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Summary Details

Query:   Sum: Typical "mistakes" made by Finns part 1 of 2
Author:  John Hammink
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Applied Linguistics

Summary:   I wanted again to thank everyone who responded to my earlier query (see

In many cases, I've quoted people directly. Please bear with me as I'll list your names at the end of part 2. Answers came from Finns working with language, as well as native English speakers working with Finns.

I've removed duplicate submissions for the sake of brevity. Please forgive any grammar or punctuation inconsistencies in this compilation.

Below are the answers, sorted, more or less, by topic:


Non-natives try to copy their syntactical (or other) structures into the foreign language, even if the foreign language does not ''know'' these structures. Most of the speakers concerned know English on a basic enough level to use regularly in their work/daily life.


-Finns don't have articles (a, an, the) in their language, so they tend to forget them altogether. Even if they use articles, they often have trouble choosing the right one. Structures like ''too great a distance'' are incomprehensible for Finns since the word order seems funny. (As does ''half an hour'') ''Clothes for nice price'' is something I saw at a store window last summer in Helsinki. The same writer complained about the book title ''Rise and Fall of Soviet Karelia.

-Wrong antecedent for 'which' or especially 'that'. This, I think, is due to the fact that since Finnish is a case-based language, the case endings tell us which word refers to which modifier or is in other ways related to a part of a statement. So, the writer has to be extra careful to check that 'that' or 'which' really refers to what he-she thinks it refers to.

-Some have trouble in keeping relative pronouns (that and who) separate from each other. Many use 'that' when referring to animate/human referents.

-The prepositions 'at' and 'of' are, I think, overused at the expense of 'in' and 'for'. (For example, the announcement heard in the train: ''We will shortly arrive at...'' for every town except Tampere and Helsinki, which are ''in.'')

[Nouns, Count and Noncount]
-Common nouns that mean food, beverages, or any substance in English have no article: Do you want more sugar? Is there enough gas? Of course, Finns are used to NOT using articles, but sometimes the emphasis on English courses is on the use of articles, and Finns then tend to put them anywhere without consideration. Word pairs like a crime / crime, a room / room, a fortune / fortune, a science / science, a demand / demand and so on are hard for Finns, since they mean different things, but look the same to a Finn, who does not see the article.

-overusing the progressive form of verbs (e.g. ''I am coming from Finland'')

[Primary Auxiliary Verbs]
- In Finnish, there's no structure like ''How do you say..?'', but rather ''How you say..?''
- Be, have, and do are difficult verbs for Finns to use in the English language. A Finn would say: ''You have (a) car?'' instead of ''Do you have..?''
You would expect to hear something like: ''I must do this?'' and ''When you last serviced it?''

Continued in Part 2.

LL Issue: 13.2133
Date Posted: 15-Aug-2002
Original Query: Read original query


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