Icelandic senior citizens are among those who are involved in communicating with foreign students in a project called the “Icelandic Village”. “We have met students who speak almost fluent Icelandic after having visited Icelandic senior citizens”, says Guðlaug Stella Brynjólfsdóttir, project manager of the “Icelandic Village”.
The “Icelandic Village” offers an innovative teaching method for those who are learning Icelandic as a second language. The “Icelandic Village” is available within certain companies and institutions in the community, in cafés, libraries, swimming pools and community centres for the elderly. It’s a fact that there are few opportunities in Icelandic society for those who wish to learn Icelandic as a second language to speak Icelandic in everyday circumstances, at least to begin with. As a result of this English is usually used to communicate.
There are currently six community centres for the elderly participating in the project. According to Guðlaug, it is Ásdís Helga Jóhannesdóttir, a teacher in the “Icelandic Village” who supervises the co-operation between the elderly people and the students.
“We don´t normally start a course by doing these visits; the students must have a basic knowledge of the language and be well prepared. The senior citizens also enjoy participating in this project and we often see beautiful relationships form between the students and the senior citizens. We have noticed that the students show the most improvement after they have been on these visits to the elderly. During the visits the senior citizens take time to explain and talk about the vocabulary and how words are used as well as talking about their life and work. One might say that senior citizens are the most patient instructors in this project”, says Ásdís.
Recording the communication
The “Icelandic Village” is a teaching project run by the University of Iceland. Its academic basis is the PhD research project of Guðrún Theodórsdóttir (2010). In her research, a student of Icelandic is followed during her daily activities where she tries hard to speak Icelandic to Icelanders in everyday circumstances and records the communication on a tape recorder, over a three year period. Guðrún studies the use of language based on the conversation analysis approach and explores what methods the student uses in her interactions with Icelanders. Guðrún´s findings show that the student uses systematic methods to communicate in Icelandic and makes use of everyday interactions for doing errands and adopting and using the Icelandic language.
“This is an innovative way of learning languages for foreign language students. We make a bridge from the classroom over to active participation in society. We negotiate with companies, institutions and people to receive our students and communicate with them in Icelandic”, adds Guðlaug. “Going shopping and speaking Icelandic is not enough however to learn the language; more effort than that is needed. We offer systematic and tailor-made training environment and base our work on a specific pedagogic approach which has been developing over the last 5 years. Using this approach, students are taught specific methods to learn the language. The purpose of these methods is to make the student independent and responsible in his studies as well as appealing to his interests.”
The course is convenient for the students as they can go around attending to their daily errands while learning Icelandic. “Their studies take place in real situations,” Guðlaug mentions. One of the student´s tasks e.g. is to record the communications and use the recording for doing exercises at home and in the classroom. This also gives the teacher and the student the chance to observe any improvements.
Guðlaug says that the project has attracted a lot of attention. The “Icelandic Village” is an established part in courses in Icelandic as a second language at the University of Iceland. “Last autumn we also started to co-operate with the University of Akureyri and two elementary schools in Reykjavík, Laugalækjarskóli and Réttarholtsskóli, setting up “Icelandic Villages” in schools and nearby areas. Until now we have only been using this method with grown-ups, but will now be trying it with teenagers,” adds Guðlaug.
Six community centres participate in the “Icelandic Village” project successfully.
Icelanders are kind-hearted
Guðlaug says it´s important for immigrants to learn Icelandic using this method. “It means a lot to me that we are making the learning of Icelandic more accessible for immigrants and they will experience kindness and patience from the local community when they practice their Icelandic. We have organised courses in co-operation with Mimir Centre for Lifelong Learning and the Directorate of Labour. We have also offered on-the-job training and Icelandic lessons in the workplace,” she says about the project which is getting more popular year by year.
“When discussing immigrants and refugees, I don´t think one hears enough about how many Icelanders are positive and helpful regarding integration and teaching Icelandic to the newcomers. Almost all the companies and institutions we have approached have wanted to participate in the project. I think it gives reason for optimism.” The Icelandic society has changed and will change even more. She says that a project like the “Icelandic Village” can enhance mutual understanding in a multicultural Icelandic society.
A great number of people have been taught Icelandic in the “Icelandic Village” project during the project´s five years lifetime. I estimate it is well over a thousand people”, Guðlaug says. The “Icelandic Village” is classified as an innovation and development project. In 2013 it was awarded the European Label, for successful innovation and originality in language teaching. The work we do is idealistic and as the “Icelandic Village” grows we need more support for the project. These are methods that work; they are fun and suit most students well.”
Written by Kristjana Björg Guðbrandsdóttir, translation by NSS Iceland.