Having a Finn time with language

Enrichment class taught in Negaunee

Learning Finnish words, of course, is part of Tanja Stanaway’s Finnish class. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

NEGAUNEE — They’re learning about their double a’s and double k’s.

And lumi, sukset and kaakao — which are, if you don’t know Finnish, “snow,” “to ski” and “hot chocolate,” respectively.

How appropriate is it for an area with a heavy population of people with Finnish backgrounds to learn that language?

Apparently it’s at least a popular pastime, considering the enthusiasm of students taking Tanja Paasikas Stanaway’s Finnish class, which she teaches at Negaunee High School through the NICE Community Schools evening enrichment program.

Stanaway, a Finland native who lives in Ishpeming, has been teaching the sessions for 38 years.

Learning Finnish words, of course, is part of Tanja Stanaway's Finnish class. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

“This is the only class that has been going on continuously every year for that long in the whole system,” Stanaway said.

Sixteen people are taking the six-week class that met on Monday, with Stanaway also teaching an eight-week class. A third one will begin after Easter.

With the heavy Finnish presence in the region, there’s a big interest in learning the language.

“There’s many of them that have the reluctance, and then there’s (a) couple that don’t have anything Finnish but they want to learn because there’s so many Finns around this area,” Stanaway said.

Is the language challenging to learn?

Stan and Linda Laituri of Goose Lake take Tanja Stanaway’s Finnish class at Negaunee High School on Monday. The enrichment class is run through NICE Community Schools. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

“Very difficult,” Stanaway said.

Just look at some Finnish words: moottorikelkka means “snowmobile,” hiihtohissi means “ski lift” and lumilinna means “snow castle.”

Considering the regional snowy weather, though, they might come in handy, so it’s probably worth it to brush up on the language’s quirks, if you want to call them that.

“For example, we have 14 endings,” said Stanaway, who noted the Finnish language also doesn’t have prepositions.

“They only need to know, like, six to get going but if you’re really good, then you can try to learn all of them, but they are a little tricky,” Stanaway said.

However, the students can learn the basics and read the language.

“Some of them can pick up a word and they remember it,” Stanaway said. “It depends who you are.”

Students have different reasons for taking the class.

“I am taking it because I’m just about 100 percent Finnish,” said Stan Laituri, who lives in Goose Lake in Richmond Township.

He also has the time to learn a new language.

“I retired, and I figured this was a way to keep the brain working,” he said.

Sitting next to him during Monday’s class was his wife, Linda, who wanted to take the class because her husband enrolled.

Stan Laituri agreed with his teacher that Finnish is a difficult language to learn.

“The big words are hard because they have so many different endings,” he said.

The students still have to deal with them during a session, and they seem to be dealing with them well. For example, on Monday Stanaway asked the students how long they had been taking the class. Their answers, of course, had to be in Finnish.

They also gave short summaries about their recent activities, including one student who worked radio communications for the U.P. 200 sled dog weekend.

He also drove into a ditch again.

Other Finnish anecdotes were: “The dentist is bad. I have a new sweater.”

The correct pronunciation too is important.

The Finnish language uses the umlaut — two dots placed over a vowel to indicate a certain pronunciation.

“If I see those two dots, I’ve got to make sure I pronounce it the same way,” Stanaway said.

Other vowels have different pronunciations as well, and she had the students demonstrate them during the class — with drawn-out sounds coming across in almost a comical way.

That’s OK.

“If you want to practice and you don’t want anyone to see your face when you do it, what do you do? You put a piece of paper in front of you so they can’t see your mouth,” Stanaway said.

Then they can make motions with their lips and mouths.

“Eventually you will learn that you don’t have to do so much work on your mouth,” Stanaway said. “It comes automatically or naturally. You hardly even open your mouth.

“But when you practice in the beginning, you should do all kinds of things that you get the sound correct, even if you look funny when you do it. But here we all do the same thing, so we don’t laugh, and if we laugh, we don’t laugh at you, we laugh with you.”

A little support, after all, can go a long way.

“I think everybody’s here to learn, and you know that it’s not very easy,” Stanaway said.

Although current classes are full, anyone interested in taking the Finnish enrichment class may email Stanaway at cudlezbear@aol.com or call 906-485-1971 for more information.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.