Finnish acquisition check-in: 11-year-old; 12 months in Finland
Miriam turned eleven years old yesterday and marking the passage of time reminded me that I haven't checked in on her language acquisition here on the blog recently. So put on your nerd hats! It's time to have a look.
The most terrifying thing to me this summer (in a language acquisition sense) would have been for the girls to take 2.5 months off of school and have their Finnish get all rusty. To head this off, we put the girls in a "kesä kerho" at a local Lutheran church for three weeks in June. They went for a few hours a day and socialized in Finnish. It was wildly successful as far as what we intended for it to do: the girls did not forget their Finnish. Plus, they had a ton of fun. I was glad for Miriam to form some pleasant associations between Finnish and socializing, since I know it was sometimes less than fun for her at school to be operating in a foreign language. But to be doing crafts and playing outside and going on field trips in Finnish - well, that was just the thing she needed.
We followed this up with enrolling Miriam in a week-long "children's university" physics and astronomy day camp at the University of Turku just before school started. And, forgive me, I actually told the counselors to not speak English to her if at all possible. It worked! Miriam had a great time all week and learned how to say "liquid nitrogen" (among other things) in Finnish. She told me she had a few awkward moments where she tried to follow along but missed some nuance in the instructions and ended up not shattering her frozen cabbage leaf correctly, but that kind of thing happens to the best of us.
So Miriam started school this year with a fresh, improved competency in Finnish helped along by confidence in an already-familiar classroom and school environment (kids here have the same teacher and class for grades 1-3 and then 4-6). She gets Finnish instruction three ways at school: in the mother-tongue class alongside her regular classmates (2hrs/week), in the Finnish for Foreigners class at the International School (2hrs/week), and in the Finnish as a Second Language class with those of her classmates who are also non-native Finns (2hrs/week).
I've noticed a marked improvement in her skills in Finnish, but more importantly in her attitude toward it. She has always been a little hesitant to speak unless she knows for sure she isn't making a mistake (which is almost impossible as a language-learner). But lately I've noticed her taking more chances and referring to some things in Finnish that she used to say in English. Her reading in Finnish is also getting much better - it was actually never that hard for her since it's pronounced the way it's written, but she is reading smoother and with an even better accent.
She still corrects me on my 'u' and 'y' pronunciation (I tend to mix them up, especially when they're used in adjoining words like 'syyskuu'), to the point that I now have a complex about it.
I feel like Miriam is in a good place with Finnish and is making the progress I have hoped she would. It will still take a long time before she is completely competent in it, especially with regards to writing. But language-learning is all about the long-term, so no rush.