Say your first words in Sámi

Twist your tongue with ten useful expressions in the language spoken by northern Finland’s indigenous Sámi people.

The Sámi languages are spoken by the indigenous Sámi people, whose homeland stretches across northern Finland, Sweden and Norway and part of northwestern Russia.

The Sámi language family once included at least ten distinct variants, of which at least six still survive. Linguistically, they occupy a branch of the same language tree as Finnish, Estonian and (more remotely) Hungarian, but the similarities are seldom obvious, as you’ll see below.

Northern Sámi, the most widely spoken of the three quite different Sámi languages used in Finland, has more than 2,500 speakers in Finland, and many more in Norway and Sweden; while the other two Sámi languages spoken in Finland – Skolt Sámi and Inari Sámi – only have a few hundred speakers each. These languages almost died out during the 20th century, but they are now enjoying a revival thanks to dedicated teachers and support from educational and cultural authorities.

Beginning Sámi phrases

Northern Sámi Finnish English
Bures! Hei! Hello!
Oaidnaleapmai! Näkemiin! Goodbye!
Giitu! (pronounced “Kiihtu”) Kiitos! Thank you!
Ándagassii! Anteeksi! Sorry!
Mun ráhkistan du! Minä rakastan sinua! I love you!
Okta, guokte, golbma, njeallje… Yksi, kaksi, kolme, neljä… One, two, three, four…
Muohta Lumi Snow
Boazu Poro Reindeer
Guovssahasat Revontulet Northern Lights
Juovllastállu Joulupukki Santa Claus

By Fran Weaver, February 2014, updated December 2019