SMK blogs

Language schools at museums | 12.jun.2014

The researcher’s first conclusions about language schools at museums

”A life-changing experience.” “Greater credibility in the job market.” “Greater self-confidence.” And “a unique opportunity to reflect on your life and identity.” These are some of the academic scholar Sophia Labadi’s initial conclusions on what the project SprogVærkSted has meant to the three language school students who were employed at the SMK this winter.

We have interviewed Sophia, who is affiliated with the University of Kent and has now concluded two months of research here at the SMK and at Thorvaldsens Museum and Sorø Kunstmuseum, both of which are also co-operating with language schools. Having returned to England, she is currently processing the material she has collected through her observations and interviews with museum staff, language school students, language school teachers, and the Danish Agency for Culture, which funded the projects.

Before she left us, we asked her a number of questions – including “What are your primary findings so far?”

What are your primary findings so far?

In her reply, she says: “I have just finished my data collection at the National Gallery of Denmark and have so far only very partial and preliminary findings. From these preliminary findings, it seems that getting a job at the gallery has been a life-changing experience for Lezel, Maija and Vahid (see previous blog entry). Getting a job at SMK/National Gallery of Denmark has helped these language learners acquire bridging capital and develop a network of people outside of their usual connections. This job was indeed, for these three students, the first opportunity to interact with Danish people and not only with other foreigners like themselves.”

“Getting their first job in Denmark, and in such a prestigious institution as SMK/ National Gallery of Denmark, has also helped Lezel, Maija and Vahid build trust with their host society Indeed, a future employer will trust someone who has already worked in Denmark more than someone with no experience in that country. It goes without saying that this paid experience also boosted their confidence and self-esteem.”

“The script and video that these three students prepared on one artefact they had chosen from the permanent galleries turned out to be a personal exercise that helped them to reflect on their lives and identities. Such an exercise helped to build ontological security, in the sense that it created a sense of continuity between the students’ previous lives in their country of origin and in Denmark, as their host country. “

“Multivoicedness, a concept developed by Bakhtin, was at the heart of this video-making exercise, as each student expressed their own view of the artwork selected. Displaying these videos in the main galleries would be a great way of recognising the unlimited possibilities of interpretation of any artwork and the narratives developed by Lezel, Maijia and Vahid. “

We also asked Sophia Labadi how the project fits in with her field of research.

What is your primary interest in this project – why are you interested in the corporation between language schools and the SMK/National Gallery of Denmark?

“My research analyses how museums promote the socio-economic human rights – specifically the right to education and/or the right to decent work – of recent migrants. Previous research has primarily focused on the cultural rights of migrants and focused on case studies from the Anglo-Saxon world.”

“In this new research, I am interested in analysing programmes that have seldom been looked at, in particular those that aim to promote the right to education and right to work of recent migrants.”

“I had read about the work with language learners coordinated by SMK/National Gallery of Denmark and realised this could constitute a rich case study.”

Part of a wider field of study

In addition to her studies in Denmark and here at the SMK, Sophia is also examining programmes at the Manchester Museum and the National Museum of Immigration History in Paris. In the autumn of 2014 she will publish an article on the three case studies. Before Sophia returned home we asked her what the three projects have in common.

Your research and project is not only based on studies at SMK in Copenhagen, but also in Paris and Manchester. What do these projects have in common? And how are they different?

“The case studies of SMK/National Gallery of Denmark and Manchester Museum have been carefully selected. These two museums offer employment and language learning programmes. But at the same time, the two case studies are rather different. The employment programme at Manchester Museum is for volunteers but also provides a training course using the collections to develop communication, interpersonal, teamwork and customer service skills. The language courses at Manchester are also provided on a regular basis. The employment programme at SMK/National Gallery of Denmark is a paid job and, for the moment, the language workshops are provided as one-off events. Through in-depth interviews with the recipients of these programmes, I intend to understand what are the impacts of these programmes, and why one programme might be more useful for its target audience than another one.”

“The case studies of SMK/National Gallery of Denmark and Manchester Museum are very much focused on programmes developed for migrants. My latest case study focuses on actions taken by migrants themselves using the space of the museum. It analyses the four-month occupation (October 2010-January 2011) of the National Museum of Immigration History (Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration) in Paris by illegal workers. 500 workers occupied the museum to obtain the same rights as other workers, as well as their legal right to remain on the French territory. How useful was the museum for effectively asserting their claims? How did these migrants relate to the space of the museums and its collections? These are questions I will attempt to answer, again through in-depth interviews with museum staff but also with those people who occupied this French museum.”

Sophia Labadi is currently continuing her work with the material collected and with her three cases. And we will continue our work with the project here at the SMK – with trial runs, evaluations, and a film premiere.

Trial runs, evaluations, and film premiere

In our future blog entries we will address the tests and trial runs we have been conducting all spring with language learners at all levels and from different language schools. We will also look into teachers’ evaluations and the premiere of the seven films created by the language learners affiliated with the SMK and Thorvaldsens Museum.


Written by Annette Skov, Julie Maria Johnsen, and Nana Bernhardt.

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