Learn 10 words in Japanese/Finnish in less than a minute


My acquisition of Japanese over the past year and a half that we’ve lived in Osaka has been painfully slow, which is rather embarrassing given that I am a university professor whose expertise lies in first and second language acquisition. I keep on telling my Japanese students of English the old phrase that is used predominantly by inactive, overweight, chain-smoking, recreational drug using, alcoholic doctors (and in this case also struggling psycholinguists):

‘Do as I say, not as I do.’

My poor attainment of Japanese is a result of

  1. me having been extremely busy with work, being a single parent 6 months of the year, and spending my free time trying to hunt for fabric toothbrush bags for the kids’ post school lunch oral hygiene sessions or trying to establish in the local supermarket where the hell they keep their hummus, halloumi and quark (I’ve finally discovered that apparently nowhere)
  1. me finding many Japanese words quite difficult to remember, due to the fact that they resemble none of the languages that I know at least the rudiments of (Finnish, English, Swedish, German, Spanish, Russian).

You see, one thing that seems to help second language learners to learn new words is if they can associate the new word with a word that they already know, for instance, if the new word sounds like another word in their vocabulary.

The fact that some languages are historically related means that those languages share many same or similar words. For instance, the word for a very young child in English, German and Dutch is baby and thus, learning the English word baby is easy for a German/Dutch speaker. Finnish and Japanese are not amongst the languages that are historically related to English (although some English loan words do exist both in Finnish and Japanese).

Finnish and Japanese are not related to each other either and thus Finnish and Japanese do not share many (if any) words that have the same/similar pronunciation and meaning, like baby does in English, German and Dutch.

However, in terms of the syllable structure, i.e. how the language breaks words into smaller units (syl-la-ble), Japanese and Finnish happen to be similar. A typical syllable in Japanese and Finnish consists of one consonant (e.g. k, p, s, t) followed by one vowel (a, e, i, o, u). This means that there are quite a few words in Finnish and Japanese that are pronounced (if not completely identically due to different word stress patters or slightly different articulation) in a very similar way. In the midst of my busy schedule, thanks to these cross-linguistic coincidences, I have managed to pick up quite a few words in Japanese, namely the ones that are pronounced more or less identically to Finnish words, as I’ve only had to associate the Japanese meaning to, essentially, a Finnish word.

So, if

  1. you are a Finnish speaker and want to learn some Japanese with minimal effort or
  2. you are a Japanese speaker and want to learn some Finnish with minimal effort

it shouldn’t take you more than a minute to learn the list of words (and their meanings) in Finnish/Japanese below, given that you don’t have to learn the word itself, e.g. KITA, you just need to memorize the meaning of KITA that you didn’t already know (NORTH if you are a Finnish speaker, and JAWS if you are a Japanese speaker).

If you are an English speaker, unfortunately you’ll have to do the work of actually learning the words below and the two meanings associated with those words (one in Finnish, one in Japanese). Maybe this is only fair, given that you have the advantage of learning hundreds of words in a numerous language easily (because many languages have adopted words from English into their vocabulary, or English has adopted words from those languages). However, the list below will give you a great opportunity to do ‘multitasked’ language learning and learn two new words (one in Finnish and one in Japanese) by just memorizing one lexical item. Since it is not obvious to a non-Japanese or non-Finnish speaker how to pronounce the words below, English spelling (hopefully resulting in near enough correct pronunciation) is given in brackets next to the target word where needed.

I know there might not be any English speakers out there who would be tempted to learn Finnish and/or Japanese (as these aren’t exactly the most useful languages on the planet). But if you are a fan of order, raw seafood, long awkward silences, relatively introverted people (at least in comparison to your typical American) and/or drinking sessions that end up in pretty much everyone in the group comatose, you would probably love it in Finland and Japan and should you choose to relocate to these lovely places, the words below might come of use.



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Photo credits:

Schuh.co.uk – Shoes

Debenhams.co.uk – umbrella, invitation

Wickes.co.uk – tap

thetelegraph.co.uk – market place

theguardian.com – pile, sweeties

free-photos.gatag.net – barrel, bird, squirrel, twig, sky, jaws

Wikipedia.org – Myth

26 thoughts on “Learn 10 words in Japanese/Finnish in less than a minute

    • Pitäisi jotenkin assosioida ne kaksi sanaa niin on helpompi muistaa. Esim. sana TORI tarkoittaa suomeksi toria ja japaniksi lintua. Muistat sen helpommin jos ajattelet puluja tai lokkeja (i.e. lintuja) käyskentelemässä torilla.

    • I am considering buying a blender and making my own hummus. But I’d rather just buy it in the shop.
      Someone suggested that I could try to replace quark with soft tofu. I’ll give that a go and see how it is.

  1. Absolutely fascinating! If I had to do it again, I think I’d try to become a psycholinguist. I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to learn other languages (Japanese, Latin, French, Finnish, Russian, Italian, in that order). Despite my eagerness, I have not had substantial success and am barely conversational in one of those languages (French), but I’m not giving up! Please regale us with Japanese and/or Finnish (or any) language instruction, or psycholingual theory, any time you wish!

    • I love the psychology behind language and language learning. In particular, I find it fascinating how children pick up languages, how humans process and store language(s) and how they learn new languages as adults. If you are interested in psycholinguistics please let me know and I am more than happy recommend some good introductory texts on the topic.
      PS. I’ll see what I can do re writing something on the topic myself 🙂

  2. For the record, home-made hummus is awesome. And you only need a small-ish blender.

    Also, I noticed that your word list only contains 2-syllable words. Not too surprising, since the chance of overlap between the two languages is higher with fewer syllables, but I do have to confess that whenever a speaker of English accosts me about how German words are just way too long, I indignantly cry “Have you seen FINNISH?” 😉

    • Yeah, if an English speaker wants to learn a random foreign language (with minimal effort) my advice is: Don’t pick Finnish 😀 Finnish words tend to be longer than words in many other languages, and syllable words don’t really exist in Finnish. And once you’ve managed to remember a couple of words in Finnish, you have to learn the extremely complex morphological system of Finnish to use your newly learned words correctly (and productively).

      I haven’t come across >2 syllable words that would be exactly the same between Finnish and Japanese, although I wouldn’t be suprised if a small number of those existed.

      I think I need to go and buy a blender 🙂

      • My sister is currently learning Finnish — I hope the German gives her an advantage :). She wants to spend a couple of months in Finland early next year — just for fun!

    • Helppoja sanoja suomalaisille ja japanilaisille – ja näitä sattumalta samoja sanoja on suomen ja japanin kielien välillä paljon. Esimiehesi voi ehkä kertoa sinulle mitä esim. haka, Ari, Minna, Eki, me, te, ura, toru ja made tarkoittaa japaniksi.

      Niin, ja kerro ihmeessä mitä japanilainen esimiehesi oli sanoista mieltä 🙂

      Onnea sanaston kartuttamiseen! 🙂

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