As a result, I have had to develop various strategies to try and remember words. One of these is an obsessive analysis of Finnish surnames.
Many Finnish surnames are based on nature, so they provide an excellent source of vocabulary. For example architect and designer Alver Aalto, writer Aleksis Kivi and ice-hockey world-cup hero Mikko Koivu are useful agents for learning (and actually REMEMBERING) the words “wave”, “stone” and “birch” respectively.
A few of my friends and colleagues have also unwittingly contributed to expanding my vocabulary, e.g.:
aho = meadow
iso = big, mäki = hill
jarven = of the lake, pää = head
korpi = wilderness (not to be confused with korppi = raven)
laakso = valley
lehto = grove, vaara = danger / a large forested hill
mansikka = strawberry, niemi = peninsula
paju = willow
pitkä = long
suvi = old word for summer, ranta = beach / shore
sääski = mosquito / midge, lahti = bay
Big thanks to all of them and others...
However, this learning strategy has a bit of down-side. It means that, upon meeting someone, I often can't resist asking “does your name mean anything?” I do try to conceal my disappointment when the person's name turns out to be meaningless.
I realise that my random questioning and my reaction to the answer have the potential to cause annoyance or offense, or indeed both. But hey, a stupid foreigner's got to do what he's got to do to get to grips with the perplexing Finnish language. And so far, I have not had any adverse reaction from those people I have asked.. Maybe they feel sorry for me.
Further reading on the Finnish surnames: “Surname stories: Land of the –nens”