My Finnish language learning setup: September 2023

Etudes in leisurely learning

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Anki card at top; finstem in bottom left; Anki browse in bottomright.

I continue to slowly, leisurely study Finnish on my own time, when I manage to find it after my day job and family life. I already live in Finland, but I currently work here as a software team lead, which is a famously English-dominant industry. So I don’t feel any particular urgency – but I’ve already started down this path, and I’d like to be able to talk fluently with my relatives and in-laws one day, and it’s good productive fun besides. :)

At the top of the screen is the Anki spaced-repetition software, displaying a sentence from today’s Selkouutiset news (selko = clear; uutiset = news; selko+uutiset = ‘clear news’, kind of like Simple English Wikipedia). In the bottom-right corner is a tiny “live” computer program I wrote several months ago, which tries and mostly succeeds in taking Finnish words and spitting out their dictionary forms. And in the bottom-left corner is Anki’s “flashcard browse” window, where I take the words from the bottom-left and search for them in an Anki flashcard deck I created of the most common 10,000 words in Finnish.

My method is pretty simple, and comes in 2 stages: The reading stage, and the vocabulary acquistion stage. I try to do both as many days as I can.

The reading stage

  1. Try to read, and understand, the passage. Sometimes I will have scratch paper next to me where I try to literally write what I understand the sentence to be, but I never let that be a blocker if I can’t be arsed to find it. Exact word-for-word translation isn’t my goal here, understanding is.
    1. Selkouutiset’s passages are a quite reasonable length for me at this point for this kind of exercise. But when I was first starting out, it just took too long to read 2 sentences instead of 1, so I used to put each sentence on a different card, instead of each paragraph. I think the progression is quite natural.
  2. For each word I don’t recognize:
    1. Find its dictionary form, by pasting it into the bottom-left window.
    2. Look up its dictionary form in the bottom-right window.
    3. If I find a vocabulary card, then that’s good enough for me to mark that card with a “Red” flag in Anki, so that I can review all the new cards together later on.
    4. If I don’t find the vocabulary card, then that tells me this word is so uncommon that YLE didn’t find it often enough to include it in their own “top 10,000 words” list from back in the 1990s, which I created the original Anki deck from (which I tried to find, but it appears Wiktionary has removed it 🤔). That’s good enough for me to say ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ “Even I have my limits, man”.
      1. It’s worth pointing out that in practice I haven’t come across a word yet that didn’t appear on this list and wasn’t some straightforward combination of two or three other much more common words that were on the list. Finnish is an agglutinative language, so this comes to the surprise of no one. There’s no reason one couldn’t Red-flag those more elemental words to get 80% of the same benefit to understanding, with only 20% of the effort that actually creating an entirely new Anki card might require. I haven’t found my vocabulary to be that limiting in some time, but I wouldn’t be shy about doing it.
  3. Flip the card and see if I understood correctly. I try to be reasonably rigorous here.
    1. If I understood the sentence perfectly without any rereading, I mark the card in Anki as “Easy”.
    2. If I understood the sentence, but it took some conscious effort, I mark it as “Good”.
    3. If I missed only 1 or 2 minor points, I mark the card in Anki as “Hard”.
    4. If I missed more than 1 or 2 minor points, or a major part of the meaning of the sentence, I mark it as “Again”.
    5. Yes, I generally do the “look up individual words” activity before I flip the sentence. I think this breadcrumb-trail approach leads to better results in the long run.

The vocab-acquisition stage

This is even simpler, and generally comes after I’ve my finished Finnish reading Anki card queue.

  1. Filter down to all Red flag cards.
  2. Review!

This step is also much more optional than the previous one. The human brain is much better at grokking the meanings of words surrounded by their friends than in isolation. Nevertheless, I find it to be quite helpful to get a “bottom-up” understanding as well.

Happy studies everyon. Hope you’re reaching your language goals faster than I am! :D