Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

Language triangles

I am so happy with the calling I just got at church: Primary pianist. SCORE. This is my all-time favorite calling and I feel so lucky to have it. Today I spent some time in Primary to get acquainted with their system, and I was amazed at what I saw going on, linguistically.

Kids in that room had English, Finnish, and/or Swedish as their native language. Some kids speak all three, some speak only two (or two-ish), and some only one. The teacher was sharing a message by way of a never-ending language gymnastics routine - a few sentences in Finnish, then a quick catch-up in English, then a few words in Swedish, then Finnish for another long stretch. It was fascinating.

And it brought to mind some expectations that we had to adjust when we came here. I was very much influenced by Melissa Dalton Bradford's Global Mom strategy of "ikke Ingelsk, bare norsk" - no English, only Norwegian at church (they were in Norway, not Finland, obviously). I hoped and strived for the same for us in Finland. And we still do hope and strive, but with a lowered bar. There are so, so many basic things that are still hard for us to figure out how to say, and it was like, either we can sit here and stare blankly at each other after we've exhausted my Finnish and your patience, or we can maybe get some stuff done or even have a conversation in a mix of English and FInnish, or even just English (depending on the interlocutor, of course - not everyone speaks English).

My favorite is the people who take the effort to speak to us in FInnish and then help us understand, either by speaking slowly/simply or by explaining later in English, and I can't help but wonder if that's more of what the Bradfords did in Norway. If it was maybe more about their attitude - "we don't expect you to bow to our native language and use it all the time with us" kind of thing, rather than "literally please never speak English to us." And this effort on our part here in Finland is honored in simple ways by these lovely people, like the time I replied "minäkin" to mean "me neither" and the FInn next to me just said hey, it's actually "minäkään" when you want "me neither" instead of "me, too." Done! Lesson learned. Easy as that.

This adjustment of expectations was reinforced by my FInnish teacher, who on Friday explained to me that Finnish is like a triangle - there is so much on the base level for you to learn that it can be hard to say much at first. But once you have mastered that considerable lower level, it gets easier and simpler as you move up, tapering gradually. English, on the other hand (along with several other languages I've learned) is more of an inverted triangle - with just a few words and constructions, you can say so much. It's only as you move up the inverted triangle that you start to encounter more complexity.

This is the metaphor that has become my Finnish-language-learning battle cry - establish that ground level of the triangle! And then we'll see about a no-English policy at church.

Bicycle evangelist

First snow!