Wondering how to survive in Helsinki without Finnish language skills? While Scandinavia is a popular destination for tourists, many are intimated by just how different it seems to be from their part of the world.
The cold weather, unfamiliar food, and remote locations can all be a bit intimidating. These are all no match for just how difficult the language is in Scandinavia countries — especially when it comes to learning the Finnish language. While the natives of Finland can speak Finnish with ease, it is not a simple language for tourists, expatriates or newcomers to Helsinki to learn.
Fortunately, if you are planning on visiting, moving or living in Helsinki, there are many ways to get by without knowing a word in the Finnish language.
How to survive in Helsinki without Finnish Language Skills
Get a Finnish translation app
Find a language app that translates some of your most common words to Finnish and have it with you at all times. When you need to ask for a particular place or item, you can simply enter the word into the language translation app to see the correct translation.
NOTE: This is no substitute for taking Finnish classes, but it will be useful when you need to know a specific word on the spot. It will also help you become accustomed to the words and phrases and be able to understand them in casual conversation. On the basis thereof, I highly recommend apps such as iTranslate voice and Triplingo.
Possibly the most important thing you can do is to be as polite and friendly as possible to the people you interact with. The Finnish people, in particular, are introverts and very polite. The Finns are always more likely to help you or engage in conversation if they see you smiling or asking a question politely while speaking in English.
Since English is a much more widely taught language around the world, most Finns can speak the English language fluently — especially urban dwellers such as those in the city of Helsinki.
Certainly, Finnish language is used in official matters, such as those involving government operations, but if you aren’t involved with such things, then you won’t necessarily be required to use it.
Learn the basics
Honestly, it won’t cost you anything to learn one or two words in Finnish. You can use the aforementioned translation app to learn basic phrases such as “hello,” and “thank you,” or you can speak with someone who knows both your language and Finnish.
Either way, it will be convenient for you to be familiar with everyday phrases, as it is considered polite to use them when you are able — the Finns will appreciate such type of gestures.
The first Finnish words I learned when I moved to Helsinki are “Hyvää huomenta” — Good morning, “Moi” — Hello and “Kiitos” — thank you!
Use hand gestures to communicate if you don’t know how to say a word in Finnish. There is plenty of power in pointing, whether in a certain direction or to a picture or map that you are carrying. People will understand what you are looking for and will help.
Join meetup groups
It can sometimes feel depressing living in a new country where the language, culture, and weather differs from what you are used to — couple with the fact that you don’t have friends and family to socialize with, especially in Winter — when it’s cold and dark.
If you find yourself in such a situation, it apparently means you are “quasi isolated from the society” — at this point, the most ideal thing to do in other to stay mentally healthy is to make friends. You can meet people and make friends by joining different meetup groups online, and attend their events. You can also meet people in your local mosque or church. I met good friends in the mosque and meetup groups.
Besides joining meetup groups, sign up in a local gym to keep fit and stay active (essential to stay mentally and physically healthy). You could meet a good friend in the gym too — you never know.
Learn about the Finnish culture
You can make friends with a native Finn and learn about the Finnish culture, or you can sign up for a Finnish culture course. By doing so, you will gradually appreciate the Finnish culture and that might eventually lead you to integrate smoothly into Finnish society.
Follow the news
It is important to know what is going on around you, right? Therefore, follow Helsinki Times or Yle News in English on Facebook and Twitter to stay abreast of the latest news report in Helsinki. If you have a cable TV, you can also follow events and happenings in the city.
Apparently, you need not have Finnish language skills in order to survive in Helsinki Finland. You can find your circle and live in your own space while still integrating into the Finnish society. You can spend your entire life in Helsinki without Finnish language skills, and it will still feel like home.