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The international and multilingual community within Finland and Jyväskylä is a beautiful one, and I feel great pride in being a part of it and working within it."

My name is Ellen Virkkunen and I am one of the English heritage language teachers working for the city of Jyväskylä.  I was born and grew up  in the United States as a Finnish-American. Education has always been a passion of mine and I am going to take a moment to write about heritage language courses and share my personal experiences on this subject. 

Being a heritage English teacher

Being a heritage English teacher means that all of my students use English as a home language in some capacity. This class is a service provided by the city of Jyväskylä, and is provided for over 500 students in 25 different languages. Essentially, heritage language teachers jobs are to help strengthen and preserve students' skills in English. The curriculum focuses on skills including listening, communicating, reading, writing, and language culture. We do and use a variety of activities and materials to develop these skills such as reading children's literature, acting, art making, playing games, singing and listening to music, sharing stories and ideas, and more. There is a definite focus placed onto using a variety of methods and pedagogical tactics to learn language.   

Heritage language education is also personally important to me. Growing up in the United States, I was very much like many of the students I teach- I spoke one language at home (Finnish) and another at school (English). However; due to lack of language resources and school system support/value for multilingualism, overtime I lost my ability to communicate in Finnish. The emphasis was always placed on me to learn and focus on the language that was in context to the country I lived in.    

While as a child I didn’t really understand why this mattered, as I grew up I began to feel a gap between myself and my ties to Finland. Without the ability to speak my first language, I also lost the ability to communicate with family members and understand the culture I was a part of. Now that I have moved back to Finland, I have been working on regaining these skills and connections. However; this is much more difficult to do as an adult rather than as a child.    

This job is so fulfilling because I have a unique opportunity to help ensure that these students get the language support that they need in order to preserve their heritage language skills. These language skills that will no doubt help them in school and life, but also allow them to remain connected to their families and their cultures.    

The importance of heritage language

The importance of heritage language classes for children cannot be understated. For many kids, this is the class they come to and feel confident, safe, and social in through the use of their heritage language. Excluding language education, the feeling of belonging to a community and connecting with those who are similar to you, especially as a child, is so important. The self-confidence that grows in them from heritage language classes can transfer to all aspects of their lives and education.   

Within all of this, heritage languages classes are a strength within education. The international and multilingual community within Finland and Jyväskylä is a beautiful one, and I feel great pride in being a part of it and working within it.  

Ellen Virkkunen                                                                                                                                                                                          
English heritage language teachers