The Most Difficult Language in the World


Around this time, I had already started calling myself an “actor”, which meant that any source of additional income was desperately required. Hence, the good old saviour, Gumtree, came to rescue. Rather than following traditional search methods though, I decided to look only for jobs that would require the strongest of my skills I had been given at birth: my heritage.

As I typed in the key word “Finnish” to the search bar, to my surprise, a long list of open vacancies appeared on the browser window. At first, it seemed I had struck an undiscovered goldmine of work available specifically for native Finns - even though I conducted the search in my new home, London, fifteen-hundred miles away from Finland.

I was shocked by the large number of results. Suddenly, all those well-hidden opportunities laid right in front of my eyes. Even the Finnish communities living abroad had seemed non-existent, unlike some other more widespread nationalities like Indians, Poles or Irish. To be fair, the number of Finns existing in the whole world is a bit more limited too: only about five to six million.

Whether the Finnish population had spread globally or not, looking at these findings in the web, the high demand for professionals able to speak that unique language seemed to be there. Perhaps then, some of the Finns had managed to stray outside the country borders, yet keeping themselves tucked away and hidden from the crowds in their non-confrontational way.

But once I dug deeper and took a closer look at these job ads, most of them had the word “finnish” or “finish” begin with a lower case “f”. That crucial double “nn” still kept fooling me though, until I clicked open a few of those posts and I realised, they were only looking for carpenters and handymen to finish different kinds of structures, surfaces, walls and floors – a set of skills I had no expertise what-so-ever. One ad even said: “A skilled tradesman needed to finnish garden shed.”

It all made sense now. Or made no sense at all.

As I was just about losing hope and ready to use more universal search methods, right at the bottom of the second page appeared those two linguistic features that made all the difference. In surface, the posting seemed genuine, so I clicked it.

Someone was looking for a private Finnish language tutor.

Immediately, I messaged the advertiser and soon she got back to me. I suspected that lack of competition helped to set up our first lesson fairly easy and without that much convincing from my side. I did mention briefly that I had given private language lessons in the past. It is debatable though whether I really had. Coincidentally, a few months earlier, I had bought my foreign partner at the time a second-hand textbook, From Start to Finnish, by Leila White. I cannot recall my partner ever really using the book, yet I did spontaneously teach her some very basic, mostly vulgar Finnish (quite commonly the first things about new language we humans tend to teach and want to hear seems to be swear words).

Fortunately, my first-ever paying student needed tutoring only for about two to three months, before she was meant to follow her husband to Finland who had been employed to work there. I estimated that with my minimal experience I could put together a curriculum for such a short period of time before she would become too advanced and my inexperience would begin to show. Although, there was always a chance that my skills could improve as a tutor while she improves as a student. Nevertheless, I felt confident that teaching Finnish, one of the most unique and unusual languages in the world, to a Brit, one of the laziest learners of foreign languages, could be done without a certificate and just by mastering the very basics. I decided to focus on simple things like alphabets, counting, pronunciation and a few common phrases and grammar rules.

As I was prepping myself for the first lesson, I tried to remember some of the methods used by my private Spanish teacher, a Guatemalan man in his mid-twenties, whom I had also found from Gumtree a few years earlier. We met up two to three times a week in a coffee shop when I was living in Sydney, Australia. He was very hands-on, hardly using any textbooks at all but just conversing in Spanish early on and as much as possible, while simultaneously avoiding to use any English. After only four weeks’ worth of lessons, I was able to hold a ten-minute conversation with him in Spanish. Or I thought I did. I never really got to use and test my Spanish in the future in real-life situations and eventually the skill evaporated. It was difficult to know what he had really taught me or whether he was qualified to do his job or not. I never asked him to show any certificates.

So now I thought: “What goes around, comes around”. I liked my Spanish teacher’s tutoring system so much that I adapted it into my own style. I met up with my student, a young English woman in her late twenties, in a coffee shop in North London.

Even though I had that Finnish textbook with me, we hardly used it. I rather created the study material as we went along - just like the Guatemalan had done with me. I had a notepad and pen and I wrote down Finnish phrases and words while simultaneously articulating them to her and then asking her to repeat. We spent most of the time trying to get her phonetic pronunciation on the right track. I was relieved to hear that she didn’t speak fluently any foreign languages, hence the reference points to other language classes or comparisons to other teachers must have been limited.

At the end of the first class, she took my notes with her and I gave her homework. I felt the mood was positive and that there would be continuation.

As I was preparing for our second encounter, I already started to feel how the stakes were getting higher. Putting together a one-hour class took at least four to five hours of my time. In addition, as I was refreshing my own grammar, it cleared to me how I had mistakenly given my student false information about adessive and ablative.

I panicked. My mind started painting all these horror images of her studying dedicatedly at home, but only wasting her time, because of my incompetence. This shows how difficult Finnish language really is, since I couldn’t even manage the basics of it, even though I am supposed to be a native speaker!

In the end, I couldn’t wait until the next lesson to correct my mistakes, so I picked up the phone and sent her a long text message explaining what I had done wrong and how these particular Finnish cases should be dealt with.

She never replied to my text message. I only heard back from her five days later by email where she formally explained that due to work commitments she won’t have time to study more at this point, but she would come back to me when and if her situation changes.

Obviously, we never met again. She disappeared into thin air, or perhaps, Finnair! (I must have heard this pun from Pete White, who is specialised in wordplay. It’s a good one, yet slightly offensive from an English comedian to do Finnish puns!)

Looking back now, it may be that my disturbingly long text message to my student caused this alienation. It was probably too much, too soon and too eager. I sent it to her on Friday at eleven o’clock in the evening.

I was utterly disappointed and angry at myself. I really thought I had finally found someone who is willing to pay twenty pounds an hour to learn my odd, native tongue. Although, it was a miracle itself that it ever happened and has remained so far my only teaching experience of any kind.

I am still available though, if anyone is looking for a private Finnish teacher. And this time, having learned from my mistakes, I will promise to leave any form of communication within the office hours.

For further teaching enquiries, please contact me at