SMK blogs

Language schools at museums | 12.mar.2014

New colleagues at the SMK: Maija, Lezel, and Vahid

The applications have been pouring in! The positions offered up at the SMK for language students at the Copenhagen Language Center are highly sought after. Our objective was to find three language students and have each of them create a small film about words and art. We would have dearly liked to hire all applicants on the spot, but sadly we had to choose only three. In our selection process we have sought to take into account issues such as nationality, language, age, and gender, and our final choices were Maija, Lezel, and Vahid.

Vahid Abbasi was born in Iran, and his native language is Farsi. Lezel Indal was born in the Philippines and speaks Tagalog as her native language. Maija Ivanova was born in Latvia and has Latvian as her mother tongue. All three are still students at the Copenhagen Language Center, but in January and February they were also temporarily employed here at the SMK.

Work at the SMK begins

The films created by Vahid, Lezel, and Maija will be part of the education resources created by the SMK for use in language schools. These resources are intended to help strengthen and enhance language students’ work with Danish language and culture.

After a couple of introductory days of meetings, planning, and guided tours of the museum – tours that included the exhibitions and behind-the-scenes introductions to the museum as a workplace – Vahid, Lezel, and Maija enthusiastically began their work. The first challenge was to immerse themselves in the museum’s collection of art, selecting the one work of art they will present in their own film. Over a couple of days they narrowed down their shortlist, presenting their potential choices to each other and to museum staff.

The students’ choices

By now the three language students have selected their works of art. Lezel has chosen Silver Sculpture by Arthur Köpcke from 1961-62. Vahid selected a 17th century sculpture: Hercules Wrestling with Antaeus by an unknown artist. And Maija has opted for a video piece showing a performance by the artists’ group J&K: The Nation from 2013. All three have noted down their immediate impressions of the works of art, collecting lots of words!


Lezel in front of the work of art she has chosen for her film; Arthur Köpcke’s Silver Sculpture from 1961-62.



Maija’s words. Each participant collects words for their artworks. Words that describe their own experience of art, and words that they have chosen to collect from the museum’s visitors, guards, conservators, curators, and art educators.

Lezel’s list of words includes the following terms: garbage, value, different, special, environmentalist, casual, imbalance, difference. She also has the idea of interviewing museum visitors about the sculpture. What (Danish) words would they attach to the sculpture? She writes down all their words. Vahid does the same: “I met a girl by the sculpture. I asked her: What is the first word that springs to mind when you look at this sculpture? She said: ‘Dancing’! That is really interesting to me, because I never thought of it like that. I have mainly thought of wrestling when I look at this sculpture.”

The three language students study their chosen works of art in depth. They conduct research, read, talk, and write as they prepare their films. They set up appointments with curators, conservators and art educators. They have talked to many of the museum guards who look after the art every day. They have collected plenty of words and seen their chosen works of art from many angles. And their film manuscripts are taking shape.

Appearing on national radio

The popular programme “Sproglaboratoriet” (The Language Laboratory”) broadcast by DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, has addressed the issue of teaching language for a couple of weeks. One Wednesday morning the host of the show, Helle Solvang, turns up at the SMK. She has brought along her microphone in order to interview us and the three language students about the OrdVærkSted project.



Helle Solvang from the leading Danish radio station P1 interviewing Lezel on the subject of her chosen work of art, Arthur Köpcke’s Silver Sculpture. Lezel relates how the sculpture reminds her of diving. She is a diver herself, and she has dived for trash for many years in order to clean up the sea around the Philippines, her place of birth. The sculpture is made out of things that she might also have found on the bottom of the sea – an old shoe, a fork, a broken chair, a broom.

Helle Solvang asks the language students to present their works of art. Maija explains that her chosen work of art is about the concept of nationality. She was inspired by the SMK’s collection of Danish Golden Age art (art from the first half of the 19th century), a historical period which saw national agendas and the notion of a distinctively Danish identity emerging in art and politics. And she explains that she ended up choosing a video and performance piece from 2013 in which two artists challenge the concept of “the national”. As she says: “I think that’s really interesting: What is nationality? What does it mean, in general? What does it mean to Denmark? Is it a good and healthy thing? Do we need it?”

Helle Solvang asks what it is like studying languages at an art museum. Maija’s answer includes this statement: “My chosen work of art has taught me something about Danish culture and history. That is also very important. It is important that you don’t just simply learn some words – if you want to understand a language you also need to understand the culture and history behind it. That’s why art is just perfect in this regard. If you ask those questions, if you’re curious, you can combine the two things. And when I think about art and culture I am also practicing words.”

The atmosphere is uplifted and full of excitement when Helle Solvang’s recordings come to an end. It went really well! Maija, Vahid, and Lezel are our new radio stars! But it was hard, too: ”It felt like the 10th and final test of our language courses,” says Maija, ”and we haven’t even passed our 4th test yet.” Everyone agrees that this was a great experience, and everyone is really proud of everyone else’s efforts!

The programme was broadcast on P1 on 23 January 2014. Entitled  ”Sprogundervisning er porten til det danske” (“Language studies unlock the gates to Danish culture”), the programme is available here.

The long day ends with the official opening of a new exhibition starring the artist Tacita Dean. We celebrate the exhibition – and a day of hard work successfully done – with well-earned finger food and lots of conversation (in Danish!).

Learning language at a museum?

”Yes, you can learn language skills at a museum”, says Maija. ”But it needs to be interactive and engaging – you need to think about words, and you need to listen to words. It would be no good for me to simply go in here on my own.”

Vahid agrees: “It’s easiest to learn new things when you have fun doing so. At kindergartens children play to learn new things. This thing at the museum is fun; picking out words to describe art, learning them.” He also says: ”The hardest thing about this is speaking Danish. It takes a lot out of me. But even so I don’t get as tired as I usually would, because it’s fun, and I get help from friendly colleagues at the museum.”

Vahid chooses three words to describe the experience of working and learning language skills at the museum: History, play, and integration. He says: “Making us actual employees here is the very best kind of integration. We have real employee cards, we get a real salary. That’s a really good feeling.  And we also feel that our work is real and meaningful.”

Lezel continues: ”My three words are fun, creative, and challenging. And inspiration. All three of us have learnt a lot already, and we get to show that to others.” She concludes: “And I love looking a more art – and getting to know new words in connection with art.”



When the working day is done

The three language students also describe how working at the museum affects their everyday lives. Vahid says: ”When the working day is done and I am heading home, I think about my work and the new words that have arisen during the day. I try to establish a connection between words and work. For example, when I watch a film I try to pick out the words from the subtitles.” Focusing on individual words has become a method for him. A way of expanding his Danish vocabulary.

Maija compares her work at the SMK with former jobs: ”In England I worked as a project manager and had long, stressful days – this job is fun and not stressful, but having to concentrate so much for so long makes me quite tired!” She also says: “The hardest part is working and speaking Danish at the same time. I’m happy to do it, but it’s hard. It has done so much already for my Danish. I feel how my active language is much better, for here we speak and listen to Danish all the time. So the hardest part about this job is also the best part!”

Lezel says: ”Working here at the SMK is good for me. It makes me creative. The art helps me think and see the world. And I’ve never learnt so many words in such a brief time before. I speak Danish all day. I get tired because I get so filled up with impressions every time I’m here. I am tired, but happy!”



The next blog entry will be about the language students’ ongoing work at the SMK – complete with dress rehearsals and film shoots.


By: Annette Skov, Julie Maria Johnsen og Nana Bernhardt

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