Friday, 17 June 2011

Being a Snail

Yesterday, one of my co-workers told me in Finnish: “Tomorrow, I will be a snail”.

Even accounting for Finnish eccentricity, aspiring to be a snail is quite an odd thing.

I couldn't quite imagine what being a snail might be like so I asked for clarification. A somewhat confusing exchange followed as my co-worker didn't seem to understand why I was asking her about snails.

Then, suddenly, she got it: “No!! I didn't say etana [snail]”, she exclaimed, “I said 'olen etänä', which means I will be working remotely, from home”.

Etänä, etana... Who thought 4 little dots could create such confusion?

Yet I still struggle to hear the difference. I guess I will have to get used to my co-workers being snails.


  1. Same problem here, I keep asking my boyfriend if I should add these dots or not since I don't hear the difference either. I'm just barely able to make the ä myself.

    Another of my problems (as a French speaker) is the h. I just can't pronounce properly and separately the words "tahra" (stain) and "tarha" (garden). I found that out after a confusing conversation in Finnish with my boyfriend when I told him he had a garden on his shirt.

  2. Then, suddenly, she got it: “No!! I didn't say etänä [snail]”, she exclaimed, “I said 'olen etana', which means I will be working remotely, from home”.

    I think there's a slight mistake there. It should be that she said that "she's etänä" which is the word for working from home etc. and "etana" means snail.

  3. Thank god for that. I thought I was the only one that struggled to hear the difference between the a and ä. Even when someone is spelling something for me I can't hear it - sends my fella mad. I swear he thinks I'm an idiot :D

  4. Well, for me it is the U and Y. I just cannot differentiate between them. Why does a language need to be so hard!!??

    I am British and have lived in Lapland 7 years.. and it gets no easier! My youngest son, who was 11 when we first came here.. has it nailed the language though, which is great for him... but sooooo far off for the rest of the family!

  5. If it helps Heather, an ä always comes with the letter ö. So if you here the ö sound and not a regular o, then you know it has to follow that the dots come too!

    For all people looking to learn Finnish. I use this group at Oulu, using the online classes. They are great. (scroll down that page to find the online courses) They are FREE!

    There is also a group on Facebook where you can ask questions and get support from understanding fellow sufferers! :D!/home.php?sk=group_157836860904111


  6. @vinkkeli Thanks for picking up on my mistake. I have now corrected it. Just goes to prove how inept I am with the little dots!

  7. I think a good way to "deprogram" the blind spots of one's native language might be to silently practice forming different sounds in your mouth to grasp the difference that way.
    Exaggeration is also a good idea. The corners will get rounded out when you actually speak anyway.

  8. Besides Ö typically being there along with Ä, also Y is such a vowel. The opposite of Ä, Ö and Y are A, O and U, and there are very few (if any?) words in Finnish where you can find vowels in both of these groups. So - if there is an O or U in the world, there probably is an A instead of Ä.

    A, O and U are called 'takavokaalit', as they are pronounced in the back of your mouth, while Ä, Ö, Y, I and E are called 'etuvokaalit' as they are pronounce in the front. See