Over the Winter, my Finnish has basically frozen in time, just like the weather. I'm now in yet another beginner class. The grammar is just fine, I can read and write the lessons no problems. I can merrily parrot the answers to the teacher's written questions. Unfortunately, the moment anyone opens their mouth and speaks to me in Finnish, the babelfish in my ear turns it into perfect Swahili. It's not an exaggeration either - (well, maybe the Swahili thing is) - I'm presently on my 12th teacher and bored stupid by the course contents, but utterly unable to undertand what the teacher actually says.
The part that's REALLY sad isn't that I'm crap at oral Finnish. The part that's saddest is that when I confessed this to a classmate, she knew exactly what I meant. A bystander overheard and admitted that she, too, had done this class before and had returned because she couldn't use any of the grammar she'd been taught. Incredulous, I asked one of the guys. Same old story. People all over the place manage to grasp grammatical structures but never actually speak Finnish outside the classroom.
So an epiphany of sorts is just waiting to be seen by the powers that be. Newspapers reporters churn out article after article about how "difficult" Finnish grammar is and how Finland simply MUST spend more on teaching the grammar to the immigrants. Universities conduct studies on newcomers and find that nobody finds the Finnish courses very useful. Staff examine the course contents ad nauseum, writing new books and inventing different approaches to the same thing: imparting the grammar. And all for naught.
It isn't grammar alone we need to learn. Books can do that; why attend a class if I can study a grammar book at home? Will learning to create a perfect sentence help me, if speaking a sentence is so awkward? Isn't it better to talk "like a weird foreigner", my mumblings full of grammatical errors, but knowing enough to get my meaning across?
We need to practice speaking. PRACTICE; what a concept! Guess what, universities, hosting a conversation class is cheap - just take a copy of the Metro into class, no other preparation required. No photocopying, no exams to mark. Just have conversations about different topics. Or is that too simple?
Jam 5 immigrants into a classroom with a teacher and no pens, papers or books. Lock the door for an hour a day. They'll learn more in that 60 minutes than in the last 60 hours of homework.