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First graders to start foreign language studies in new pilot project

This fall, a quarter of Finnish municipalities will embark on a pilot project to introduce children as young as 6 or 7 to foreign languages.

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Some children can start learning a foreign language as early as the first grade or pre-school. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

"Ni hao ma?"

Children in Rovaniemi will soon be able to greet the numerous visiting Chinese tourists in their native tongue using the above phrase, "how are you?"

Starting this fall, children can start learning their first foreign language as early as the first grade or pre-school. The initiative is part of a joint project by the Finnish National Agency for Education and the Ministry of Education and Culture to introduce children to language studies earlier.

76 municipalities – a quarter of Finnish municipalities – and 19 education providers will participate in the pilot.

The initiative has been surprisingly popular, says education counsellor Annamari Kajasto from the Finnish National Agency for Education. Kajasto thinks this is in part thanks to the government directing funding to diversifying language studies.

Most schools applied for grants to support English, German, French and Russian studies. A few, like schools in Rovaniemi, applied for rarer languages, like Polish, Chinese and Arabic.

Municipalities and education providers participating in the pilot will receive government grants worth a total 4.5 million euros this year. Another 5.5 million will be dished out next year.

Schools and municipalities are free to use the grant in ways they see fit to introduce children to languages at an even younger age.

“We didn’t want to tie the hands of schools, but we’re hoping they will come up with innovative ideas which we couldn’t have. We’re looking for new ideas,” Kajasto said.

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