Learning Finnish with songs and English lyrics – Clear the list, June 2017

The Clear-the-List challenge is hosted by Lindsay (from lindsaydoeslanguages.com), Kris BroholmAngel Pretot and Shannon of Eurolinguiste. The goal is to share monthly goals and support each other while learning foreign languages.


Today on the menu:

  1. A review of my goals for May & Finnish
  2. Trial-and-error approach and breakthroughs
  3. Goals for June
  4. Epiphany in French
  5. Future projects


Review of May

  • I did take a look at the Finnish phonology. But the wikipedia page isn’t complete. If you read the main source of the page (here’s a link to the paper), you’ll find way more information. It’s really interesting, haven’t read it all yet but I found answers to my questions. I read the phonology page, then listened to the language with songs and videos and noticed a few irregularities. For example, I heard the flap ‘r’ (like a simple version of the dreaded trilled ‘r’). It’s not on the wikipedia page (there’s only the trilled ‘r’) but they mention it in the pdf.
  • I didn’t create short workouts to master the different sounds I’m not used to (the two letters ‘a’ and the trilled ‘r’). Laziness and the presumption of thinking I’d be fine without it.
  • I learned a few basic sentences with different YouTube videos and Google Translate. I tried FinnishPod101 but I really didn’t like it. I also found a few language partners with italki and they helped me creating the sentences I wanted at the beginning (introducing myself & Tim Ferriss’ deconstruction dozen).
  • I found Disney songs, some Finnish singers and YouTube channels.
  • Language partners: This is the best part, I thought I’d be lazy with this one ^^ But no, I looked for and found several language partners and we started “talking” in week 1. The feedback I got on our first sessions about the pronunciation and basic grammar was priceless (all of this done orally of course – since I don’t want to read anything, we don’t type anything about Finnish on Skype)! The first sessions were done exclusively in French, then we switched to 30min French-30min Finnish. It was very painful (and it still is). But “no pain, no gain”!


I did a lot of trial and error during this month. I spent a lot of time looking for YouTube videos with English subtitles, started an audio dictionary on iTunes, started learning a whole bunch of words (I quit because it was boring and probably not efficient),… And finally I found the Graal (**just found out it is spelled the Grail in English…weird language!**): Lyrics Translate.

Lyrics Translate is a website where you get the translation of songs. Since I don’t want to read anything in Finnish but still need to use translation to learn vocabulary and build my oral comprehension, this is perfect! I’ve started a new routine a few days ago and I’m really enjoying it: I take a song, listen to it several times, follow with the lyrics translated in English, then put the song in Audacity to listen to small bites (I like the function where you can select only a part of the song and then put it on repeat easily, at least more easily than on YouTube or iTunes) and link it to the lyrics to learn vocabulary or new grammatical structures. It works because I already know some common key words (such as “now”, “but” and “when”) thanks to lists of words on YouTube and my Skype conversations. So when I hear the words I already know, I can learn the words that come before or after (not always though! Finnish is truly a weird language!). Of course it’s far from perfect, but I love it and this is the most important part. I was struggling to create a routine that I was enjoying.

I made another breakthrough these past few weeks. I was wondering how to improve drastically my oral comprehension in no time. I know this is something I struggled with for my other languages. It usually takes time to build a good ear. But I wanted to “hack” it and I think I found a way…

Take a video or a song in your target language. Watch it or listen to it in speed x2 (on YouTube you can use the speed of the video, on VLC you can also do it). Do that several times. It’ll be very fast and you won’t be able to understand a thing. Just focus, and pay attention to the few syllables or sounds that you can hear (if it’s so fast that you can’t even discern a few sounds, switch to speed x1.5). Then switch back to normal speed. It’ll feel slower and you’ll be able to hear better. I guess it works because our brain tries to catch up the pace when you increase the speed. And then when you go back to normal speed, your brain is still on “fast mode” so the normal speed becomes slower.

I’m still experimenting with this but it made wonders for my oral comprehension skills in Finnish. I’m curious to see what you think about it and if you ever tried something similar.


Goals for June

  • I want to stick to my new routine: 1 hour a day listening to songs and reading the lyrics’ English translations
  • speaking Finnish once or twice a week with my language partners
  • I also want to find a Finnish podcast to interview me after three months (so two months left) to keep me accountable. I’ve found two or three potential podcasts, haven’t contacted them yet.
  • I’ll start writing and reading in August. But I think it’ll go fast since the language is phonetic and I’m exposed a little to the writing system (I cannot not read songs’ and videos’ titles). I’m thinking of using Lyrics Training. It’s a website where you have to type the lyrics as you’re listening to the songs.



French is my mother tongue but still, I had an epiphany a few days ago (this is a real proof that we never stop learning a language, even our mother tongue). When I went through the Mimic Method for English last summer, I learned about the glottal stop, a way to shorten a vowel and make kind of a ‘t’ sound by closing your throat (<– I’m not sure whether your throat is really closed but it does feel like it). This is a sound you can hear in American English with words such as “gluten” or “important”. It’s also present in Finnish (maybe that’s why I had this epiphany now!).

I was thinking about French contractions – a phenomenon that makes the oral language really different from the written form. Take the word “maintenant” for example (French for “now”). If you read it you can say “mɛ̃-tø-nɑ̃” (for more on the French phonology take a look at the wikipedia page, it’s not 100% accurate but it’s a good place to start). But when you speak, the letter e in the middle usually disappears: “mɛ̃tnɑ̃”. And that’s when I realized that when I say “maintenant” I’m not even pronouncing the letter ‘t’, I just make a glottal stop: “mɛ̃ʔnɑ̃”. I noticed the same phenomenon happens when I say “soutenu”, as in “language soutenu” (formal language).

It may not seem like much, but for me it truly was an epiphany. When I discovered the glottal stop last summer, I had trouble understanding how it worked. Yet, I was making it everyday while speaking French without noticing it ^^

Maybe it’s not a common thing among French people though. Some people living in Paris claim that people from Normandy have an accent (I’m from Normandy). On the basis that we say “lait” (French for milk) differently. Our sounds [ɛ] or [e] are supposedly different (if you ask me I’d tell you that there might be a slight difference but it’s really slight and most French can’t hear the difference anyways). So maybe it’s only a thing in Normandy. Or not. I don’t know, I haven’t investigated the question. So maybe it’s just me and this whole paragraph was completely useless to French learners (sorry for wasting a few minutes of your precious time. Get back to learning French now!).


Future projects

I’m just writing a few lines here about future language projects that I’ve thought about lately. My goal right now is to focus on Finnish only. Then, once I reach a level where I feel comfortable enough to communicate fluidly, I’ll move on to another language.

  • learning Brazilian Portuguese only with funk songs. I thought about how weird would a French learner sound if he/she only learned with Maître Gims music – a popular French “rapper” who makes weird sentences and even create some words in his songs. So I thought I’d make the experiment myself with Brazilian Portuguese and funk.
  • taking my Italian to the next level. I feel comfortable enough to have basic conversations but I would never say I’m fluent in Italian.
  • learning German. For real this time. I failed at it two years ago. My approach was wrong (little to no speaking and oral training) but I did learn a lot about language learning thanks to that.


I also have to rearrange the YouTube pages. I kinda know how I want to do it. But I haven’t taken the time to do it yet. I keep adding resources when I find new channels but it’s a mess right now. I’ll take care of that in June or July. Ou pas.


Thanks for reading. I’m really thrilled for this month to come. I can’t wait to take it up a notch with my Finnish. Slow but steady progress. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.


See you next month!


Set your language learning goals as a part of the Clear the List Link Up hosted by Shannon Kennedy of Eurolinguiste, Lindsay Dow of Lindsay Does Languages, Angel Pretot of French Lover, and Kris Broholm of Actual Fluency

6 thoughts on “Learning Finnish with songs and English lyrics – Clear the list, June 2017”

  1. Salut!
    So many good tips and resources to try in this post, I jotted down everything and hopefully I’ll be able to implement some of these later on. I definitely want to give a try to the 2x speed listening practice, thanks for sharing it with us.
    It was also interesting to read about your epiphany with French, whether it’s just applicable to Normandy or not. Dialects and different accents are always part of a language anyway.
    In bocca al lupo per i tuoi obiettivi di giugno! 🙂

  2. Speeding up the videos sounds really interesting! I’m going to have to try that. I get bored when I do it the other way and slow them down to half speed. Zzzz… Good luck with your goals this month!

    1. Let me know how it goes ^^ Haha I get you! I also find it extremely hard to go from x0.5 or x0.75 to normal speed, everything seems so so fast afterwards.

  3. I’m sad that you don’t seem to be updating your blog anymore. I love your methods. The language learning community can be very anki/textbook focused and it can be lonely when you reject these.

    I don’t know the IPA which just seemed too tedious and complicated. Anyway, I HAVE noticed that some French speakers do pronounce that particular sound differently mainly when I was learning the Imperfect tense. One is more like è and one is more like é. As I said, I don’t know the IPA. Some people seem to do it much more than others. I’ve even heard vrai pronounced with a short é . I just had no idea where in France this mostly seems to occur.

    1. Hey Michelle, thanks for your warm comment. No worries, I’m back ^^ Needed to focus on other projects and experiment for a while.

      And yes, I agree with you: the language learning community is way too focused on flashcards! I’d like to see more language enthusiasts experiment with learn-by-ear approaches. Do you know Idahosa and the mimic method?

      I also think the IPA can become tedious real quick. So I keep it light. I just read it once or twice, play with the sounds, record myself and compare with the audio on wikipedia. But I don’t spend too much time on it. It’s more like, you’re aware of the different sounds at the beginning. Then you focus on songs, speaking, audio programs. And you come back from time to time to the IPA system to make sure you’re heading in the right direction. Or if you encountered a weird sound you didn’t recognize or couldn’t replicate in a native audio recording.

      I see what you mean about the é and è. And I have no idea where this mostly occurs, sorry. I just know that: I was born and raised in Normandy, and I went on vacations once with people from Normandy and others from Paris. The people from Paris told us we had a slight accent they could hear in words such as “lait” (=milk) where we had a different pronunciation of the sound é or è – not sure which one it is, I didn’t pick it up back then.

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