Language brings people together. While the professional benefits of learning a language are manifold, the further cultural advantages of being able to communicate with people from a neighbouring nation are equally important. Often times, a common communication language between people from different countries is not necessarily either’s native tongue. In eTwinning, however, many schools are doing the opposite: they are learning and communicating in the language of neighbouring countries in order to become closer to one another on a number of levels.
eTwinning projects between neighbouring countries are ideal for language learning because they allow pupils to not only enrich their cognitive skills in terms of language acquisition, but also their social and academic abilities. Sabina Vecchione Gruener is an Italian teacher. As a teacher of German based in Trieste, who also studied Serbo-Croatian and Slovenian at university, she has a true appreciation for the languages of her neighbours and is in many ways a pioneer in this field. When asked what language she teachers, she ponders the question carefully before answering. “Well… I teach German. At university I studied foreign languages, specifically German, Serbo-Croatian and Slovenian. I say that to show that even then, I was aware that I belonged to a country bordering on others, to a multicultural country, and that is something I have carried forward throughout the years.”
In terms of her current teaching experience, Sabina thinks that her pupils get a lot out of their classes, not just from a linguistic point of view, but also from a historical one. “Teaching German in Trieste is very special, because Trieste has a close relationship with Germanic culture: it was part of the Habsburg Empire for several hundred years, and this historical background is reflected in the dialect, in the culinary traditions, in various expressions…”
When speaking of her pupils’ eTwinning project experience, which included the discovery of such factors, she has found that the project was a self-discovery for many of the youngsters. “[…] For example, finding some works in the German vocabulary that are also in our dialect, or discovering that our Austrian friends eat the same things we eat, all the time thinking that these were our specialties, all this allows us to discover at the same time both the neighbour as even a part of ourselves.”
Crossing over the border, Sabina’s eTwinning partner, Cornelia Esterl is an Austrian teacher of Italian in Klagenfurt. For Cornelia, learning the language of a neighbouring country is important on many levels. “It is not only for economic reasons but of course also cultural reasons that explain why you should learn the language of your neighbour.” In terms of her pupils’ experience “The pupils experience the language not only as a language being taught at school, but in fact as a language belonging to a culture, in which they can also participate if they want to.” A common border also meant that Cornelia and Sabina’s pupils could meet each other face to face. In this way, the learning of both German and Italian has a true aim for the pupils – they are then able to be international travelers, international communicators.
Signe Sloth is a teacher in Denmark. She and her pupils partnered up with a school in Sweden to learn each other’s languages through song, dance and literature. Although Swedish and Danish share a common language family, Signe explained that pupils needed an extra push in order to learn this neighbouring language. “Denmark and Sweden’s languages are very similar. But if you ask a Danish school class, there are maybe 2 or 3 out of 20 pupils who have been to Sweden. […] They do not know anything about the Swedish language and they have the belief that they do not understand the language at all. So, one of the goals in this projects was that they should learn the understand the other language, and so it was forbidden to speak English (a language spoken by both groups) in the project.”
In terms of bringing context to pupils when learning language, Ria de Wilde, from Belgium’s Dutch-speaking community, explained that for her, learning the language of their neighbours in France became a fun activity for the pupils because they could connect and discuss with one another about their common interest in Fair Trade. “The pupils in France make a paper about this subject and our pupils are also interested, they study economics and so they are also interested in Fair Trade but from another point of view, and we cooperate to learn the language.” By focusing the content of their collaboration around a topic of interest, both the interest and connection between the pupils is achieved.
What is common for Sabina, Cornelia, Signe and Ria is that, through language, the “different” brought about the “similar”. Pupils who had literally never met another pupil from a country bordering theirs suddenly realised that they shared so much history, enjoyed the same kinds of music and movies, and had in some cases the exact same expressions – some of which are not even common within their own country. By crossing the language border, both teachers and pupils find themselves with new skills, new knowledge and perhaps most importantly, new friends.
- Learn about the 2011 European eTwinning winning project for the special category on the language of a neighbouring country
- Watch a video from European Commissioner Androula Vassiliou on the importance of multilingualism
- Listen to the eTwinning audio podcast lectures with Paddy Carpenter, Cathy Hillman and Françoise Robert on language learning.
- Read about the European Union’s latest multilingualism activities
- Test your language knowledge with the Language Quiz