Mastering YKI: Language Learning Journey by Fiona Chow
Fiona, where are you from?
I’m from Canada, and I’ve been living in Finland for about 11 years now. I have taken the YKI test in both Swedish (level 5-6) and Finnish (level 3-4), and I passed both.
Why did you decide to do it in Swedish first and then in Finnish?
I live in Helsinki. When I moved here, I met a lot of Swedish-speaking Finns, and I have many Swedish-speaking friends. Additionally, I was attending a Swedish-speaking church, so as a native English speaker, I learned Swedish quite easily. Moreover, I speak some French being from Canada, and also some German. Hence, Swedish was naturally a lot easier for me. I only took one or two courses to study the language.
Regarding Finnish, I need it for my job as a cantor. In this profession, you need to have Swedish or Finnish at level 6 and the second official language at level 3.
Did you take any courses to pass the test?
Throughout my ten years in Finland, I have taken some Finnish courses. They were general language courses. I took one written course and one discussion course at Helsinki Arbis. The classes were once a week, and the teacher was very good. We had discussion topics and different articles that we would read and talk about in small groups or with our partners.
Did you use any books to study Finnish?
Yes, I used “Suomen Mestari 1 and 2” and “Suomi Sujuvaksi.”
Language learning techniques: what helped you the most?
I believe what helps me the most is doing a lot of listening. I actively listened even when I was at home by myself. I would turn on the TV or browse the Internet and look for topics that interested me. For example, I was interested in cooking, so I used to watch cooking shows. Listening played a significant role in my language learning journey.
Another useful tip for me has been to have one-on-one conversations with someone in Finnish. It’s always easier to speak a foreign language to someone individually rather than speaking with a group of people.
Nowadays, even though I often speak English with my friends, I suggest, “Let’s speak Finnish for 10 minutes.” If I call somebody, we might speak Finnish for 10 minutes, and then switch to English. At least I get to practice Finnish for 10 minutes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a deep conversation, but it helps me practice the language, and then we can have more serious conversations in a language we’re more comfortable with.
Did you follow anyone online to learn the language?
Yes, I follow a YouTuber called Finnished. She speaks Finnish in her videos, which are usually between 3 to 10 minutes long. She is a language guru herself and implements a system of language learning in her videos. She talks about various topics like coffee, sauna, Finnish weddings, and writes subtitles in both Finnish and English. Her method, which involves listening to the same video multiple times until you can almost recite parts of it by memory, has helped me a lot. I found her really helpful.
Random Finnish Lesson
I have also followed a blogger named Random Finnish Lesson. She mostly writes blog topics about Finnish grammar in English. I’ll be honest, I’m not a grammar person, but she explains many aspects of Finnish grammar and vocabulary. Moreover, her writing style is quirky, and I enjoy reading her posts. She also has a podcast where she interviews people or discusses various topics, and that works well for me as audio learning.
I also checked YLE KieliKoulu. Sometimes I have followed those programs. They’re categorized based on the difficulty of the languages.
What has helped me is creating lists of new words. I would write them down on my phone or in a notebook, grouping them into verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions. Especially when starting to learn a language, this method is very helpful. Even with just five verbs and five nouns, you can go a long way. You’d be surprised!
Keeping lists has been really beneficial for me. It’s easy because if the list is on your phone, you can review five new words easily while on the bus. You can make sentences in your head with those words and then put the list away.
The YKI test day: How did it go?
“Be prepared for a certain amount of disorganization.
For some reason, the Finnish test was a lot longer than the Swedish test, probably because there are more participants taking the Finnish test in Helsinki.
I went to quite a large test center, and to be honest, it didn’t feel very organized. The coordinators didn’t always seem sure about where we were supposed to go next, which made the participants unsure as well. So be prepared for a certain amount of disorganization.
I also remember it being really cold. I dressed warmly because I knew we would be sitting for many hours, but still, I was freezing inside. I would advise dressing in layers and bringing hot water or tea in a thermos. Also, bring a snack because the exam can easily last 5-6 hours.
There is not enough time to go out of the test center to buy proper warm meals, so if it’s cold inside, you’ll feel cold and hungry. My tip would be to bring something warm to drink.
Out of all the four parts of the YKI test, which one was the most difficult?
I’ve always found writing to be the most difficult, partly because I don’t write that much. However, I did very well in the writing sections both in Finnish and Swedish.
The second hardest part, in my opinion, is the one where they often give you quick scenarios and you have to respond. For example, I had to imagine renting a car in Finnish and create a scenario where I wasn’t happy with the car. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never rented a car since I don’t drive. Another scenario was calling a theater company and complaining about the quality of a children’s play. In this case, you have to make up the scenario, the play, the company, and the thing you’re complaining about. You only have 20 seconds to plan those things, and I found it quite stressful.
Do you remember the topics of your writing part?
One of the writing tasks was to write a letter to a friend in another country or a colleague, thanking them for hosting you. You had to come up with the situation and describe the things you did during your visit and what you were thankful for.
Another task involved writing to a health authority and complaining about a service I received. And there was also a task where I had to write instructions for my colleague, who would be taking over my work for a day.
Imagine someone is taking the test for the first time. What would you tell this person?
“Speak Finnish as much as you can with everybody you can
Speak Finnish as much as you can with everybody you can, whether it’s a two-minute conversation in a coffee shop or if you can convince your colleague to talk for 5 minutes at the break table.
Read as much as you can, for example, easy Finnish or children’s books, on topics that interest you.
And listen to whatever you’re interested in daily.
Do you have any plans to learn Finnish even further?
I think learning Finnish is a tool for integrating into society, even though I already speak fluent Swedish. So yes, absolutely!