What if you could study languages by dancing, singing and romping around with your friends? Without any effort at all? That’s exactly how people learn at Linguajoy Language School, says the Founder, M.S.C. in Economics Henrietta Kvist with a smile. ”Here children aged 1-14yo learn new languages via play, poetry, arts, crafts, movement, music and having fun,” she says while giving a tour of the school’s well-lit facilities in Lauttasaari.
Sounds wonderful, but also slightly suspicious. What do you mean, without any effort? According to Henrietta, one of the key words is the “sensitive period” for linguistic development. ”Research shows that the most intensive period to learn languages ranges from the age of a 6 months to around six years old. Therefore a child can and should already get to grips with even a couple of foreign languages before starting school,” Henrietta Kvist explains. She defines studying languages as a kind of brain-stimulating exercise which not only broadens one’s world view but also improves memory and helps with developing perception. ”For the children, it’s new, exciting and fun. In school, children traditionally have started learning languages at the age of eight or nine, and by then the most intensive learning stage is already beginning to wane.” Another hey word is multisensory learning. At Linguajoy, teaching does not prioritize grammar but is instead based on, for instance, taking care of Pedro the monkey, drumming rhythm, singing and observing pictures. ”This way, words are stored more easily into the long-term memory and the learning process feels memorable in itself. After their summer travels many kids have, in fact, returned to their language clubs brimming with enthusiasm after being able to order ice-cream at a pool by themselves!”
Becoming an entrepreneur felt intimidating
Henrietta Kvist had her business idea a few years ago while searching for a language club for her firstborn two-year-old. ”I had lived in England as a child and felt that knowing another language had brought me a huge amount of joy”, she explains. When she couldn’t find a suitable club, she decided to set up one of her own. ”A diverse set of linguistic skills is a gift to a child. By studying languages, a child receives important assets for later life, which in turn can lead to many new and exiting paths and opportunities. For instance, Mandarin Chinese speakers have a billion individuals as potential people to talk with.”
However, Henrietta was horrified at the prospect of becoming an entrepreneur as a mother of two small children. She worked in Itella corporation on strategic development projects and product management, which is why the uncertainty and unpredictability of entrepreneurship felt intimidating. Henrietta Kvist perfected her business plan at NewCo Helsinki, a centre for business development founded by the Helsinki City. This gave her a new sense of confidence in her plans: ”The service at NewCo was very supportive and professional.”
Kisses on the cheek and an understanding of humanity
Now Linguajoy offers language courses to children and adults in nine different languages, from Russian to German and Spanish to French. Henrietta reveals that many parents come to her for recommendations on which language to start with. ”As far as the brain is concerned, being exposed to any foreign language is a good thing. That’s why I usually recommend asking the child! Usually they have an intuition on what they wish to learn. One child is fascinated by the melody of French, another wants to learn Spanish in order to become a señorita”, she says and laughs.
The clubs also focus on studying the cultures of different countries. In the Spanish Club, for example, children learn to give besos, the kisses on the cheek given while greeting someone. The most important thing when learning languages is, according to Henrietta, the way it increases understanding of humanity. ”In our clubs the children see that even if we come from completely different sides of the world, language skills allow us to get to know each other and to realize that in the end, we are all the same people.
For Henrietta, the best things about Helsinki are the sea and the clean environment. Her family’s favourite beach is the Kasinonranta in Lauttasaari, where you can find an excellent playground for children, complete with climbing frames and slides. In the midst of climbing and playing in the sandpit, you can pick up an ice cream or a bun and coffee from the cafe located on the beach. ”It really is a summer paradise, one where you can always meet friends and lovely people”, she says.
Text and photo: Venla Pystynen
Janne Isosävi chose Henrietta Kvist as the Maker of the Future of Helsinki.