Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

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lily_of_the_valley
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Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by lily_of_the_valley » Sun Oct 16, 2016 9:38 am

Hi all!

Just looking for people's experiences with putting kids straight into a regular Finnish state school (i.e. tuition in Finnish) when the child has limited Finnish skills.

How old were your kids and how long did it take for them to develop a good level of Finnish? How long did it take for them to make friends and feel accepted?

What kind of support did they receive (if any) and did they do an integration program? Did they get put back a year or go into a year level according to their age?

Are you happy with the decision to pursue schooling in Finnish?

Bit of background info about us: child will be either 8 or 9 years old at the time of moving. Child speaks English as her first language and has a small amount of Finnish (skills are that of a toddler currently). Has an Australian mum (speaks A2-B1 Finnish but uses English at home) and a Finnish dad who has spoken to child in Finnish from birth (but doesn't talk a lot :wink: ). We have 2 years to work on her Finnish before the move but I'm keen to hear other people's experiences of how their kids transitioned with little to no prior Finnish skills.

Thanks, and nice to meet you all!



Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

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rinso
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by rinso » Sun Oct 16, 2016 6:05 pm

At that age children will learn quickly. It shouldn't be a problem.
Off course it also depends on the school and the teacher. Have they enough time to give your child some extra attention.
Since Finnish children start school at 7yo, yours will probably start in the second grade.


Rosamunda
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by Rosamunda » Sun Oct 16, 2016 10:42 pm

And some schools provide special integration programmes so that the children get intensive Finnish in small groups and then gradually transfer into the mainstream curriculum. If they arrive already with A2/B1, then they will catch up quickly. Hobbies are good for language skills too: eg football, salibandy, etc And they will have a head start in basic numeracy etc anyway since they start primary school earlier than the Finnish kids.


lily_of_the_valley
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by lily_of_the_valley » Mon Oct 17, 2016 12:34 pm

Rosamunda wrote:And some schools provide special integration programmes so that the children get intensive Finnish in small groups and then gradually transfer into the mainstream curriculum. If they arrive already with A2/B1, then they will catch up quickly. Hobbies are good for language skills too: eg football, salibandy, etc And they will have a head start in basic numeracy etc anyway since they start primary school earlier than the Finnish kids.
Is it true that the integration program is only available at a small number of schools in Helsinki? We will most likely be living in a smaller town. Do you know if the other cities e.g. Turku offer those programs?

Her Finnish is actually not even A1 at this stage but I have some ideas to help her before we go. The hobbies are a great idea for language-learning and for making friends, thanks!

I have another quick question related to Rinso's comment: is there a date which is a kind of cut-off for children's birthdays when deciding on a year level? E.g. if our daughter turns 9 at the end of August would it be more likely that she would go into Year 3?

Thanks for your comments!


Rosamunda
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by Rosamunda » Mon Oct 17, 2016 10:34 pm

Children start school in the year they turn 7. So the cut off is 31 December. A child must turn 7 yrs before 31 December to enter school that year (school year starts the first week in August). The applications are usually made in Jan/Feb - the date is advertised in the local newspapers and probably advertised on municipality websites.

The best thing you can do is get your husband to call the municipality and ask them the questions directly. I think a lot of schools do run special programmes for children who need intensive Finnish, but certainly not all. The local authority (Koulutuskeskus of your municipality) will be able to give you more details. Your daughter will also qualify for 90 minutes of mother-tongue English language added on to her normal weekly timetable. All you need to do is fill in a form (probably online). Of course, you can do the English stuff at home but sometimes it's fun for children to meet other 'foreign' kids who speak the same mother tongue (and it's free). The mother-tongue programme is for all children who speak a language other than Finnish/Swedish at home and continues right through primary school and sometimes even into secondary.

Football (soccer) is a very popular sport for girls here. But there are also lots of other activities such as music, art, etc Some schools organise clubs but nowadays the budgets are very tight so most after-school clubs are privately run and cost. Sports can be quite expensive (eg ice hockey and even soccer).


lily_of_the_valley
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by lily_of_the_valley » Tue Oct 18, 2016 2:09 pm

Thank you, Rosamunda! You've been very helpful. So it looks like if we move before the summer she'll probably be in year 2 but if we move later she'll likely start in year 3. I think the earlier we can get her there, the easier the transition will be.

I didn't think about the fact that she would meet other local English-speaking kids at the mother-tongue lessons but that is excellent. It will be nice for her to know other kids who are going through the same transition as her. Football club also sounds promising (if we can afford it) as she has already started doing it here and it would therefore be something familiar for her amongst all the big changes!

Does anyone else have any experiences to share? I'm also interested to hear about how your kids went making friends while there were still language barriers and whether your kids faced any bullying, exclusion etc.

Kiitos! :)


leisl
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by leisl » Wed Oct 19, 2016 4:38 am

Where do you live? There's a Finnish School for kids in Sydney. The people are lovely and she'd not be the least fluent in the group. http://sydney.finnish-schools.org/in-en ... ontact-us/

It probably won't really matter if she goes backwards in class grade a little, she will have enough to concentrate on, even if the maths lessons are too easy in the beginning. My two went backwards a year and a half (arrived ages 12 and 13). I absolutely cannot recommend the integration classes. Half-way through the year they were still unable to say even basic greetings, they did nothing in the way of homework, and some of their classmates unfortunately spoke English, so guess what they all spoke... they didn't improve much until the following year when they went into 7th and 8th grades respectively with just Finnish as the environment. The only kids benefiting in the integration class seemed to be the Somalian kids, who couldn't speak English and who had a proper opportunity to be immersed.

So I think others are right recommending your daughter just "dive in" with ordinary classes and trust the school to support her language learning as they see fit. Try to encourage Finnish interaction... it might involve some arranged play dates with Finnish-speaking kids etc.

As for the two hours of entitled teaching... originally my two were just shoved into the 6th graders' basic English lessons. Totally unsuitable and they were bored out of their brains watching kids learn how to spell words they'd been writing when they were five. When I got a little annoyed at it being inappropriate, the integration "teacher" just shrugged, said the timetable worked that way, and really didn't care. It was only when chatting to the school counsellor that I casually mentioned it - he was shocked and gave me the info - there was an organised group at another school one afternoon per week. We sent them there faithfully for about a year despite their protestations that it was also boring :lol: I eventually pushed to find out what was so boring and why they disliked it so much. Turns out it was essentially two hours of babysitting where the teacher/babysitters sort of used English. It was crosswords, colouring-in, watching English-language kids' shows and playing English-language board games. Granted, these are all fine as teaching methods in a social sort of environment, but my kids reckoned that more than half of the children could barely speak any English and it became apparent we were wasting our time, so we stopped bothering to go.

Your daughter's spoken English will not suffer while you're using it at home every day. Just foster a love of reading and writing, and it will keep her skills up until her Finnish classmates reach advanced English levels.


lily_of_the_valley
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by lily_of_the_valley » Wed Oct 19, 2016 1:50 pm

Thank you, leisl! It's very interesting to hear your honest experience with "the system". I won't feel as bad if she ends up going to school somewhere without those opportunities nearby, as she may not be missing much after all. The main thing I want for her is to reach a native level in Finnish and feel like she fits in. Like you said, the deep end is probably the best way to achieve that. I'd like to keep her English written skills up in case she wants to study in English one day but between her and my love of books and Book Depository, there will be no shortage of English literature in the house :D

Unfortunately there's no Finnish school in our city but we've talked about it in the playgroup we've started with other Finnish families. Not sure that it will take off, though, as there's not a lot of us. We meet for playdates every few months but the kids just speak English to each other :roll: I've been thinking of getting a Finnish "babysitter" to come and play with her for an hour or so a week in Finnish so hopefully that will help!

What are your kids' Finnish skills like now? Have they completed lukio there and how did they find it?


leisl
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by leisl » Thu Oct 20, 2016 5:10 am

Miss 21 did not complete lukio, that's more to do with her personality than anything else :D she does freelance graphic design work. Her spoken Finnish is really quite good, but written is a bit lacking. Mr 20 is currently doing his matriculation in Finnish, has completed all courses except (irony) Finnish, which he decided to take an extra 6 months to complete so that he could improve it a little bit more. His was the poorer Finnish of the two by miles as he's not hugely outgoing so doesn't speak it much. He did his lukio at a school which starts you out in English and aims to get you to Finnish proficiency in 3 years, which has been fairly successful. His Finnish skill has improved dramatically and both his written and oral would be at B2.2 level, which is close to native, or possibly even C1 (native).

And I'd say the Finnish babysitter is a very good idea :)

One of my teachers in Aus suggested that meal times should be exclusively Finnish as a way to help with the language. It's not a critical time to understand each other perfectly you see, and it can be relaxed, unhurried conversation (unlike, say, when Junior won't put his shoes on and his homework isn't in his bag and you're going to be late if you don't hurry up etc). Perhaps that would help, if Dad can bring himself to start asking what happened at school today in Finnish, and getting her to try to reply, or suggesting one or two words for what she needs to say.


lily_of_the_valley
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by lily_of_the_valley » Thu Oct 20, 2016 1:43 pm

Wow, your kids have done really well considering they were already teenagers when they arrived! It's really encouraging for me to hear. Good luck to your son for his final exam! What a great achievement. Also fantastic that your daughter has been able to get a good job there.

Hubby says that when he asks her about school in Finnish she just replies back in English. So he needs to get a bit stricter with her taking the easy way out! It's hard when isi can't do chat or small-talk very well :wink: But the relaxed mealtime conversation is a good idea. She gets a lot of "wash your hands", "lean over your plate" etc in Finnish so it would be nice for her to learn some nicer, more conversational phrases :lol:

I downloaded the YLE Lasten Areena app in an effort to get her more immersed in Finnish and it seems to be working so far! Ekapeli has been good for her reading skills, too. If anyone has any other app suggestions please let me know!


biscayne
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by biscayne » Tue Oct 25, 2016 7:58 pm

As a parent of a completely bi-lingual child, I guarantee that the best thing you can do is just fling her into Finnish school, she will be fluent in the blink of an eye and be a real part of society in Finland. Even if you do go back to Australia, she will have a gift which money cannot buy. Mine, being bi-lingual only has to learn another language for a couple of weeks and picks it up faster than the majority who are not bi-lingual, it seems their brains have just been hard-wired differently due to the exposure. Mine is on her 7th (yes, really) language now, granted many of them are similar, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese for example, but she speaks 4 others and is doing, surprise, surprise, International Languages with Law at University.

Deliberately sending her to the Finnish school and not the international ones, will make her "normal" here and she will tap into all the normal cultural things Finnish kids do. It might be tough for a few weeks or months at worst, but at that age she will be fine before you know it.


lily_of_the_valley
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by lily_of_the_valley » Wed Oct 26, 2016 1:17 pm

Yes, that's exactly what we want for her! For us there was no question of putting her into a regular Finnish school, but it is very encouraging to hear people support the idea.

It is very true that bilinguilism is a wonderful gift and something that so many adults wish they'd had the opportunity for as children. It is especially important for our daughter as it is a link to her heritage :)

I was particularly interested to hear that you think the main struggle will be only a matter of weeks or months, as opposed to years. Can I ask how old your child was when she moved to Finland and roughly how long until she was communicating well in Finnish? Thanks!


biscayne
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by biscayne » Thu Oct 27, 2016 11:40 am

sorry I did not reply earlier.

My daughter was actually born in Slovenia to a Slovene father and Irish mother (me). From the getgo her dad spoke Slovene to her and I spoke English. As a small toddler she often replied to me in Slovene, but the trick was to just reply back in English and make it clear that the only language she was going to be able to communicate with me in was English.

I did not observe the frequently quoted idea that bilingual kids are slower at first, and then catch up in terms of linguistic ability. On the contrary, she was always the most "literate" of her peers. Being bilingual just seemed to make her more open to every kind of learning. She always said she wanted to go to University in Ireland. There, the secondary school exam which gets you into University is called the Leaving Certificate. They do up to about 8 subjects and are marked on the best 6 for points for University. In Slovenia, at that level they only take 5 subjects, so she took an extra subject, by herself, in English and did it at Irish Leaving Certificate level and aced it. I feel sure that being bilingual made this possible, not just because of the language, but because of the way the brain works in bilingual kids.

I believe strongly, that with a child the age of yours, you are not talking about years, but months. Particularly if the Finnish parent just ignores English, consistently reinforces Finnish and makes it clear that the only language he will use is Finnish. It has to be consistent, that is key. Also the child should be read to as much as possible in the language which she or he is LESS exposed to.


lily_of_the_valley
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by lily_of_the_valley » Sun Oct 30, 2016 12:36 pm

It is excellent that your daughter learned English to a level of being about to do the Leaving Cert! In my experience it seems that kids whose mothers are the foreigner tend to learn that language better than those cases where the mother speaks the local language and the father is the foreigner. I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions but this is what I have noticed and it is certainly true for us. Even with my hubby only using Finnish with her and reading with her often, she has barely progressed. And we live so far from Finland that it's not like we can visit a couple times a year to keep her skills refreshed, like some families I know.

But since we made the decision to move back to Finland and I've been making a conscious effort to increase her exposure to Finnish language and culture, I have actually noticed a small improvement already. So that gives me hope that she will pick it up quickly once we arrive. Thanks for your encouragement :)


eowynofrohan
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Re: Kids adapting to Finnish school and language

Post by eowynofrohan » Sat Nov 25, 2017 8:23 am

Hello!
We're a Bulgarian family with a 4 year old boy, still in Bulgaria.
I want to move to Finland so my son could get a better education. I am afraid of and disappointed from our educational system, looking at what my friends with bigger kids go through.
But yesterday I found some articles, which were basically saying that Finnish teachers and Finnish kids do not treat well immigrant kids. Immigrant kids could not find friends, etc. No bullying was mentioned, but still I got concerned if my kid will be treated well...
The articles were pretty old though, 2010 I think...
Is that true? Has anyone had such an experience? Are things better now?
Thank you for any input.


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