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Language café - the library as a meeting place, not a depot for books

31/03/2016
di Helena Wallinder
Lingua: EN

Today Swedish public libraries serve as meeting places for people, who otherwise would not have met and talked to each other. Public libraries in the municipalities have historically had a strategic role in promoting and enhancing adult lifelong learning in Sweden.

The concept is not new; for years people with different cultural and language backgrounds have been organising many interesting activities in language cafés. These 'cafés' can be found all over Europe.  There has also been funding for European projects to support the development of well-organised language cafés.

If you type språkcafe (Swedish for language café), you will get 100 000 hits on Google! A closer look indicates that many municipalities in Sweden have asked their public libraries to organise such activities, which are announced on their web pages. Very often language cafés are organised in cooperation with actors from the non-profit sector or NGOs.

Language training lies in the core of these activities, but it does not always mean that the language has to be Swedish. These activities are not only organised by public libraries. For instance, there are several Swedish higher education institutions that hold language cafés where students can practise many languages.

The current migration situation in Europe calls for measures to enhance the possibilities for newcomers in Sweden to make use of their competences in society, and language is a key factor. This is why language cafés have turned out to be such a success. And the message is: you don't need an invitation – everyone is invited!

The setting differs depending on local and organisational conditions. There are cafés for parents and children, creative (traditional handicraft) cafés, language cafés related to choirs, cafés for specific professions and so on. They all have some things in common: they're held at a certain time in a certain place, with people speaking all kinds of languages, and led by a moderator in an open atmosphere. And one of the first words you will learn in Swedish is certainly fika. Try to find out what it means. It might be your first step into a Swedish language café.

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