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The work "My Own Country" by the artist Lise Harlev, who helps develop and test new workshops and new education materials for language students.

Language schools at museums | 12.mar.2014

Language schools at museums

At the SMK we are often visited by language schools for foreign adults learning Danish as a second language and teachers who take their students out for an excursion. But how can you get better at speaking Danish at a museum of art, a place where visual rather than linguistic modes of expression hold sway? How can such initiatives constitute a framework for cultural citizenship for new citizens in Danish society? How can the museum contribute to the creation of new cultural and historical frameworks for new Danish citizens as well as for the museum as part of a collective learning process?

These are questions we would like to examine in greater detail. To that end we launched a process of close co-operation with the Copenhagen Language Center and its language students in 2013. The collaborative project also involves the artist Lise Harlev, the French scholar Sophia Labadi from the University of Kent, and Thorvaldsens Museum in Copenhagen.


is the working title of our project. The title is a pun on the Danish words for Word, Work, and Place and WordWorkshop, and in the project itself language students and teachers from the Copenhagen Language Center co-operate with SMK staff on developing, testing, and producing new teaching activities and education resources that address the process of learning Danish through the personal experience of artworks from the collections. But who are the language students? Who are we, the persons writing this blog? And what are the plans for the year to come?

The early stages of the project

Who are the language students?
The language students we will be working with all attend the Copenhagen Language Center - Københavns Sprogcenter. They are all adults learning Danish as a second language. The Language Center offers classes at several different levels – Danish levels 1, 2 or 3 – for students who have, respectively, completed education to levels roughly corresponding to those of primary, secondary, and tertiary education. Regardless of level and regardless of the students’ reasons for coming to Denmark, the teaching conducted at the Language Center is all about learning Danish – written and oral – and about gaining insight into Danish culture and society. This is part of curriculum and official state frameworks concerning learning objectives for new citizens.

The language students are a very diverse group, but they nevertheless share certain objectives as students at the language Center: Gaining proficiency in Danish and learning about Danish everyday life, history and culture. So we will explore how museums can play a part in this context, and what specific, concrete steps we can take to do that in the best way possible.

Who are we?

The project team at the SMK consists of three members of staff from the museum’s learning and interpretation department:

  • Annette Skov, art educator and tour guide at the museum
  • Julie Maria Johnsen, art educator and the person responsible for the day-to-day running of this project
  • Nana Bernhardt, Head of School Programs

We are the ones writing this blog.

The first steps – with artist Lise Harlev

So what will happen? We will launch our efforts in the winter of 2013-14 by developing and testing two workshops aimed at language students from the Language Center. This involves collaborating with the artist Lise Harlev, who explores the meaning and importance of words and languages in her own artistic practice. She will provide a new, fresh, and alternative angle of approach to our art collection (a collection covering 700 years of art history from the western world) and to our work with words. We will use the two workshops to gain greater insight into our target audience and the field as such: Who will we meet? How do the language students meet and perceive us? What approaches, exercises, activities, artworks, and rooms work well in this context? What potential and what challenges lie inherent in using the museum as a starting point for teaching Danish as a foreign language? We will know more about this after having completed these investigations.

The work My Own Country by the artist Lise Harlev, who helps develop and test new workshops and new education materials for language students.

The next steps – hiring three language students
Once the two workshops have been completed we will officially employ three of the language students who have taken part in workshops at the museum, thereby entering into even closer co-operation with them. We will ask them to co-produce part of the education resources targeted at language schools. By doing so we will involve the language students directly in the working processes, giving us greater insight into how we may best meet their needs. Hopefully, the language students will take ownership of the museum and of the art, becoming ambassadors for us. Also, and very importantly, they will gain insight into Danish workplace culture – for the museum will be a place of work for them, too.

Further development and international research
In the winter and spring of 2014 we will continue our work on the new teaching approaches and materials, making it part of the museum’s everyday practice and its regular offering to institutes of education. In the spring of 2014 the French scholar Sophia Labadi from the University of Kent in the UK will interview the language students and museum employees involved in the project. She will explore the project’s significance to the parties involved and will write an article that views the project within an international perspective.

The project is funded by the Danish Agency for Culture
The project is funded in 2013-14 by the Danish Agency for Culture.

Collaboration with Thorvaldsens Museum
The project is carried out in co-operation with a team of educators from Thorvaldsens Museum.

More blog activities
You can track the project’s progress on this blog. The next entry will be about our workshop with students from the Language Center.

By: Annette Skov, Julie Maria Johnsen, and Nana Bernhardt

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