Friday, 31 January 2014

Panic and learn!


I've been considering posting a video of myself talking English, but before I do that I thought I'd tell you how I learned English. I've briefly mentioned about my language learning techniques before, but never in much detail. So I thought I'd tell you know how I learned English.

I hope this post will be inspiring for those who feel they aren't very good at languages. You don't have to be good at languages to be able to speak them. You just have to forget that you can't do it and go and talk to some people who speak the language you're trying to learn. Or that's what I did anyway.

Scottish gear.


My Finnish school tried to teach me English since I was 7. I was very good at school – in everything except English. English was the one subject that I was always failing at. I was very worried that I would have to repeat a year, because I couldn't pass in English. I always managed to pass it somehow though. Occasionally, maybe out of pity.

On seventh grade, when I was 12, I started learning Swedish. A year after that I started learning French. And a year after that something meaningful happened. One of the girls in my school asked me to do her English homework because she hadn't done it and didn't have time to do everything before her class. I told her that I couldn't do it because I don't know any English (I was still just barely passing my English classes). But I tried anyway, and after her class she thanked me because I had filled in her exercises correctly. That's when I realised that I had actually started learning English. 

I believe that learning Swedish and French had helped me a lot. I had always wanted to learn languages and because I hadn't learned English I had chosen other languages that I thought might be easier and really put some effort into learning them. But turns out that learning one language really helps you learn another. Once you learn how languages work, it will be easier to understand a language.

I took part in a Nordic exchange program and hosted a Danish boy while I was at school.

Languages are not just sets of words tied together with different grammar rules. Language is something that people use to communicate with each other. Language is a tool for expressing yourself. Language is a frame for our thoughts. There are things you can't translate from one language to another. You need to understand things about the culture in order to learn a language properly. You can't know every word in any language. And you don't have to speak grammatically correctly in order to get understood.

Language exchanges

Although I wasn't good at languages, I always really wanted to travel and see the world. There are so many organisations that offer language exchanges for teenagers. My family never travelled abroad on holidays so the language exchange organisations offered me opportunities to travel and see the world on my own. And I probably got a better deal, because it gives you a better chance to learn about foreign cultures and to use the language if you live in a host family, than if you just stay in a tourist hotel with your own family.


When I was 14 I travelled to Sweden, because although I had been studying Swedish for a lot shorter time than English, I felt that my Swedish was stronger than my English. I was incredibly scared to travel to a foreign country alone and to live with a family I had never met before. I was there for 2 weeks. My job was to work at a farm and to experience what Sweden is like. There were 8 Nordic kids there, 2 from each country. I met wonderful people there and apparently somehow managed to communicate with the others. I can remember things we've spoken about but can't even remember what language I used or how on earth I was able to talk about those things.

Photo from


When I was 16, I wanted to become an exchange student and go to New Zealand. It, however, was too expensive for my family. Instead I got a chance to go on a language course in Oxford, England! Originally I was meant to go with a friend, but then she wasn't able to go. But because it is so easy to make new friends on language courses I went alone. And to be honest, I think it's better that I went alone. Maybe if I had had a friend with me I wouldn't have been so open and willing to get to know people. Language-wise the trip maybe wasn't the most useful because almost all the people I made friends with were Finns. But for my self-confidence this trip made a huge difference. For the first time I had a chance to meet new people who didn't know anything about me. No rumours, no gossip, no worries that someone might judge them if they talked to me. I made friends. It was incredible. I loved the people I met and I loved Oxford. And I wanted to return to UK one day.

So much love.

Denmark and Germany

When I was 17 I did a couple of youth exchanges in a row. I spent a week in Denmark and then one month in Germany. I spoke English with Danish and German people and we managed to communicate with each other. That's the whole purpose of a language. I also learned to understand German!

Time for making future plans

When I was 18, I graduated from upper secondary school (high school / reading school / whateveryouwannacallit school). It was time to figure out what I wanted to do next.

Big secret: I had no idea what I wanted to do next.

I had great dreams of becoming an air hostess or a lorry driver or anything to do with travel. But Finnair stated that you must be 22 before you can start training. I considered joining the army and getting all sorts of driving licenses there (because it would be just cool to drive a tank, right?). I phoned the Finnish Defence Forces and asked for a leaflet. I considered that I might need a realistic back-up plan though, and considered applying to Kuopio where I could study to become a sign language interpreter.

Army lorries from

There was this Fayre about all sorts of universities and future careers in Helsinki that my school "forced" me to attend where I stumbled upon a stall labelled "Scottish Universities". That sounded fun! I had never really thought about Scotland possibly being a real country. To me it had been some sort of fairytale land. You know, Loch Ness Monster, bagpipes and kilts? When I realised that it was a real place, I thought it might be a fun idea to apply there.

Without actually believing in my chances of getting into a Scottish University, I also applied to a college near my hometown where I could study acting in English. I had decided that I would go back to UK and study there, but knew that I would have to improve my English. I got accepted to that college and I was happy.

Then, I got an acceptance letter from a Scottish University, and was ... shocked? I figured that I would of course go and do my best at studying there, and see how long they let me stay before they kick me out. I said bye bye to my army plans and asked my dad to book my plane tickets. (He didn't quite realise what was happening because still two weeks before the university started, he was under the assumption that I was going to go and study at the college near my hometown.)

Scotland and its piper girls and Nessie spotting.

Panicky learning

After I knew I only had a couple of months to properly learn English, I did the most sensible thing I could do. I practised English by reading Harry Potters. I watched a lot of TV series. I started with Friends. First, I had subtitles in Finnish and really tried to listen to what they said. The language they use was fairly easy to understand, so when I thought I was almost ready to let the Finnish subtitles go, I changed them to English. It was easier to follow the dialogue when I could read what they were saying and I didn't have to rely on catching every word. And when I was able to follow what was happening, I turned the subtitles off completely. And was happy to notice that I still could understand what was happening.

After I ran out of Friends, I chose a more difficult TV series: Gilmore Girls. It's brilliant, but they speak really fast. And a lot. I used the same 3 step subtitle technique. I really recommend it if you need to learn a language! When you have a long enough TV series to follow, you will get to know all the characters and start to understand them. It's like going on an exchange program and making new friends, except you don't have to go anywhere. But you will learn the language.

  1. Choose an enjoyable TV series and watch it with subtitles in your own language while listening to what the characters say in their language.
  2. When you're used to listening to their speech, change the subtitles into their language.
  3. When you can pick out all the words, turn off the subtitles.

Obviously this technique only works, if you have some background knowledge on the language. But when you're desperate and really out of practise it does help.

I learned such useful phrases.


So what happened to me after I trained myself to understand English by watching American TV series?

Well, I had learned to understand spoken English. I didn't need long to adapt for most accents I heard when I arrived. I lived in halls and there was a cleaner whose Doric accent was hard to understand. And so was my future flatmate's Geordie accent. But my accent was the hardest thing for people to understand. I had a strong monotonic Finnish accent. And Gilmore Girls had taught me to speak really fast. I have a feeling that hardly anyone understood me for the first 6 months. Apart from some foreign people. 

I spent my first year mostly socialising with French, Polish and German people. It was easier to speak with people who weren't native speakers. And we learnt to understand each other although our language skills weren't perfect.

But I survived. And after this experience I would recommend everyone who is trying to learn a language to visit a country where they speak that language.

So, um. Would you like to hear what I sound like these days?


  1. Tuo tv-sarjojen kanssa kielen opettelu on kyllä hyvä niksi! Oon itekin oppinut vähän lisää englannin kielen sanastoa katsomalla animea, lähes kaikki animesarjat kun on teksitetty englanniksi. Frendit on myös loistava sarja, sitä on katsonut niin monet kerrat, että vuorosanat alkaa osata jo ulkoa :D En oo koskaan opiskellut espanjaa, mutta sitäkin osaan jo muutamia sanoja, kiitos Serranon Perheen!
    Olis mielenkiintoista nähdä sulta videota! :3

    1. Niimpä, melkein vahingossa voi oppia, kunhan vähän jaksaa keskittyä siihen, mitä katsoo. :) Frendit on kyllä jotenkin tosiaan sellainen sarja, että tuntuu että kaikki osaavat siitä pitkiä pätkiä ulkoa. :D Oletko oppinut myös japania animesta?

    2. Japania en oo oppinut kuin pari sanaa, mutta sen opiskeluun ei kyllä ole kiinnostustakaan, joten ehkä sekin vaikuttaa asiaan :P

  2. En ole tiennyt, että olet ollut koulussa niin huono englannissa joskus. Mulla ei ollut koskaan siinä(kään) vaikeuksia koulussa. Käsitöissä ehkä oli. Ei kai ketään ala-asteella käskeittäisi uusia luokkaa vain englannin kielen takia? Oot ollut kyllä tosi rohkea, kun 14 -vuotiaana olet mennyt Ruotsiin isäntäperheeseen. Mä en varmaan olisi uskaltanut. Olisin pitänyt ajatusta hirveän houkuttelevana, mutta pelottavana. Voiko lukiota sanoa "reading schooliksi"? Jännää. Tässä oli monta juttua, joita en tiennyt, tai vaihtoehtoisesti muistanut.

    Tuo TV-sarjajuttu on kyllä hyvä. Jos mulla on suomenkieliset tekstit, en hirveämmin kuuntele, mitä ne puhelevat. Englanninkieliset tekstit ovat hyvät. Ja suommenokset jättävät joskus jotain pois, se on ärsyttävää. Gilmoren tytöt on kyllä aika vaikea ymmärtää ilman mitään tekstitystä, ne puhuvat niin ihmeellisiä juttuja välillä, etten vaan tajua.

    Mun englanninkielen taito on ihan hyvää, mutta tosiaan edelleen ongelmat puhua englantia sitä äidinkielenään tai suomenkielisten seurassa. Oon mä molempia tehnyt, mutta mielellään välttelen. Järkytyin kun hyväksyin kiinalaistytön poikaystävänsä kanssa sohvasurffaamaan, ja huomasin että poikaystävä oli Lontoosta. Hyvin meni sekin, ja sen miehen kanssa lähinnä sitten juttelinkin. Mutta pystyn englanninkielellä saamaan ystäviä ja ylläpitämään ystävyyssuhteitani, hoitamaan asioitani, matkailemaan, lukemaan ongelmitta tutkimusartikkeleitakin ja tekemään toimintaterapeuttityöharjoitteluita. Jos pääsisin sinne Kanadaan, se voisi auttaa mua ongelmieni kanssa. Brysselissä oli yksi englantilainen asiakas, sen piti välillä toimia muistiryhmissäni kääntäjänä niille, jotka eivät osanneet englantia. Se itse puhui täydellisesti flaamia ja ranskaakin. Niinä kertoina olin ihan paniikissa, vaikka nekin kyllä jotenkin onnistuivat.

    1. Olisi ollut aika karua jäädä luokalleen englannin takia, mutta sitä pelkäsin koko ala-asteen! Ei lukiota virallisesti voi sanoa reading schooliksi, mutta kuvailen sitä joskus niin, jos pitää selittää suomalaista koulusysteemiä. Kun sitähän se käytännössä tarkoittaa. :D Kiva, että oli uusia juttuja! Tai ainakin muistutuksia, tuntuu, että oon varmaan kyllä kaiken sulle jo joskus kertonut. Ainakin ohimennen sivulauseessa. Toivottavasti saisit vielä rohkaistuttua tuossa englannin puhumisessa suomalaisten ja natiivienkin seurassa. Ja toivottavasti pääsisit sinne Kanadaan!

  3. Ite olin koulussa hyvä englannisA, mutta aina kun piti puhua, niin jäädyn totaalisesti. Koulussa opin ihan hyvin kaikki kieliopit yms, mutta puhumisessa tuntu et kieli menee solmuun.

    Mä päätin sitte lähteä vaihtoon, koska olin siitä aina haaveillut. Vaihdossa opin sitten kunnolla englantia ja huomasin, että hei mähän osaan kommunikoida enkuksi.

    1. Vieraan kielen puhuminen on kyllä aina niin pelottavaa. Siinä on jotenkin niin alaston olo, kun ajattelee, että kaikki kuulee kaikki virheet. Mutta oikeasti siinä kyllä ihmiset vain yrittävät kuunnella mitä sanottavaa itsellä on. Eikä sitä kieltä voi puhumatta oppiakaan. Olisi hyvä, jos Suomessa kouluissa panostettaisiin enemmän myös siihen puhumisen opetteluun.

  4. Ihana postaus! Nyt vain sitä videota odotellessa ;)
    Jaoin sinulle tunnustusta blogissani! :)

  5. Puhut ilmeisesti suomea vaikka englanniksi kirjoitat? :3 aivan ihana blogi täynnä ihania valokuvia ja kaikkee aawww awww aww ja lesbot ja kaikki... Aiheet on niin mulle tehty, mutta sitten... se kieli englanti.. oon ihan surkea englannissa, joten yhhh en tiiä ehkä seuraan silti koska rakastuin kaikkeen muuhun tässä blogissa <3

    1. Haha, kiitos paljon! <3 Harmi tosiaan, että kieli on esteenä. Oon itse asiassa harkinnut pitäisikö alkaa kirjoittaa myös suomeksi!