I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.

             Khalil Gibran

Why Finish schools are so successful

Classroom in a Finish schoolFor many years the school system in Finland has been very successful. In the PISAsurvey, which compares reading, math and science knowledge of 15 year olds around the world, Finland is not only the top European country but also competes with Asian giants like Shanghai Singapore and South Korea. But what makes the educational system in this small country so strikingly different from others in the western world?

First of all, the Finish government makes it possible for all children to attendpreschool, which comes after kindergarten. Compulsory education begins at 7. Teachers work with their pupils in school as much as possible. They have little homework to do when they get home.  When teachers are not with the pupils they spend a lot of time in schools working on the curriculum and new projects.  They teach in teams if it helps them reach their goals. That is why dropout rates are low compared to other countries.

In contrast to other nations teaching in Finland is a highly admired profession. Finland selects its teachers very carefully.  Only talented students go on to a university and receive a master’s degree in education. Finland only takes the best to educate its youth.

Schools in Finland are small, at least for international standards. More than in any other country teachers are ready to prepare children for life. In some cases they know every pupil in their school and can adjust to them. Teachers try everything to succeed with their pupils. Most of the pupils get additional help in their elementary school years, either by the teachers themselves or through specially trainededucators.

Most of Finland’s schools get their money from the government. The people who are in charge of the education system, from teachers to administrators are trained teachers, not politicians like in other countries.

All Finish children, whether they come from the city or a rural town, whether from a rich or poor family have the same opportunities in education. Education experts claim that there is very little difference between very good and the worst students. Two thirds of Finish pupils who finish compulsory education move on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union.

Until the 1960s Finland’s school system had been influenced largely by its neighbor, the Soviet Union.  Most students left school after six years; some went on to private school. Only the wealthy ones got a better education. In the middle of the 1960s the Finish government saw the need to change and modernize their education system if they wanted to be internationally competitive. Lawmakers made a simple decision: a single school for all the 7 to 16 year olds.  They also put a focus on language learning. Students learn Swedish as their second and English as their third language.

A part of Finland’s success is also owed to the fact that its society is homogenous. There are not so many differences between the wealthy and poor, as in America or other western European countries. This is reflected in the classroom too. Teachers always try to show pupils how to behave socially and care for others. They teach them that taking responsibility is very important for their futurecareers.


Language learning tips!

This section contains a collection of advice, suggestions, tips and techniques for learning languages. Most are based on my own experiences, while some come from other people.

Many of these tips, perhaps with some minor modifications, also apply to learning others skills, such as music.


Why should I learn a language?

There are many reasons to learn a foreign language, from working in another country to discovering your roots, through intellectual curiosity, romance, travel, and secret communication.


Which language should I learn?

Once you have decided to learn a language, you may not be quite sure which language to choose. To some extent, your choice depends on your reasons for learning a language. For example, if you’d like to communicate with as many people as possible, learning such languages as Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, Russian or Arabic would enable you to do so.

What materials and tools do I need to study a language?

There’s a wide range of materials and tools available to help you with your language studies, including language courses, dictionaries, grammar books, phrasebooks, online lessons, mp3 players and electronic translators.

How can I find time to study a language?

Finding time to study a language can be quite a challenge. You may think that you don’t really have enough of it, but it’s surprising how many spare moments you have during a typical day, and how they can add up to a useful amount of study time.

Learning pronunciation

Learning the pronunciation of a language is a very important part of your studies. It doesn’t matter so much if you just want to read and/or write the language, but if you want to speak a language well, as I’m sure you do, pay particular attention to the pronunciation and review it regularly.

Learning vocabulary

Building up your vocabulary in a foreign language can take many years. Learning words in context from written and spoken material is probably the most effective way to do this. You could also try learning words in a more systematic way – perhaps a certain number of words every day.

Learning grammar

Familiarity with the grammar of a language enables you to understand it, and also to construct your own phrases and sentences. It’s not essential to know all the grammatical terminology or to understand why words change, as long as you’re able to apply to relevant changes when necessary.

Learning alphabets and other writing systems

If the language you’re learning is written with a different alphabet or other type of writing system, learning it is well worth the effort. Some alphabets, such as Cyrillic and Greek, can be learnt without too difficulty. Others, such as Devanagari and Thai, are a more challenging.

Learning Chinese characters

If you’re learning one of the languages that use Chinese characters, such as Chinese, Japanese or Korean, you’re faced with quite a challenge. However, there are some techniques you can use to help you learn all those funny little pictures and symbols.

Frequently asked questions about learning languages

On this page you can find answers to some of the questions I get asked most frequently about languages, such as “Are some languages more difficult to learn than others?” and “Which is harder to learn, Chinese or Japanese?”

FAQs page

Foreign phrases

This section contains an ever-growing collection of useful phrases in many different languages, with audio files for many of them. The phrases are arranged by phrase and by language.

Useful phrases in many languages

Careers using languages

What kind of jobs and careers are available to students of languages? This page provides some information about interpreting, translating, teaching, and other language-related jobs, and also links to sites with further information and vacancies.

More on language-related careers



L1 = your native language(s) and any other language(s) you know
L2 = the language(s) you are learning







“Every time you discuss the future [in English], grammatically you’re forced to cleave that from the present and treat it as if it’s something viscerally different.”

Keith Chen at TED: Could your language affect your ability to save money?