Once, after successfully deciphering a whole paragraph in a Finnish magazine, I declared with pride: “I find that if I know all the words, I can understand what it says!”
Possibly not my most insightful comment ever.
The serious point behind that truism was that, with Finnish, one either knows a word or one doesn’t. There is no guessing in the way one can in so many other (Latin or Germanic) languages.
There are of course a few words in Finnish that are similar to English, such as televisio, salaatti, banaani, taksi, hattu, tina or presidentti. Finnish also has words that, with a bit of imagination, can be related to English words, including kahvi (coffee), pekoni (bacon), viini (wine), Joulu (Yule), kirahvi (giraffe) or naapuri (neighbour).
However, most Finnish words are simply unique to Finnish and just have to be learnt.
There are words that look like they ought to be familiar to an English-speaker, but actually aren’t (“false friends”), e.g. helppo (easy), kone (machine), tuska (pain), katu (street), hinta (price) or piste (dot).
There are also the Finnish versions of words that are otherwise virtually “universal”: ravintola (restaurant), puhelin (telephone), elokuva (film) and jalkapallo (football).
And then there are all the other words, from aakkosellinen (alphabetical) to öylätti (wafer) - the first and last entries in my pocket dictionary...
The fact that Finnish words are so very different from other languages makes learning the language quite a challenge, especially for people like me who possess a fairly poor memory.
Furthermore, from my perspective at least, many Finnish words look very similar to each other. Consider for example tuli (fire), tuuli (wind) and tulli (customs) - all the same to me. So don't ask me to light a fire or you might be in for a surprise.
My confusion over similar-looking words has predictably lead me to some embarrassing situations, such as the time I tried to praise someone for the excellent cake (kakku) they had baked, and said confidently: “hyvää kakkaa” (“good poo”)!
I suppose it is all part of the learning process though: never again will I confuse cake and poo, which surely is a good thing.