I have now been learning Finnish for 2 months and, because of its similarity to Estonian, also making some progress. Yesterday I attended a Finnish sauna event, where I was the only foreigner and I managed to communicate for a few hours almost exclusively in Finnish. Obviously, I made a lot of mistakes and I still have to work on my comprehension skills, but it’s a beginning.
During the time I have been learning I’ve found a few useful tools that have made the learning process a lot more efficient for me:
- Google Translate – It looks like statistical machine translation actually works! At least when you apply it in a limited setting. For me it has proven to be useful in at least three different ways. First, it’s definitely one of the most comprehensive dictionaries. I have found that Google Translate very often nows many strange slang words and phrases that cannot be found in traditional dictionaries. Secondly, if I do not know the basic form of the word then I can just type in the one that I found in the text and Google will translate it anyway. Finally, Google Translate is extremely fast and it very often gives me the answer before I finish typing.
- Another very useful tool is Google Search itself. Sometimes I need to verify whether the phrase that I am planning to use or what Google Translate has given me is actually used in Finnish. The easiest way is to Google for it! If there are many responses for the exact same phrase then it’s probably grammatically correct. In addition, if the search term was not correct, then google will do the stemming for me and I might find the correct phrase from one of the results.
- Finally, two extremely useful sites are Wiktionary and Verbix. Wiktionary has the declension tables for most of the nouns in all 15 cases. Verbix does for verbs what Wiktionary does for nouns – it shows how the verb changes in all possible tenses, modes and other grammatical structures for which I am not sure how they are called.
Like probably most of the people learning languages, I am not especially fond of memorizing vocabulary. Furthermore, because my background is in Computer Science, I also tend to liken learning natural languages to learning programming languages and in programming I have never had to explicitly memorize anything – I have always learned the things that I needed to know through usage.
Today I started to think that now that Google Translate can translate words for me almost instantaneously (instead of relatively slow paper dictionary), it theoretically might make sense not to explicitly learn any words and just translate everything I do not know on the fly. Eventually I should easily remember the words that occur most often and also know their context. I have no idea how much less effective would it be compared to creating flash cards, for example, but it would be nice if somebody studied it.