Finnish Language

Hei! Tervetuloa Suomeen!

Many former American Fulbright grantees have agreed that some level of Finnish language competency is appreciated, although it is possible to get by speaking English. Fulbright Finland Foundation will help you get to know the language with some information and advices during your stay in Finland. 

WHAT? - Grantees will have a good working vocabulary, some conversational skills, and understanding of the Finnish language.

WHY? - It will certainly make everyday social activities, conversations with Finns, shopping for groceries easier to do and so on.

HOW? - Start your journey by considering attending a course in Finnish during the summer:

Summer Schools in Finland:

Finnish in Working Life for Beginners
Organized by the Turku University of Applied Sciences

  • August 14-28, 2018
  • This course aims to give students basic knowledge Finnish language, culture, and Finnish Working Life.

Intensive Summer Course in Finnish Language and Culture
Organized by the Summer University of Jyväskylä

  • May 21-25, 2018 or
  • May 28 - June 1, 2018
  • Includes also Social Program
Organized by the University of Jyväskylä
  • August 6-17, 2018


Besides, you may also want to know some thoughts from former grantees on the benefits of learning Finnish:   

Try to learn Finnish - yes, everyone here is very fluent in English, but you will make many more Finnish friends and get many more opportunities if you learn Finnish and use it, even if you only start while you are in Finland. -U.S. Student Grantee 2013-2014

Learn the language - it is NOT impossible like many will tell you, and it will open up so many doors for you. -U.S. Student Grantee 2013-2014

Some people say it is hard to practice speaking Finnish because so many Finns speak perfect English. However, I learned that if you initiate conversation and let people know that you want to speak in their language, most people are very patient and will help you. -U.S. Student Grantee 2013-2014


Opportunities for studying Finnish

It should be noted that the Finnish language courses are very popular and one should enroll in classes as soon as the dates of the classes are published. Courses at different levels are arranged by different organizations, for instance universities, Open Universities, Summer Universities, folk academies etc.

Fulbright Finland Foundation can help you find a suitable course.

Intensive Finnish language courses for international students are available in most Finnish universities during the regular academic year. Course schedules may be obtained from the Foreign Student Advisor at your host institution. If you want to get a head start, you may want to consider attending an intensive course in Finnish during the summer. Intensive Finnish instruction is available within summer university programs in many cities.

Beginners Finnish has been recommended as an excellent book (available on Amazon), and there are great websites with everything from flashcards to grammar. One favorite cited often has been Tavataan taas. It walks you through the most important phrases and grammar.

Take a course in Finnish language—for fun, to show respect for the people here, and to learn simple communication. My home department couldn’t understand why I did this, and discouraged it, but I’m glad that I persevered.

Take a beginners course in Finnish before arrival. Most people do speak English, but a basic understanding of the language can be helpful in performing simple tasks like using an automated teller machine at the bank or preparing food.

Learn Finnish Online

General Rules

  • Emphasize the first syllable of each word, always
  • All letters are pronounced
  • Intonation: interrogative sentences do NOT rise at the end
  • Long or double vowels and consonants (duration of holding the sound)
  • Vowel elision (diphthongs) is common
  • J sounds like Y and Y sounds like German Ü
  • U is pronounced like the double O in English “pool”
  • R should be trilled, if possible (and it sounds lovely)
  • H is sounded or vocalized
  • Ä and Ö are new vowel sounds for Americans (ä is very open and flat like “at”, and ö sounds a bit like “turn” but more forward in the mouth and rounded lips)

How difficult is it? Can you come up with the meaning of the following Finnish words?

  • Amerikka
  • professori
  • posti
  • grilli
  • marketti
  • teatteri
  • Meksiko
  • Intia
  • banaani
  • maanantai

Some Practice Words

Emphasize the first syllable

  • Päivää - Hello - greeting appropriate for the afternoon
  • Katu - Street
  • Olut - Beer
  • Keskus - Center
  • Satama - Harbor
  • Kahdeksan - 8
  • Huomiseen! - See you tomorrow!

Long/double vowels
(hold the vowel sound longer than usual)

  • Saari - Island
  • Kiitos paljon - Thank you very much
  • Anteeksi - Sorry

Long/double consonants
(hold the consonant sound longer, make a slight stop in the middle of the sound)

  • Opiskella - To study
  • Kaikki - All, everyone
  • Kamppi - Helsinki’s central bus station and big mall

Vowel elision (diphthongs)

  • Suomi - Finland
  • Euro - Euro
  • Pieni - Small

J is pronounced like English y

  • Joo - Yes (informal)
  • Ja - And
  • Kirja - Book

Y is pronounced like the German Ü, closest sound in English is soft u (“too”)

  • Yliopisto - University
  • Ystävä - Friend

Trilled r

  • Terve - Hello
  • Ravintola - Restaurant
  • Rautatieasema - Railway station

H is sounded

  • Lahti - our own Johanna Lahti
  • Terhi - our own Terhi Mölsä
  • Tähti - Star

Useful Phrases

Kiitos Thank you
Ole hyvä You are welcome
Anteeksi Sorry / Excuse me
Kyllä / Joo (informal) Yes
Ei No
Huomenta Good morning
Päivää Good afternoon
Iltaa Good evening
Mitä kuuluu? How are you?
Hyvää, kiitos Good, thank you
Puhutteko englantia? Do you speak English?
Minun nimeni on ... / Mun nimi on My name is ...
Mikä sinun nimesi on? What is your name?
Hauska tavata Nice to meet you
Missä on ...? Where is ...?

Glossary of Food Vocabulary

This glossary gives you some basic vocabulary you need when shopping for food so that you don’t have to stay hungry even if you don’t know any Finnish or Swedish yet.
Source: Survival Guide for International Students and Scholars to Turku.

appelsiini orange apelsin
banaani banana banan
broileri chicken kyckling/broiler
sieni mushroom champinjon
herne pea ärt
hillo jam sylt
jauheliha minced meat malet kött
jogurtti yoghurt joghurt
juusto cheese ost
kaakao cocoa kakao
kahvi coffee kaffe
kala fish fisk
kalkkuna turkey kalkon
kana chicken kyckling
kananmuna egg ägg
kaurahiutale oatmeal havreflingor
kerma cream grädde
kesäkurpitsa zucchini zucchini
kevytmaito semi skimmed milk lättmjölk
kinkku ham skinka
kivennäisvesi mineralwater mineralvatten
kukkakaali cauliflower blomkål
kurkku cucumber gurka
lampaanliha / lammas mutton lammkött / fårkött
lehtisalaatti lettuce sallad
leipä bread bröd
lohi / kirjolohi salmon lax
luumu plum plommon
maissi corn majs
maito milk mjölk
maksa liver lever
mansikka strawberry jordgubbe
margariini margarine margarin
mehu juice saft, juice
munakoiso aubergine äggplanta
mustikka blueberry blåbär
naudanliha / nauta beef nötkött
olut beer öl
omena apple äpple
paahtoleipä toast rostat bröd
paprika paprika paprika
papu bean böna
parsakaali broccoli broccoli
pasta pasta pasta
persikka peach persika
peruna potato potatis
piimä sour milk surmjölk
porkkana carrot morot
pähkinä nut nöt
päärynä pear päron
rasvaton fat free fettfri
rasvaton maito skimmed milk fettfri mjölk
riisi rice ris
ruisjauho rye flour rågmjöl
rusina raisin russin
salaatti salad sallad
sianliha/sika pork griskött
sinappi mustard senap
sipuli onion lök
sokeri sugar socker
suola salt salt
tee tea te
tomaatti tomato tomat
vadelma raspberry hallon
vehnäjauho wheat flour
vesi water vatten
vesimeloni watermelon vattenmelon
voi butter smör
öljy oil matolja


Banking Vocabulary can be found on the Money and Banking page.

Photos: VisitFinland