhood so it’s kind of easy to adapt it. Unlike in many other countries, our TV programs and movies aren’t dubbed with voice-overs. Also, we start learning English in school at very young age, which makes learning easier. Plus let’s not forget the fact that the rules for English grammar are quite straight forward, despite a few silly exceptions.

  3. You really are passioned about the topic, I’m truly impressed! 🙂 I feel that English is fairly easy to learn for Finns, mainly because we start learning it in such young age, but also thanks to our non-dubbed television. Even if you didn’t study English, you keep hearing it every single day since your childhood (assuming you watch a little bit of television every day), which already creates a solid ground for the actual learning. I can’t even remember what was the hardest part in learning English when I was a kid, but I know where I still struggle more than 25 years later; It’s the prepositions, when to use on, in, at… I still get them wrong, probably quite often, I know it. But luckily, it’s such a small mistake that people can still understand me.

    Here’s another funny image about the simplicity of Finnish language, for those who love to learn:

  4. I think that it can be hard to learn, but Finnish doesn’t is that difficult, what many of you guys think. Or I don’t know, ’cause I’m from Finland and I speak Finnish so… whatever. (:

    1. Thanks for your comment, Amanda. I’m Finnish myself, and as I’ve seen so many foreigners learning Finnish, I can tell it’s not easy. Not impossible, either, as stated in this post (which is written with a sarcastic tone, in case you missed it). 🙂

    2. > but Finnish doesn’t is that difficult, what many of you guys think

      This is a perfectly good example. For one thing, the English sentence should be more like this: “but Finnish is not as difficult as many of you guys think” 😉

      This little piece of text shows several characteristics of Finnish that are unusual to us other Europeans:
      First point: “not” is a verb on its own (ei -> en, et, ei etc.). Other languages just have an immutable word or construction for “not”, and English reuses an existing verb (to do) for that. The difficult part of English here is that some verbs are negated in a different way (correct: “it is not”, wrong: “it doesn’t be”, “it doesn’t is”).
      Second point: in other European languages, auxiliary verbs require an infinitive (just like voida tehdä or alkaa tehdä). So when you tell people that “not” = “ei” is a verb, they would rather expect “en olla”, “et olla” etc. instead of “en ole, et ole”, and even less “en olisi”.
      Third point: adjectives that describe the subject of the sentence and follow the subject don’t match concerning the case that you have to use. With a background of other European languages, one would expect “Se ei ole niin vaikea” (under the condition that you have already accepted the second point), whereas you rather say “Se ei ole niin vaikeaa” (right?)
      Fourth point: “many of you” -> other European languages with noun cases would use the genitive here, where you use the elative: “monet teistä”, not “monet teidän” (right?)

      You see, even one such little sentence is full of awkward or unexpected details.

      1. This was, again, a perfect reply. Thanks for taking the time to write your comment, Alex! 😀

        To be completely honest, all newspapers in Finland are full of articles explaining how kids nowadays can’t form normal sentences in Finnish. While teachers and parents blame WhatsApp and Twitter, I think this problem goes a bit more deep (and is a perfect example of the difficulty of Finnish language: if Finnish kids can’t learn it, how anyone could?).

        There aren’t many Finns in general who’d nail all language tricks. Like your example said, the correct form would be ‘alkaa tehdä’ but I bet 90 % of all Finns would say or write ‘alkaa tekemään’. Which would be wrong, obviously.

        P.S. Yes, you got ‘Se ei ole niin vaikeaa’ right there! 🙂

  5. I can totally see the struggle. I have been learning the language for the last 6 months and I still don’t know where is this heading 😉 But at least I can do small talks which is the ideal thing for the Finns as must you know what I mean :D. So I guess, I am fine for now.

    1. Sounds like you’re doing great. I know many foreigners who have been living in Finland for almost 10 years and they still can’t say much more than ‘huomenta’ and a bunch of naughty words! 😀
      Of course, it has a lot to do with motivation. I think managing small talk after 6 months is a great achievement! Good luck with the challenge! 🙂

  6. I am new to this Finnish language learning journey and am determined to make it work. I’m 500 words in. I make mental connections with lots of my 500 Finnish words to help them stick…. I.e: I think of my friend ‘Kent’ when recalling the word for airport… lentokenta (excuse spelling… that will be a whole other ball game!) . My thoughts at this stage are to just keep learning vocabulary and take it from there! I’ll deal with grammar rules (and spelling!) down the line!

    1. That’s a great tip for learning new words. 500 words is already an achievement. Best of luck on your journey. <3

  7. This is an interesting blog, I like it. I have some Finnish roots. My father was from Finland and I was born in Hyvinkää but grew up in Switzerland. I know some words like ‘kiitos’, ‘hyvää päivää’, näkemiin and 2 phrases ‘Minä puhun saksa’ and ‘Oli ruoka hyvä’. Additionally I can count in Finnish, yksi, kaksi, kolme, neljä, viisi ….. an so one. But like in every language this is the easy part. You only have to know the number ten ‘kymmenen’ and hundred ‘sata’ and 1000 ‘tuhat’ and then you can count very far because it’s logical and simple.
    But I have one question. It is always said Finnish words are pronounced like they are written without exception. But as far I know there is one. I wonder that it’s seldom mentioned in Finnish lessons. It concerns the letter ‘h’. When a consonant follows it, it’s pronounced like the German ‘ch’ or the Swiss German ‘ch’.
    Examples for this are words like ‘kahvi’, ‘Lahti’, ‘kahdeksan’ etc. May be there are not so many words like this, but there are surely more or am I wrong?

Make me happy; let's get chatty! :)

Back To Top