Helsinki

I’ve just returned from three weeks in Helsinki, staying with Sara’s family, and studying an “intensive” Finnish language course. I thought I’d put together a few thoughts about each.

  • The course was taught entirely in Finnish, including the textbook, which worked reasonably well at first (teaching basic nouns, and explaining simple grammatical concepts). In the later part of the course, however, it was harder to follow, and I often found myself checking online to ensure I was understanding the teacher’s explanations. English explanations would have made life easier.
  • The course ran from 16:15 to 20:00, four days a week, with only a single 15-minute break. Three and a half hours is kind of a long time to remain focused, and usually it was difficult for me to take much in during the last hour.
  • Because the course ran every day, I didn’t find much time to study outside class (especially since I was working part-time during two of the three weeks, and I wanted time to relax too). I think I’d’ve got more out of a non-intensive course (i.e., more, shorter lessons, over a longer period); for example, the German course I took during university was approximately the same level and the same number of hours, but at two hours a week over a period of months. (One reason I took the intensive course was because I didn’t expect to have much free evening time during term time.)
  • That said, it was far from a waste of time, and I definitely feel like I have a better grasp of Finnish than I did a month ago (enough to pick words out of conversations, though not enough to actually follow most conversations).
  • Living in Finland made learning easier, as there was plenty of opportunity to hear and read Finnish, though I didn’t get quite so much chance to practice speaking to people, since every time a shop assistant asked me something I didn’t know, they’d see me look confused and try again in English
  • Helsinki was a very nice city to live in, particularly compared to London; it’s a lot smaller, and more open with more green spaces (like a lake right in the middle of the city). Trams made a nice change from the Central Line, too. There also seemed to be pretty good provision for cyclists, with a lot of cycle paths physically separated from the road, though as I didn’t have a bike with me I didn’t get to try them out.