Well, it seems I am not alone in suffering from irritable vowels syndrome, if the messages I received from other ulkomaalaiset (foreigners) are anything to go by.
It's probably worth going back to basics for this...
Finnish is written phonetically, so it should be easy (in theory) to pronounce and decipher the sounds. In practice though, anyone trying to learn the Finnish needs to be able to tell the difference between the sounds (I like to offer quality linguistic insight, you know!).
Many native English speakers for example struggle with “y” and “u”. Those are easy for me however (said with the appropriate modicum of false modesty of course – wipes brow), as I also speak both German (“y” and “u” are pronounced the same) and French (“y” and “u” are equivalent to “u” and “ou” respectively). English speakers also find the “ö” a little tricky, but it's similar to the same letter in German and “eu” in French. So from my perspective, no problem there either.
The “a” and “ä”, however, are much closer sounding – to my ears and mouth at any rate. The “a” is roughly the same sound as in German or French, and so a long “a” sounds approximately like the “ea” in “heart” (using British pronunciation); the short “a” is a bit like “u” in “hut” (British) or “o” in “hot” (American). The “ä” is approximately like “a” in “hat” (i.e. different from the German's “ä”).
So, repeat after me now: “heart”, “hut”, “hat”, “heart”, "hut", “hat”, ...
Sounds easy, huh?
Now, my fellow foreigners, try these (Finns, sit back and marvel at the lengths we have to go to in order to master your language):
Takki / Täkki
Jacket / Quilt
Tai / Täi
Or / Louse
Kasi / Käsi
Slang for number 8 / Hand
Sade / Säde
Rain / Beam, radius, ray
Vaara / Väärä
Danger, Peril / Wrong, incorrect
Haka / Häkä
Hook / Carbon monoxide
Saari / Sääri
Island / Leg, paw
Saa / Sää
(He) may / Weather
Ratti / Rätti
Funnel, steering wheel / Rag
Mika / Mikä
(Boy’s name) / What
Plenty of scope for confusion there, you'll agree: “I've just bought a new Elvis-style leather quilt”; “Pass me the carbon monoxide!”; “Would you like to spend time on my exotic leg?”...
The above list was actually provided to me by my Finnish tutor, Maarit, after she read about my predicament in my previous blog-post. We spent a few minutes repeating those words, over and over again. It felt like being at the doctor's: “Say 'sää'... Again... Now 'saa'...”!
Soon, we were laughing too much to continue. But hopefully, my vowel problem is now solved or at least on the mend.