On being multilingual

Most of my family on dad’s side have Finnish roots. My grandfather and grandmother was born in Finland but migrated to Sweden after grandpa returned from the Winter War in 1940. One uncle were born in Finland but the rest of my uncles, my dad and my aunt was born in Sweden. But because of this I’ve been surrounded by the Finnish language since before I really understood what it was. Sadly, I never buckled down and actually learned the language as a kid, I just had a slight understanding for some of the words.

But being a Swede born in the 80s (“the MTV-generation”) I’ve been bilingual almost my whole life. I was talking around the age of 2 and had begun to pick up on English words and phrases a year later, around the age of 3. At the age of 6 I was as fluid in English as I was in Swedish, despite having a mother who refused to learn English. I’m guessing it stuck with me because I watched a lot of cartoons, MTV and played games that was all in English. Yeah, we almost always had MTV on like other’s have the radio on.

But I’ve always had a ear for languages, much like T has a head for math, and I think it’s fun to listen and learn within this particular subject. I love to immerse myself in another culture and see what’s everyday for the locals. I usually have no issues with understanding Norwegian either since it’s so similar to Swedish, Danish on the other hand can be somewhat troublesome but I get by there as well without any formal knowledge.

When travelling I always make sure I learn some phrases and common words for the country we’re visiting. When we went to Hong Kong for example, I learned a few phrases in Chinese (mandarin to be specific). Things like good morning, thank you etc. This was much to the locals amusement as my pronunciation was completely off, but it built bridges and we shared laughs with people we otherwise never would have spoken to. We even got preferential treatment at our favourite breakfast place because of it.

When we visited France I also picked up on a handful french phrases that was very handy, but honestly that was out of necessity rather then curiosity. But I mean, we were only insulted every third interaction so we must have done something right there 😛

All jokes aside. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and I took up learning Finnish seriously a couple of weeks ago. I can still only say the most basic phrases like excuse me, where are the toilet, my name is, numbers 1 to 10, some of the weekdays and a handful of loose words. I don’t really know what I’m gonna do with this knowledge, I just got the feeling that it would be fun to reconnect to this part of my roots. The Finns are a proud and somewhat crazy people, it feels just like home. I think grandpa would have been proud.


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