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More Finnish-born Kids Speak no Finnish or Swedish

A small but increasing number of Finnish-born children are entering school with no knowledge of either Finnish or Swedish. In Helsinki, for example, around ten first-graders come to class each year speaking only a foreign language.

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Image: YLE

Schools have "preparatory courses" in place to help immigrant students learn enough Finnish or Swedish to join regular classes. But these were set up for older kids. Until recently, there hasn't been a need to educate Finnish-born toddlers.

"At home, they speak their own native language and the parents don't know Finnish. And if the children don't go to day care, they haven't really heard Finnish anywhere," says Sandra Casals, who teaches preparatory classes in Helsinki. "These children have such a poor grasp of Finnish that they can't enter the mainstream classes."

Room is being made for these children in prep classes, but some educators say that it would be far easier if the children were exposed to either Finnish or Swedish at a much younger age.

"A seven-year-old is past the age of language-learning sensitivity," says Helsinki city's education director Marjo Kyllönen. "Children learn best at around two years of age. This is why it's important to find ways to expose the child even younger so they can start school in a normal class with others their own age."

Many educators feel that it should be stressed to immigrant parents how important early socialisation into Finland's languages and culture is. For this reason, immigrant parents are given the option to enrol their children in day care even if one or both of the parents is at home. Many, however, still prefer to take care of their children at home.

Sources: YLE

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