Discover Mari Kokkonen's Finnish Teaching Journey and YKI Test Tips

From Journalism to Finnish Teaching

My name is Mari Kokkonen. I run a company called Ope Mari, which is my side business. In fact, my other job is at Gimara, where I serve as the head of pedagogy. I’ve been teaching Finnish since 2015, but my background is in journalism. I hold a master’s degree in the Finnish language and literature from Turku University, and I used to work as a journalist. However, times changed, and I transitioned into teaching Finnish. From the very first day, I fell in love with it, and it became my new profession. Currently, I conduct all my teaching online.

From your perspective, would you say that the YKI test is a challenging language test?

I don’t think so. It assesses intermediate-level Finnish. I understand that it can be intimidating, especially since you need a specific YKI test score for citizenship or to continue your studies. There’s a lot of pressure, and you may hear various rumors. However, I believe you shouldn’t place too much trust in these rumors. You don’t really know who is spreading this information, what their language proficiency is, how they prepared, or why they might be panicking. Moreover, if they attempted the YKI test, why didn’t they succeed? The YKI test includes certain essential aspects that you need to be aware of, and some of them are culture-related.

What aspects of the YKI Test are culturally oriented?

For instance, you are required to follow the assignment. If the studying culture in your home country differs, you will need to familiarize yourself with these norms.

What does your typical one-on-one lesson with a student look like?

My classes are always online, and our focus is mainly on extensive speaking and writing practice. I focus a lot on speaking because it’s crucial for the YKI test, and they have specific rules for speaking. In my classes, I teach students the required format for speaking. We use timestamped recordings, and students practice based on these recordings. Additionally, once a week, we dedicate a class to writing, during which I provide corrections and feedback on their written work.

When we consider writing, are there any tips and tricks that people could use?

Certainly. One valuable tip is to read a lot. Reading is essential for developing your writing skills. Learning a new language requires a great deal of repetition, and every time you encounter or read a word, it’s a form of repetition. Reading Finnish text, even if it’s relatively easy, provides you with a model of how to use these words in sentences. You gain exposure to words, idioms, and sentence structures. Therefore, I highly recommend reading as much as possible. You can visit your local library and inquire about books in easy Finnish, known as ‘selkokirjat.’ Additionally, online, you can find assignments for these books on my website. I have compiled a list of these assignments and provided information about websites, pages, and books in easy Finnish for both listening and writing.

How can you practice speaking Finnish when your level is around A2, for example?

I would recommend using every available opportunity to speak Finnish and trying to express yourself, even though it might be challenging. For instance, when you go shopping, make an effort to ask questions in Finnish. Even if it’s difficult and even if Finns switch to English because they think they are helping you. You should be assertive and say, ‘anteeksi! Voimmeko puhua suomeksi?’ which means ‘Excuse me! Can we speak Finnish?’ because real-life situations like this provide valuable opportunities to use Finnish and learn it effectively. The most efficient way to learn a language is by using it – speaking it, reading it, listening to it, and writing.

Are there any books that people can use to prepare for the YKI test?

Yes, there are. In my course, we use ‘Ykäänkö vai ykiinkö,’ which is a practice book specifically designed for the YKI test. It includes practice for both the speaking and writing sections of the test. Additionally, there’s ‘Sisunautti valtameressä,’ which is a similar book, but it’s the second book I use for students. Both of these books are available from Gimara and can be purchased either as digital downloads or in print format from their online shop.

Book cover of Ykäänkö vai ykiinkö.

A book cover “Ykäänkö vai ykiinkö” from Gimara World

Could you recommend some websites that students can use to prepare for the test?

Certainly! There are several helpful resources available online. 

  1. First, there’s ‘Yleen Ykitreenit,’ which is a valuable resource. 
  2. Another good option is ‘Kielibuusti,’ which offers a wide range of materials for students at different language levels. 
  3. I highly recommend watching ‘Selkouutiset‘ (Easy News) every day. This will allow you to both listen to and read Finnish, helping you understand what’s happening in Finland.

    Easy news example by YLE´s Nenäpäivä.

Easy news example:


Establishing a daily routine of using Finnish is extremely beneficial and, in my opinion, one of the best ways to prepare for the YKI test.

If someone is going to take the test for the first time, do you have any advice for this person from your perspective?

Yes. First of all, consider yourself. It’s your test; don’t rely too heavily on others’ opinions. You don’t know them; they are just random people. You’re not aware of whether they are right or wrong, and you don’t know their language proficiency. Treat it as your own test, your opportunity. If you don’t succeed in the YKI test this time, there will always be other options. If you don’t pass, there will be another test. What’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t pass? Move on to the next one.

I understand that sometimes passing the test is urgent, perhaps due to a passport or residence permit requirement. However, in general, try not to put too much pressure on yourself.

Have you had any students who were preparing with you and then passed the test? What was their language learning journey?

In my YKI course, I had one student who had taken the YKI intermediate level test 16 times. I’m not sure what happened. However, after the course, she passed it on the 17th attempt. It’s amazing.

Why do you think it happened?

I can only speculate on what happened. My best guess is that during the course, she finally learned to follow the assignments, given that she came from a culture with a very different education system.

"Genuine dedication to studying is crucial."

Also, during my time as an integration teacher, I’ve had several students who passed the YKI on their first attempt, even after six months of studying really hard, achieving a B1 level. So, it is possible, but it takes time and effort. Genuine dedication to studying is crucial.

For how long, on average, do you think people need to study Finnish before passing the YKI Test?

Depending on a person, and their learning skills, the environment, knowledge of other foreign languages, practice time, and dedication. It’s impossible to say on average, maybe 1 to 4 years depending on the person. And then there are exceptions of very fast learners.

How does someone know that he or she is ready for the YKI test?

"It’s not a grammar test, but a test of using Finnish in everyday life."

First of all, you should keep in mind that it’s an intermediate test. It’s not a grammar test, but a test of using Finnish in everyday life. So that’s a good guideline. Are you able to use Finnish in your everyday life? Can you understand the notes from your Taloyhtiö? When you go to the shop or visit a doctor, can you speak Finnish? Can you make friends with neighbors? If you go to the post office, can you manage with Finnish in your everyday life? That’s what the YKI test intermediate level is all about. Are you able to use Finnish in your daily life, or do you need an interpreter with you?

Imagine someone passed the YKI test. How would you motivate them to keep learning Finnish?

As an adult, it’s important to express your feelings, thoughts, and opinions. Learning Finnish helps you do that and makes you more independent. The better you know the language, the more confident you become. I understand this because I’ve felt the same way about learning Swedish.

Also, knowing Finnish is useful for making friends in your neighborhood and progressing in your career. In Finland, many opportunities depend on your language skills. Not everything, but a lot. If you think about your whole life, that should encourage you to keep learning.

About Mari Kokkonen:

Mari provides one-on-one teaching in the Finnish language and offers an affordable online YKI training course. For private lessons, you can choose from 30-minute, 45-minute, and 60-minute sessions, all conducted online.

Additionally, Mari offers a service to enhance your writing skills. If you wish to practice but don’t have anyone to correct your texts, provide feedback, or assess your level, you can send your text to Mari. At a very reasonable price, she will review your text, and you can select from three options: level checking, making corrections, or receiving feedback.

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