Thursday, 17 September 2009

Suomen kieli on se tärkein kieli

Sometimes a little light starts shining  in your head... like when you decide that studying your own mother tongue could be a good idea.


My mother tongue is Finnish, there is no doubt about it although I have done all my studying in other languages, very few of my friends speak Finnish and nowadays I think in English. But (and the but is big) the language that feels like "home"* is that strange northern tongue that hardly anyone in the world understands. For obvious reasons, a big part of that knowledge is tucked away somewhere in the darkest corners of the brain because no matter how well you know a language, it's so easy to forget when it's not being used on a daily basis. It really is as simple as that - suddenly the strangest grammatical errors pop out of your mouth, words are forgotten and even the accent sounds a bit funny.  


My relationship with my mother tongue is further complicated by the fact that I grew up in an environment which was very hostile towards the Finnish language. Imagine a Spanish speaking child growing up in Catalonia; speaking Spanish at home but being forced to speak in Catalan everywhere else, and being (again) forced to learn Spanish as a foreign language at the lowest possible level for beginners. At the age of 11. For three years this child will sleep in class while his or her classmates are learning phrases such as: Ana tiene una pelota. La pelota es azul. Frustrating? Yes! But at the same time situations like this tend to make "the minority" even prouder of their culture, language and roots. I have had a teacher throw me out of class because I was correcting her spelling, people making mean comments on the street (for speaking Finnish) and there have been moments when I had to defend my own background because it wasn't "good enough".


One of my greatest wishes is to be able to express myself in Finnish. Not like the average person on the street, but like all those writers , poets and story tellers who make the language sound like magic. Another wish, and a more realistic one, is not to lose the language; to keep it a part of who I am. To be able to speak to my future children in Finnish, and to teach it to them so well that they will feel like home when they hear it spoken.



Anyhow, it would be interesting to know if anyone else has similar experiences?



*Yes, a language can definitely feel like home. Try going to a "odd" neighbouring country for a few months, come back home by train and feel how that warm feeling in your stomach when you see those young and handsome compatriots turns into sheer joy when you hear them speak.


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