From Iceland — Bilingual Children Learn Limited Icelandic

Bilingual Children Learn Limited Icelandic

Published September 19, 2022

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Directors of preschools where almost all the students are bilingual or multilingual noted a significant increase in vocabulary and participation after a concerted effort was made to improve their Icelandic vocabulary, RÚV reports.

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A coordinated campaign to develop the language comprehension and literacy of children in preschool, grade school, and in afterschool programmes in the Fellahverfi neighbourhood was launched in 2020. Halldóra Sigtryggsdóttir, director of the preschool Ösp, told reporters that some 18 to 20 different languages are spoken by children at the preschool and about 90% of these children are bilingual or multilingual, often speaking a language different from Icelandic at home.

The campaign focused on increasing the Icelandic vocabulary of these children, adding new words each day with only Icelandic spoken in the preschools. As a result, not only has their Icelandic comprehension improved, but they are also more socially involved with their classmates and in school activities in general. Parents have also reportedly been pleased with the results.

This initiative is especially important in light of new research which showed that children with Icelandic as a second language tend to learn a limited form of Icelandic in preschool. 97% of children with Icelandic as a mother tongue have better Icelandic vocabularies than their bilingual and multilingual classmates.

Jóhanna T. Einarsdóttir, a professor of speech pathology at the Faculty of Medicine and School of Education at the University of Iceland and one of three scientists who worked on this research, says that it is not enough for children to simply be in an environment where Icelandic is spoken.

“They know some words and can make themselves understood but a deeper understanding or vocabulary and syntax is needed,” she said. “They can pronounce words, but make a number of grammatical errors and greatly lack vocabulary,” saying that the matter is more serious than she thought. “A greater and more comprehensive Icelandic education is needed in preschools.”

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