When language learning becomes child’s play

Keeping kids encouraged and keeping up enthusiasm is vital when it comes to teaching languages. That’s why Berlitz throws out the old-school textbook approach and ensures learning through fun and games in the classroom.

When language learning becomes child’s play

“Hello! My name is Tove,” says a smiley, sprightly eight-year-old girl. She speaks with confidence and follows up with the question: “what’s your name?”

She is very proud of the fact she can count to 30 in English, since it’s not her native language.

In many respects Tove Gustafsson is a typical Swedish youngster; she has lots of favourite books, she likes fashion and enjoys playing ‘princesses’ with her friends.

She lives with her parents in Vallentuna, just outside Stockholm, where we meet on a cold and rainy winter day.

But by this time next week, the Gustafsson family will be swapping the seasonal Swedish weather for the sun and beaches of Thailand, since her father Björn has secured a two-year expatriate contract with his employer.

"It’s really exciting," she adds and switches over to Swedish to chat more. "I’ve been to Thailand three times on holiday but now I’m going to live there."

And there she will enrol at an English-speaking school where she will be able to practice her new skill every day.

'It's really fun'

The Gustafsson’s entrusted Berlitz to best prepare their daughter for their new adventure abroad.

"It’s really fun and the teacher is very kind," Tove says. "We play a game where there are a lot of cards with different types of food and I have to say what is on the plate."

"I don’t know them all but I know a lot of them. I can say little sentences and my mummy says I know two hundred words in English now," she adds.

Having never studied English before, Tove has achieved this in 30 at-home lessons with an Berlitz tutor.

Click here to learn more about Berlitz

"I can count to thirty," she reminds us. "It's a bit difficult to say thirty in English though," and goes on to do a sterling job with her pronunciation.

Thankfully, she adds, she didn’t get too much homework but the teacher taught her songs to sing and practice and a book to read.

"It’s called The Enormous Crocodile," she says. "I read it every night and now I’ve read a whole book in English."

Her parents are equally proud as well as impressed with the programme. "What I liked most about it was the easy approach," says father Björn. "The lessons concentrated on practical elements rather than just doing exercises from a book."

Berlitz language programmes for kids and teens start from the age of four upwards and offer playful and innovative methods of learning with the greatest possible educational value.

Dynamic and innovative

In the last year alone, the company has seen substantial growth in children’s language tuition and has first-hand experience dealing with language learning for families moving abroad.

“We saw this trend starting a couple of years ago with more companies sending families on expatriate contracts,” says María Casás Arribas, Berlitz Learning Center Director.

“The children will enrol in international schools and speak English so that’s where we can help.”

Specially trained native speaking instructors lead your choice of either private tuition or group lessons which both guarantee quick learning success.

“Our tutors only speaking in the target language,” adds Casás Arribas. “Today, that is more unique for children than adults.”

“But it’s also very important to use the right age-related material. Language learning should be dynamic and innovative – you need different skills to teach children to keep them focused.”

A lot goes in to moving to a new country and language is key to make initial adjustments go much more smoothly.

Tove has also packed a lot into her lessons over the last few months so with her suitcase in hand and a head start with a new language she is now looking forward to her new home.

"I’m glad I learned English because it’s going to make it easier in school and easier to meet new friends," she says.

"It’s quite important to speak other languages and it’s really good if you can because you can speak to other people from all over the world."

This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Berlitz


Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

There are about ten Sámi languages alive today, spoken across the northern parts of Scandinavia and eastern Russia. But they are among the many Indigenous languages around the world that are at risk of disappearing. 

Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

You might have heard that there are over 200 words for snow in Sámi languages, which is unsurprising, given the climate of the Sámi homeland in Northern Europe. But there’s a lot more to the languages than snow. 

The Swedish Sámi parliament website says that “language is the bearer of cultural heritage and reflects our people’s common view of life and values. Language transfers knowledge about nature and the world.”

But Sámi language fluency has been declining rapidly for decades. Pite Sámi is critically endangered, with fewer than 50 living speakers, all in Sweden. Today, Northern Sámi is the most widely spoken. 

Due to assimilation policies in all the countries the Sámi found themselves in, older generations of Sámi people were not allowed to speak their own language in school, meaning some languages have already been lost. 

The Local spoke to speakers and researchers of the languages to find out some of the most unique and beautiful words still in use.

1. Sápmi  

Sápmi is the Northern Sámi word for the traditional dwelling place of the Sámi people, which encompasses the northern parts of Scandinavia and the Kola peninsula of Russia. Since the 20th century, national borders and state policies have divided Sápmi and the people who call it home. 

Location of Sápmi in Europe

A map of where Sápmi in northern Europe. Map: Wikipedia

Elle Rávdná Näkkäläjärvi is part of the Sámiskeveivisere, Sámi Pathfinders, a group of young Sámi people who visit high schools and teach students about Sámi culture. She says Sápmi itself is one of her favourite words. 

“The word means a Sápmi without borders, it means relatives, sisters and brothers, and community,” she says. 

2. Eadni 

Eadni means ‘mother’ in Northern Sámi.

“It’s one of the first words that children learn,” says Berit Anne Bals Baal, a lecturer of linguistics at the National Centre for Sámi Language in Education at the Sámi University College, who chose it as her favourite word.

It has a complex phonology (sound system), and is similar to the Northern Sámi word for Earth, which is eanan

3. Guohtun  

Guohtun is a Northern Sámi word that describes the ideal conditions for reindeer to find lichen to graze under a covering of snow. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s one of those words that resists simple translation.

Lars Miguel Utsi, the Vice President of the Sámi parliament of Sweden, says, “Guohtun is a very complex word. It encompasses geography, plants, lichens, snow, and reindeer. It exemplifies the language and its connection to land and water.”

“It’s a very soothing word because it means that there is food and the reindeer can reach it,” he said. 

4. Giitu  

Giitu means ‘thank you’ in Northern Sámi.

Anyone who knows some Finnish might notice that it sounds quite similar to the Finnish word for ‘thank you’, kiitos. That’s because Sámi languages have more in common with Finnish than with Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, coming from the same language family: Finno-Uralic. 

You can respond to giitu with leage buorre which means ‘you’re welcome.’

5. Čáiddas 

This means snowball. We couldn’t have a list of Sámi words without having something specific to snow, could we? 

6. Vuovdi 

This means forest in Northern Sámi. Vast swathes of Sápmi is covered in forest. Sámi reindeer herders rely on old-growth forests to let their reindeer graze; they eat the kind of lichen that only grows in older forests. 

7. Boazu

Reindeer husbandry is a vital part of Sámi life. Photo: Image Bank Sweden

In all Sámi languages, there are two different words for reindeer. In Northern Sámi there is goddi and boazu.

Boazu means a reindeer who has been tamed and can be milked. Goddi is the word for wilder reindeer.  

Reindeer herding is an important aspect of Sámi culture and a vital source of income for many Sámi people. The Sámi parliament estimates that about 2,500 people are dependent on income from reindeer husbandry. 

8. Bures

An easy one! This is how you say “hello” to another person in Northern Sámi. 

9. Goahte  

Goahte is a type of hut in Lule Sámi. It’s a traditional Sámi home that can be built in several different ways, depending on what material is available, like with wooden panels or a construction of wooden poles covered with peat or cloth.

10. Sámediggi 

This is the Northern Sámi word for the Sámi Parliament. There’s a Sámi parliament in each country that divides Sápmi.

In the Scandinavian countries, it’s essentially a government agency with the aim of representing the Sámi people and increasing opportunities to participate in public debate.