When I first arrived in Finland a million years ago, “sauna” and “perkele” were the only words of Finnish that I knew. Of course everyone there speaks English, but that didn’t stop me from getting myself into embarrassing situations.
Up until then, not knowing the local language hadn’t posed any problems in getting around Europe. I could always resort to the few Romance and Germanic languages that I already spoke to manage the situation. Lost in an Italian town? Mix Spanish and Latin. Interacting in Denmark or Sweden? Pull out German. To my surprise, the althochdeutsch literature courses I took in university really came in handy when deciphering the Morgunblaðið in Iceland.
Finnish however, belongs to the Finno-Ugric linguistic family, along with Estonian and Hungarian. How do you crack a language when there are no linguistic similarities to pull from? I knew all the letters, but their combinations didn’t make any sense to me. How do you navigate life when you can’t even read? I felt almost illiterate, but also genuinely intrigued by the Finno-Ugric enigma. And it was then, in a coffee shop in Turku, that I decided to learn Finnish, the beautiful language of the bazillion cases and insane grammar categories.
What about you? Why did you decide to learn a particular foreign language?