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English language instruction to start in second grade

Starting in the autumn of 2016, the instruction of English will begin one year earlier than it does at present in the Finnish school system. Primary students will begin studies in their first foreign language in second grade rather than third. News of the change has been welcomed in the Käppärä School in the western city of Pori. The rector says the school’s eight-year-olds are well prepared.

Käppärän koulun pihamaa
The Käppärä schoolyard in Pori is full of bikes in the spring. Image: Pertti Pitkonen / Yle

The instruction of what is known as the A1 foreign language in Finland will soon begin a year earlier throughout the country. A1 refers to the first foreign language children chose to study in primary school, leading to the greatest competency upon graduation. Although there are many exceptions, most children in Finland these days choose English as their A1 language, so in practice, this means that English instruction will begin in Finland at the age of eight.

News of the earlier start, beginning with just one hour of instruction per week, was welcomed at the Käppärä School in the coastal city of Pori.

“We have every opportunity to add one beginning course per week. It will not cause our school any problems,” says Rector Tero Grönmark.

He has faith that today’s eight-year-olds are up to the challenge.

“The children have plenty of experience with the English language due to their exposure to the digital culture. At present, the kids are more end users, but the language instruction will help make their experience more interactive,” he says.

A new tool to develop children’s thinking skills

Officials justify the new curriculum requirement in Finland under the principle that languages are also learning tools.

“It will be an added tool for developing the children’s intellectual capacity. The reform is not necessarily intended to achieve grammatical targets; it’s more like a motivational tool to increase students’ interaction with others. This coincides with the primary emphasis of the new core curriculum,” says Grönmark.

Grönmark says that it is likely that no textbooks will be used in the second grade A1 language instruction:

“An introductory course of this kind will probably focus on singing, playing and hands-on activities. I believe it will enrich our teaching greatly.”

The language instruction reform is part of a sweeping National Core Curriculum reform in basic education that will be implemented in Finland's schools beginning in August 2016.

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