Language learning is a very important aspect of adult education because it opens doors to employment and integration. Adult language lessons must be creative, down-to-earth, and worth-while for students to learn. Therefore, adult educators are constantly searching for new and effective ways to teach languages. The Nordplus Adult project „Language Learning through Cultural Heritage“ explores the possibility of giving language classes outside the classroom in cultural/historical sites.
The project idea was born in October 2018 when five adult educators representing four Nordic-Baltic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Lithuania) met at the Nordplus Adult contact seminar on cultural heritage and heritage learning in Ostersund, Sweden. The seminar emphasized the importance of not only learning about culture but also using it as a tool to develop various skills. Inspired by this idea, we decided to try to use our local heritage in language teaching. We planned to take our students out of school to different cultural sites instead of bringing culture to the classroom. We believed that by making a local heritage site the classroom, our students would get better acquainted with the local history and heritage as well as learn language related to the theme.
The nine-month project started in September and aimed to develop pedagogical methods through identifying, inventing, and sharing good language learning practices in five participating institutions. The activities were carried out in similar ways in all partner schools, but the local settings determined the contents and ways of execution. For example, in Lithuania, integrated English-Lithuanian lessons were provided, during which students were acquainted with historic monuments and buildings. In Finland, the main focus was on changing the attitudes of Finnish speaking young adults towards the Swedish language through raised cultural awareness. In Sweden, adult learners, mainly immigrants, improved their Swedish language skills while visiting local historical sites and talking about industrialism, architecture, religion, inequality, social classes, the Arts Centre exhibits.
In November 2019, the project partners met in Odense, Denmark. We were impressed by HF & VUC FYN, a very modern and beautiful adult education centre, and the warm welcome given to us by Gitte Bruus. The school is designed in such a way that there are numerous open spaces and sitting areas, which provides perfect opportunities for socialising and group work. We observed several lessons and had discussions with teachers and students. Here, particular attention is paid to dyslexic students and a lot of innovative learning methods are applied to meet their needs. One of them is „learning by touching‘. The teachers practising this method believe that it is easier for students to learn history-related vocabulary when they are introduced to cultural heritage objects first and after this are taught values, historical facts, etc.
Besides the physical meeting, we have had several online meetings (Skype and Microsoft Teams), which have proved to be a rather effective form of communication, especially in the time of quarantine. These meetings helped us organise our activities, share our experiences, and evaluate our project. Despite many unexpected circumstances (the COVID-19 pandemic, etc.), the project has reached its main goals. We have elicited the students' interest in the local heritage and enhanced their language skills. By comparing our different ways of implementing the project ideas, we have learned and improved as partners in this project. A professional network of Nordic-Baltic teachers has been created, who, hopefully, will keep in touch in the future.