Living in Finland without speaking the language: is that a problem?

Valeriia walking on campus.

Can you live and study in Finland without speaking Finnish? Sure you can!

No niin… Well, well, well…. You have left your lovely home country in order to study in Finland, at Tampere University! You are definitely full of hope, vigour and energy, being ready to perceive everything this wonderful city named Tampere is going to offer you!

A toy owl reading an open book in front of the university.

Everything goes according to your plan: you have already found a suitable TOAS* or private accommodation (maybe even not that far from your University campus**), figured out the public transportation (Nysse*** is our everything!), all the people around you are very friendly and helpful – from your group mates and university teachers to shop assistants. But what if you happen to not know the language of the country yet?

In that case a whole new world is about to open to you – the world of the Finnish language! But even if you won’t be able to say a lot at first, you will quickly realize that it is absolutely possible to live in Finland without speaking the language (although learning it is highly recommended for sure 😉 ).

Living in Finland doesn’t require knowing Finnish

Here is a tentative list of my reasons to insist on that:

  • Services: People here will switch to English as soon as they understand you do not speak Finnish. In ANY place where you need assistance: at a pharmacy, in a library, in a small corner shop or at a doctor’s appointment. Finns are definitely considered to be among the top speakers of English as the second language in the world.
  • Signs: Traffic signs look similar in most countries. It will be equally easy to guess the message of signs like “Posti”, “Pankki” (or “Pankkiautomaatti”), “Apteekki”, “Poliisi” or “Museo”. Seeing the sign of a “K-market”, an “S-market” or an “Alko”, you are sure to figure out what’s inside.
  • Loan words: Indeed, there are many words in Finnish derived from other European (and not only) languages and therefore quite easily recognizable. Without any doubt, you will manage to understand the words like “banaani”, “tomaatti”, “salaatti’”and “pizza”, “ketsuppi”, “tee” and “kaakao”. You will easily remember the word “kahvi” (Finns are believed to drink 8 cups of coffee a day!) as this magic drink will help you stay fresh and bouncy during your studies:)).
  • You will quickly learn that when someone says “Hei!”, they are greeting you, and when you hear “Hei hei”, it means “Goodbye”. And what does “Joo” mean? Right, it surely means “Yes”.

Practice and learning makes perfect

The nicest thing is that you will be surrounded by the Finnish language everywhere, which will for sure provide you with numerous practice opportunities and will contribute to your language learning efforts.

A city street full of orange leaves.

Once you start to study the Finnish language at Tampere University (and there are numerous Finnish language courses there), you will meet the best and most experienced teachers ever, who will teach you how to mind the difference between long and short vowels (they DO matter!; let me know if your teachers will NOT tell you the joke about the difference between “Tapaan sinut asemalla” and “Tapan sinut asemalla” ;).

Let me know if your teachers will NOT tell you the joke about the difference between “Tapaan sinut asemalla” and “Tapan sinut asemalla.”

In a nutshell, it is absolutely possible to live in Finland without speaking Finnish and not feeling like a “luuseri”, and it is not about survival but rather about enjoying your life to the fullest!

But if you ask me, I would highly approve of your decision to learn the language, it’s really worth it. Once you master Finnish, you will feel more confident and integrated and will be able to appreciate the nuances of Finnish literary and everyday culture, movies and, by all means, the Finnish humour. Moreover, you will be able to read the world-famous “Moomin” fairytales in Finnish (that’s what I am dreaming of as I am a core-fan of the Moomin**** family).


*TOAS – Tampere Student Housing Foundation.

** The University has three campuses: the City centre campus, Hervanta campus and Kauppi campus.

*** Nysse – the company responsible for public transportation in Tampere.

**** Moomins – central characters in a series of books and a comic strips written by Tove Jansson (Swedish-speaking Finnish novelist, painter and illustrator).

– Valeriia

Moi kaikille! My name is Valeriia, I am from Russia, now doing my master’s degree in Teacher Education at Tampere University. I like travelling (especially to Northern countries) and enjoy my studying at this university SOOO much!
Back in my home country, I help homeless animals, and my dream is that some day they will be treated there like they are in Finland – with due respect, care and love.


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