Sunday, 4 December 2016

Hyvää joulua!

And so this is Christmas... Yesterday, as we ever have since the School began, we enjoyed our end of term Christmas Party. For Finns this is a double celebration, since this is so close to 6th December, Finnish Independence Day, Itsenäisyyspäivä.
We always hope that we may be blessed with the appearance of Joulupukki - ie. Santa Claus. This year it was a little bit more of a miracle than usual, since no one knew where Joulupukki's costume was, and only a desperate last minute dash to hire one saved the day.

Understandably, many more people come along than for our usual School Days; it's great to catch up with so many old friends. We don't simply guzzle food, there is some entertainment as well. It's varied from year to year; occasionally the adult classes have had a little friendly pressure applied and shown off some of their prowess in Finnish. I remember one year our class learnt the words of Joulumaa by heart (the Katri Helena song). However, some performances from the younger students are always guaranteed, and it turned out that there are some very nice voices around this year. School certificates were awarded and very well deserved.

Everybody brings something for the buffet spread, and a lot of people seem to have got stuck into some home baking this time around. There's no rule about bringing Finnish dishes, but there was certainly the odd korvapuusti and karjalanpiirakka jne. All very tasty and filling (now with a twinge of regret, since I stood on the scales this morning).

Finally we ran a raffle. Loads of prizes magically appeared on the day. I won two small prizes but so apparently did everyone else. Rob (oikealla, Jeanettin kanssa) did a great job as usual, down to solving a little problem which became apparent a couple of years ago;
of course the kids are keen to pick the numbers, and that time it was glaring after a while that people with duller coloured tickets just weren't winning anything. It had been like something out of David Attenborough: our happy ticket pickers were only going for dayglo reds and yellows. So now Rob is careful to make sure they pick the tickets blind :)

There we are. A lot of people deserve thanks for the work they put in for the School through the year, notably Heidi who organised this event. Many thanks to all, and to all our friends who came! I hope we can count St Mary's amongst them - we did our best to clean up afterwards, honest!

A last Christmas present for you, sort of (! - sorry if you don't go for this sort of thing) - I spotted this while trying to find that Katri Helena song on YouTube. This is a performance by one of Finland's many hidden secrets, the singer Jenni Vartiainen, of most of her well known songs, unplugged (to be honest they plug in a little bit towards the end), and they're beautifully played and sung.
Hyvää joulua kaikille!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Finnish School in Liverpool

Close to Manchester, but in a place Mancunians know to be not quite of this planet, is the Finnish School in Liverpool. Our two schools have very different histories but good links, worth being aware of as we approach the end of term and Independence Day 2016.

Liverpool's suomikoulu resides at the Gustav Adolfs Kyrka in the Baltic Triangle, otherwise known as the Scandinavian Seamen's Church, not far from the Albert Dock and Liverpool One. It's an impressive and very distinctive building. If you ever visit, take the opportunity to see the unique worship space at the top. Apart from religious services, these days the building serves various other functions including the interests of the various Scandinavian communities in the Liverpool area, working together as LiNC. See the various flags outside. Co-ordinated Nordic events include film showings and a Christmas bazaar, this coming weekend I think(?).

Finnish School days are alternate Saturdays, with classes from 2 to 4ish, and a break for food... sorry, just distracted there for a moment by the thought of the food... As I was saying, there are children's and adult groups. Typically there are two adult groups, beginners and 'advanced', although occasionally circumstances bring the adult classes together. To be honest, the numbers can be quite low some Saturdays, and although small class numbers might sound good, you want a little bit more really. The school and the Finnish community here may be smaller than Manchester's but it's very friendly and welcoming and the teachers and everybody make it all enjoyable. Give it a go if you live in the area!

Oikealla - pää-Minna. Keittiössä on kolme Minnaa. Uskon että se on keittiönsääntö.

The food at break times is very good indeed. As someone who bakes sometimes for our own school in Sale, I'm beginning to feel an acute sense of competition, which Manchester may not be winning! Here, the main dish was 'seamen's stew'. We often get tasty soups, and always some irresistible cakes. There were two new students yesterday who looked at the spread with dismay - they had no idea this was part of the deal and had had a full lunch just before coming along :)

The building is blessed with a wide open reception space, and so has been able to put on an excellent Independence Day event for some years now. Many members of the Manchester School have come over in the past, and obviously it's great to bring us all together, so please do think about making the trip this year if you've never been over before - it's on Saturday 3 December at 3pm: that's right, just after our Christmas Party! More details of this later, at the school in Sale and also on the Facebook page. To be serious a moment, although this might sound like a determined attempt to wreck any diets you may be on that day, it's a chance to see more of the life of Finns in the UK, strengthen links and make new friends. So, see you then?

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Suomen kielen oppitunti

I've promised Mark to write a blog post since, let's see... last March. I'm planning to write about bilingualism but, meanwhile, I'm posting this link which my cousin has just sent me. It's heart-warming to see how many people across the world persist in learning this amazing language.

Warning: contains very strong language.

Stories of Nightwish fans learning Finnish:


Thursday, 6 October 2016

Manchester Consular Association 2017 Annual Dinner Dance

From Mr Chris Rostron:
I wish to invite the whole Finnish community to join me, as President of the Manchester Consular Association, to the Annual Dinner Dance on 17th November 2017.
All the local Lord Mayors, Mayors, Lord Lieutenant and fellow consuls will be there and The Finnish Ambassador will be guest of honour.
He adds that the cost is likely to be £60, however sponsors such as Finnish businesses would be very welcome, as a way to reduce that figure. Also, the date should be regarded as provisional at the moment, the 24th is a possibility.

Right: Ms Päivi Luostarinen, Finnish Ambassador to the UK.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

100 to 100 - and 40!

Nyt - right now - it is 100 days until Finland's Centenary Year kicks off. I've just found that out on the Suomi 100 website, and I recommend that you bookmark it and visit there to keep in touch with what's being planned for the nation's celebrations.

But we in Manchester have even more to celebrate, because next year marks a full forty - 40 - years since our suomikoulu was established in the city, the oldest in the North West and one of the oldest in the UK. One or two of our founders are still here, actively involved in the life of our school.

So we have a lot to think about!
We're definitely going to have a bit of an event later in the year, hopefully staging some special happenings. Here are a couple of them, fun competitions for you to sink your artistic teeth into, which you may already know about if you've visited the school recently, or read about on our Facebook page.

First - how about designing an anniversary celebration mug?! We need your ideas right now, really, because we're going to use the winning design and get the mug produced and it'll be available next year. More details, about both these competitions, including a template for the mug if you need it, from our Facebook page.

Secondly, an art competition, with two categories. For adults the theme is 'My Finland', for children 'My best holiday memory from Finland'. The art form could be virtually anything - though personally I'm walking out if anyone tries to foist a Damien Hirst type thing on us - from drawings and paintings and sculpture and photography and craft work, right through to poetry or even song. There are prizes! :)

Hopefully there are many Suomi-philes (is that a word?) and actual Finns who may well have just returned from a lovely summer trip to Finland, with fond firm memories and freshly inspired with images and ideas, who are ready to feed them into wonderful art pieces to show us all. We have a few entries in already, and there's one very keen young student who's not only shown a lot of enterprise but has even volunteered to help with the judging. She assures us she'll be totally fair!

Sunday, 31 July 2016

A Little Bit of Mountainside

In 2017 Finland will celebrate 100 years of independence - itsenäisyys. Finland's Independence Day, Itsenäisyyspäivä, is 6th December. Like other Finnish schools, the Finnish School in Manchester will be joining in, and we have a number of ideas and projects being conjured up. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more news :)

So, what do you think of this as a birthday present? The picture, right, is grabbed from Google Maps. Doesn't seem like much to get excited about, does it? It shows a small part of the border between Norway and Finland; there is a proposal in Norway to move it a few metres further north and therefore gift Finland a fraction of a square kilometre of barren mountainside. Which is a rather downbeat way of putting it. However, on that border is Finland's highest point, at 1,324m above sea level, and a while ago, an imaginative Norwegian surveyor realised that a minor border adjustment would put the peak of Halditsohkka inside Finland. You can read more here in the Guardian. Neat, don't you think, and rather wonderful? Much better to have an actual mountain peak as your highest point! It's not certain that this will happen, Norway has some constitutional issues to overcome, but the will seems to be there, and a couple of days ago the Norwegian PM announced that he was 'looking into it'. Go Norway!

Sunday, 1 May 2016


Picture dictionaries! Although a dictionary is an essential purchase for a language learner, there's a lot to be said for getting a picture dictionary as well, so here are some thoughts about that, with special regard to what's available in Finnish.

1. Tuhat sanaa suomeksi
(A Thousand Words in Finnish) pub. Kustannusosakeyhtiö Nemo, 2012
This seems to be a licensed version of the well known and very successful Usborne 'thousand words' series, so the words and scenes are generic ie. not specific to Finland. But it's very well done and ranges over most of the themes and categories you could want, even though the artwork is obviously angled more towards younger learners. You can visit the
website and listen to the words spoken by a native speaker.

Picture dictionaries can't list the sheer number of words standard dictionaries of equivalent size can, but they have other virtues, and also they can still feature a vocabulary sufficient for basic use. The main weakness as suggested above is that adapting foreign books means that much of what you would want to see in a book devoted to Finland is missing. Poro only makes it into the first book because there's a picture of one pulling Santa's sleigh.

2. Viiden kielen kuva sanakirja
(Five Languages' Picture Dictionary) pub. Dorling Kindersley/Karisto Oy 2003. This is a pricey book, nearly 33 euroa when I bought it, and more when I last spotted it. However, it's lavishly produced, uses colour photography throughout, and claims to list 6,000 words. The other languages are English, French, German and Spanish; and Suomi has replaced Italian for this edition. As you can see, every entry is captioned in all five languages, which you sort of get used to, but it's not as clear as having one language. Apart from that, the book is attractive and invites exploration. It's oddly limited in certain areas, I thought, but you might not agree. It sometimes jars when eg. you get two whole pages devoted to baseball, without any reference to Finland's national sport pesäpallo. And I suspect a Finn would be unimpressed by the section devoted to weather.

Learning vocabulary can be a slog in any language, and in Finnish it's harder than most. The only foothold you get early on consists of the borrowed words you detect, especially from English these days. Most people learn words through association, visual association in particular. So a good attractive picture dictionary is an ideal tool for learning, both in the early days of study, and later for revision of topics. All of these books are fun to browse, and I've picked up a few more words just by working on this post.

3. Suomi Englanti kuvasanakirja pub. Satukustannus/Brown Watson. I can't find a date for this one but it was still in the bookshops last time I checked. The content is somewhat dated - a translation is offered for 'video cassette'! The hardback book is in a smaller format, a little bigger than A5 and also has the virtue of being rather cheaper than the others. The artwork may not be as classy, but the range of vocabulary is very good, despite the fact that like the previous examples it's based on an English language publication.

I tried to pick out a group of the same words from each book: it turned out to be harder to do than you'd think. There are simple differences, like one book listing 'mansikka' and another the plural 'mansikoita'. Not a problem, obviously, once you learn about Finnish plurals and the partitive. Then there's the varying difference of American influence reflected in each book. None of them consistently prefer either British or American terms. Anyway, the last book I'm looking at is different because it's actually Finnish.

4. Kuvasanakirja pub. Mermerus Ab Oy 1996. This one is my favourite, even though it's older and doesn't have the size of vocabulary of some of the others. I saw it not so long ago, so I hope it's still available. The artwork is very nice with a touch of humour, and its content does reflect Finland and Finnish people. At last we have a wildlife section featuring such as silakka, hirvi and supikoira, though I wish there were more - there's no ilves or liito-orava. All sorts of other things which make me think of Finland: pilkkikalastus, huurre, mökki and, yes, pesäpallo.

I believe I've seen a more recent Moomin-themed picture dictionary, and there must have been one or two others of Finnish origin. Most of them are generic and based on foreign publications, but even if that's all you find, I recommend picking one up, because their usefulness outweighs the oddities. Hopefully a publisher like WSOY will get round to putting out a new one soon, with proper Finnish content.

Update! March 2017 - I've just returned from a trip to Finland, and naturally I browsed bookshops. I was looking for other books and things, but I did wonder what learning materials were available. Overall, the resources on offer seem to have stayed about the same. I'm afraid all are expensive and I don't think that's going to change. It might be an idea later to pick an 'essentials' list, ie. suggestions for the best options for a language learner to spend their money. As far as picture dictionaries are concerned, I only spotted 1. and 2. from the list above. However, here are two others which are new to me, but I believe Päivi mentioned the Mauri Kunnas volume in her comment below. It looks pretty good, going by a quick flick through. The other book is cheaper but is more ordinary. The nice thing about both is that they are both Finnish originals ie. not translated from foreign publications.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Helsinki Noir

While that title makes you wonder why we haven't seen as much Finnish-style bloody murder on our television screens as from the rest of the Nordic countries - come on Finland, you can do this in your sleep! - you might like to visit this unusual exhibition at the Amos Anderson Art Museum if you're in Helsinki sometime in 2016.

This is the cover of the little book you're given when you enter the exhibition. From the back cover:
Sumuisen ja kostean marraskuun lopulla löytyy Kaivopuiston rannasta hyisen meren syleilystä nuoren naisen ruumis...
In the final days of a damp, misty November, the body of a young woman is found in the icy embrace of the waters off Kaivopuisto Park... 
The book is slim and anyway divided between Finnish, Swedish and English texts, and is easy enough to follow while you progress at normal speed through the exhibition. It's a decent read, nicely written by Susanna Luojus.

There are a couple of spookily atmospheric 'installations' at the beginning and end, but for most of it you walk past works of art from the museum's collection, mainly paintings, which reflect the background and events of the story. I must admit, before I went in, I somehow thought that the idea was to look for clues in the paintings, murder mystery-style. But no, it really is an art exhibition, and the paintings are there to be appreciated all together as they show you something of mid-20th Century Helsinki. It's surprisingly effective. When you've only seen the first few, it doesn't seem to amount to much and to not have much to do with the story, but the atmosphere gradually builds up. You read more of the story in each exhibition room, and thanks to the paintings become more immersed in the world of old Helsinki.

I won't 'spoil' the ending of the story, but in a way that isn't too important. For me, there was a sort of surprise at the end, in finding out that it was all inspired by a number of actual cases like this one from the 1940s and 50s, one in particular. It certainly has some impact, when amongst the newspaper clippings etc. you see the face of a certain actual love rat and hear about the lives he ruined. But what about the exhibition, and the fictional tale it told?

I think it's a clever use of many otherwise mundane works the Museum has from decades ago. The Amos Anderson Museum was Helsinki's first proper gallery, founded by the industrialist of that name. Its focus has always been on contemporary art, but of course, they now possess a large number of works which are no longer modern at all. For me it was a telling portrait of the Helsinki that once was. And maybe a chilling insight into a dark side of the Finnish personality! When I reached the end of the exhibition, there were two of the guides standing there. I looked at them and said, 'I'm quite depressed now!' One of them smiled and replied, 'Good!'

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Salmiakki jäätelöä

It doesn't take long for a new visitor to Finland to discover salmiakki. That stuff which looks like licorice but with a really strange taste. Watch someone eating a bit for the first time: you may see some dramatic facial expressions, and hear strong vocal reactions such as 'What is that?!?' The fact is, not all Finns like it. Shocking, but true. While some foreigners - prepare to be shocked again - take an immediate liking to it. And even though it's found elsewhere, in places like Sweden, there's no doubt it's very characteristic of Finland. If you somehow wandered into our school and didn't know it was the Finnish School, you'd spot a hefty clue in the fact that a lot of the sweets on sale in our shop are salmiakki in one form or another.

Salmiakki itself is ammonium chloride, which sounds like sodium chloride, and it would, because it is another salt. Hence it's often called salty licorice. I've been caught out by that in the past. Once, I saw some 'salty licorice' on sale at the German market in Manchester, enthusiastically bought some, only to be disappointed to find it was actual salt. Yes, people do eat that as well. Why, I don't know. I found it hard work eating any of it. I believe ammonium chloride was first tried out for medicinal purposes - pause for laughter - however, I'm told by a friend who knows, that these days it's used industrially for treating metal. Something like that. Goodness knows what it would do to our insides if eaten in any quantity. But that sort of question has never stopped a Finn doing something crazy.

And they'll put salmiakki in almost anything. The most popular product is probably chocolate with salmiakki filling. If you want to go hardcore, you'll buy a packet of 'Turkish Pepper'. It's strong, and as the 'pepper' bit suggests, quite fiery; but we're not talking about Vindaloo-type heat. I have no idea why it's 'Turkish'. A few years ago, following the sound culinary principle of combining ingredients with alcohol, someone ground up a load of Turkish Pepper and mixed it with koskenkorva = Finnish vodka. Drinking the resulting near-black liquid is a memorable experience, or it is if you can remember it afterwards. You used to see loads of bottles of it on sale at the airport. Tourists probably buy it as a fun thing to give a friend back home. But it'll be tasted once and then pushed to the back of the bottom shelf of the drinks cabinet. I don't care for it much myself, not so much for the alcohol aspect, but because it's aggressively sweet.

Now I'll undermine what I just said: what I really really like is salmiakki jäätelöä = ice cream. Finns love their ice cream anyway, so you can find not only licorice ice cream, but salmiakki as well. See that picture of the Totally Black ice lolly up above? Eating that, while ambling down the River Aura in Turku one hot summer's day ...was just perfect. I know, it looks like something you'd use to fill potholes in the road, or as grout for tiling. Weirdly enough, I'm not normally an ice cream eater, but this is different. It's delicious.

That was summer. These days I only visit Finland in winter, and ice cream isn't such an obvious thing to look for. Last year I went looking, couldn't find any, and so was forced to try out my foreigner's Finnish on various ice cream counter assistants. In the end I was told at Ingman's Spice Ice, inside Forum in Helsinki, that they did have some in the freezer, and if I came back the next day it would be put out for me. She was as good as her word :) Later in the year I was back again, there was a different girl there but she was similarly able to satisfy my need (see pic!). Sadly, I have to report that Ingman's didn't have any this February. In fact, I didn't see any salmiakki koskenkorva at the airport, and everywhere salmiakki seemed in decline. Was I imagining this? It would be more than sad if Finns were losing their taste for this very special... um... substance. You know, I actually found myself trying to think up a way to bring back some of the ice cream, with some sort of portable mini freezer. Which the airline would almost certainly stop me from transporting. Ah well, it's for the best, isn't it? It just wouldn't be the same, not eating it in Finland.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

There's a Finnish School?!

Moi! No niin...

Here's the Manchester Finnish School's website, newly worked over as a blog, and here's our first post. My name's Mark, I'm English, and I've been coming to the Finnish School for *cough* some years. I figured that while the site needs to provide information on classes and school dates and such, we should really use the blog to celebrate why we're here, to feature all the things, big and small, which we enjoy about Finland. Culture, places, events; after a while there should be the sort of variety of posts here which will tickle your curiosity and maybe spark some interest in this very cool country.

What better way to start than to talk about the Finnish School itself?

My interest began with a Finnish band I got into. I saw them twice in Manchester; they're long since departed. They sang in English, but I encountered the language on a fan forum and was intrigued. When the forum's lady boss explained a bit about it, including such nuggets as there not being a verb 'to have', I went and got the Teach Yourself book, and duly found that that was only a small part of the weirdness and that Finnish truly is a very different kind of language. When I started to listen to some Finnish language bands, I couldn't get over how attractive it sounded. To me, anyway. I went back to the Teach Yourself book, and found in the back of that some internet links. To my amazement, I found there were some actual Finnish schools you could go to, and one of them was in Manchester.

We're in Sale, just off the M60. As you can see from the other pages, the school opens on alternate Saturdays, more or less, seven times in the autumn and ten times between the New Year and early summer. The location is good: the Centre at St Mary's is pleasant, has plenty of parking space, ample space inside with cafe facilities and several meeting rooms. For some while now the school has organised three children's groups and three adult groups. The numbers vary from session to session, but the classes continue to run happily and the central area becomes highly social at break times :) We have extended times for a Christmas party and a Spring party. We often organise a Vappu picnic (rain has not been our friend for that at times!), sometimes a pub lunch, and at least once a year an 'activities day', when instead of normal classes we set up some role play. Special events have included language weekends in the Peak District and historical talks.

Right: Some of the guys who came along to our weekend in Hathersage in May 2010. Yes people, that is what we looked like.

Obviously, the reason for the creation of the Finnish schools is to support the many Finnish people who have settled in England, especially those with young children. Having adult classes is a bonus. So, who comes to them? In my experience, it's a mixture of reasons. Firstly, there are the English partners of Finns who have encouraged (that may be a euphemistic word!) them to come along. Secondly, there are some who expect to be going to Finland for a while, maybe for work or study. Then there are those who have found a liking for some aspect of Finnish culture and find a good point of contact in the Finnish school.

And what are these aspects of Finnish culture? Some are quite distinctive, like metal. Quite right - did you know Finland has more metal bands per head of population than any other country? In the past, an ice hockey world championships in Finland has drawn a few people to the school. More generally, we seem to have people coming who visit Finland for its forests and lakes and snow; for its saunas and skiing. With any luck, there'll be blog posts to come, from members of the school young and old, on all those things and more. There better had be, or it'll be down to me and my own rather special obsessions...

If you've read this far, and you don't know the Manchester school, maybe you'll consider giving us a visit? As you may guess, I've carried on coming way beyond any narrow study of the language. I've made a lot of friends here, I visit Finland each year, and of course coming to the school maintains the continuity. Did you know Finland also has the world's highest per capita consumption of coffee? The school offers that, and some very tasty home baking too. Not to mention a very well stocked shop full of Finnish treats. My only complaint is the weight I've put on with all that cake.