Children can learn several foreign languages before they even start school
“What if languages could be studied by dancing, singing and having fun with friends? Without having to put in any effort? That is exactly how Linguajoy works”, says the founder of the language school, Henrietta Kvist.
“In our school, children between the ages of two and nine learn new languages by playing, reciting rhymes, doing crafts, and having fun”, she says, showing me around the school’s light and airy facilities in Lauttasaari.
It sounds lovely, but also a little suspicious. What can she mean by there not being any effort involved? According to Kvist, the key is getting to children when they are at their most receptive to language learning.
“Studies show that the most intensive age for learning languages is from approximately six months to approximately six years of age. This is why children can, and should, learn a couple of foreign languages before they even start school”, Kvist explains.
According to her, language studies stimulate the brain, expand children’s world view, improve their memory, and make them more perceptive. “The process is a new, exciting and fun experience for children. At school, children typically only begin to study languages at the age of eight or nine, when the most intensive age for learning languages is already coming to its end.”
Multi-sensory learning is another key concept. Linguajoy does not focus on grammar, and instead children learn by playing, reciting rhymes, singing, and looking at pictures.
“This helps to imprint vocabulary in children’s long-term memory and makes language learning enjoyable. Many of our students have returned from their holidays abroad more excited than ever, because they have been able to order an ice-cream at the pool!”
Trepidations of entrepreneurship
Kvist got her business idea a couple of years ago, when she was looking for a language school for her two-year-old. “I lived in England with my family as a child, and having a second language has always been a source of joy for me”, she explains.
As she was unable to find a suitable language school, she decided to open one herself.
“Multilingualism is a gift for a child. Language learning gives children an advantage in later life, and it can open a number of exciting doors for them. Someone who can speak Mandarin, for example, will have a billion people to talk to.”
As a mother of two young children, Kvist nevertheless had misgivings about starting her own business. She had been working as a business development and product management consultant at Itella, and the uncertainty and unpredictability of entrepreneurship worried her.
She took her business plan to NewCo, a business growth centre set up by the City of Helsinki, where she was given the push she needed to believe in her vision.
“The staff at NewCo were extremely encouraging and professional.”
Cheek kissing and understanding of humanity
Linguajoy currently runs language clubs in seven languages from Russian to German and from Spanish to French. According to Kvist, many parents come to her for advice about which language their child should learn first.
“Neurolinguistically, from the perspective of the brain, being exposed to any foreign language is an advantage. That is why I usually tell parents to ask their child! Most children already have an idea of what they want to study. Some are enchanted by the romanticism of French, others want to learn Spanish because they want to be a ‘señorita’”, she explains.
Her lessons also teach children about the customs of different countries. For example, children in her Spanish classes learn about ‘besos’, the custom of kissing people on the cheek when you meet them.
According to Kvist, the most important aspect of learning a language is that it increases children’s understanding of humanity.
“Our classes show children that even though we come from all different parts of the world, having a common language allows us to get to know each other and realise that we are actually all the same deep down.”
For Kvist, the best things about Helsinki are the sea and unspoilt nature. The family’s favourite hangout is Kasinonranta Beach in Lauttasaari, which has a magnificent playground for children, including a climbing frame and a slide. The children can climb and play in the sand, and there is a café that serves ice-cream, coffee and pastries.
“Kasinonranta Beach is a true summer paradise, and we always meet lots of friends and acquaintances there”, she says.
Text and picture: Venla Pystynen
Janne Isosävi nominated Henrietta Kvist as a maker of the Helsinki of the future.