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

Learning Finnish through the songs of Johanna Kurkela

I heard Johanna Kurkela’s version of “Varpunen Jouluaamuna” our first Christmas here and immediately sought out everything else this woman sings. And this Friday, we are going to see her perform in Turku! So it seems like a good time to tell you about how memorizing the lyrics of her songs has helped me learn Finnish. Let’s take her “Kuolevainen” as a case study.

Here are the lyrics, in Finnish and English:


Individual vocabulary words that I learned or that were reinforced by this song: outo, asukas, taika/taikoja, kääntyy, päättyy, kuolevainen (it means ‘mortal’ and Magda first tried to explain it as ‘deady’, which is…not wrong), ne (as used with people), uskoa + iin, tää as tämä, and mä as minä - I think this is the song that made me finally adopt that in my own speech. It can feel pretentious, as a foreigner, to use the common spoken forms of pronouns but this song really encouraged me to feel comfortable with it. The closest thing in English is probably saying I’m instead of I am - can you see how a non-native speaker might sometimes feel insecure using the shortened form? I did in Finnish, anyway. Until Johanna showed me the way!

In addition to isolated vocabulary words, I have used entire blocks of language from these lyrics in my everyday life:

  • en lihaa enka verta oo - neither/nor construction, though not necessarily ‘flesh and blood’ in my everyday life, but other words in their place

  • mutta vaikka mä uskon ___iin

  • the fancy word order of en taikoja tehdä voi (so en noun verb voi)

  • noun loppuu

  • noun päättyy - I substituted ‘sale’ for ‘love’ and used this line straight up in a store one time, it was amazing

  • ja lapsille on helppo sanoa tuntemattonia täytyy varoa - believe it or not, I got to say this line almost verbatim at church one time. I could feel it happening just as the words left my mouth and I blessed Johanna’s name in that moment

  • Jeremy knew menninkäinen from this song and used it to guess the right answer while we were watching the Finnish version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire the other night

And this is just one song! Johanna Kurkela’s lyrics are truly the gift that keeps on giving. Of all of her songs, I have Varpunen, this one, and Oothan tässä vielä huomenna almost completely memorized. This Christmas, my goal is to memorize Kotiin!

Ugh creepy dude WHY

Ugh creepy dude WHY

October 26th, outsourced