From New Zealand to Karelia
Karelia has got acquainted with a language nest approach, originated in New Zealand, through Finland where it has been successfully applied for many years to bring up new speakers of Inari Sámi, a seriously endangered Finno-Ugric language. This approach is suitable for languages in trouble that are not used in everyday communications and are not transferred within the family. A language nest immerses preschool children into the language environment and, thus, creates conditions for natural language acquisition.
The only one existing Karelian language nest Kielipezä (‘Language Nest’) is run by the House of the Karelian Language. The nest is open from 07:30 am till 05:30 pm throughout the working days. The age of its attendees varies from 1.5 to 7 years. The nest is similar to a regular kindergarten, except that the language of instruction is Karelian, with no translation into Russian. The staff helps the children to learn the language, using nest-specific teaching methods. The nest group is small (nine children as of now), which allows individual work with each child.
The nest’s schedule includes meals, walks, midday nap and general care routines as well as creative activities and educational sessions. The balanced timetable, the home atmosphere, the attentive staff and the family involvement make Vedlozero parents to favour the nest over a municipal kindergarten. The language nest supports early bilingualism. The children practice Russian outside the nest; Karelian, within the nest.
Kielipezä is a great educational project not only for the children, but also for the staff. The methodologists and educators constantly improve their knowledge and skills on language nest methods by participating in trainings and exchanging practices with colleagues from other regions and countries. In this regard, the House of the Karelian Language can be named a consultative centre for indigenous language revitalization.
Almost ten new fluent speakers in four years is a real achievement for a small settlement. The next challenge will be to maintain the Karelian-language skill throughout a Russian-language school period. With this in mind, the House of the Karelian Language carries out informational and educational work, encouraging the parents and the local community to improve their language knowledge and to speak to language-nest graduates in Karelian.