Learning languages outside of the classroom: a museum visit

Many schools in the UK continue to operate excellent language study tours and exchange programs. However, they are becoming uncommon due to safeguarding concerns and other obligations on teachers, limiting options for working with languages outside the classroom. Nonetheless, previous research in England has revealed that young language learners seek more significant interaction with the culture of the language they are studying and more practise using a language in genuine communicative circumstances (Fisher, 2001; Evans and Fisher, 2009). Furthermore, young learners informed us that they struggled to comprehend the possible relevance of learning a foreign language; they recognised that it might be suitable for travel and possibly for careers, but they couldn't see how it could be helpful or relevant for them. Whether or not this lack of knowledge of possible relevance is connected, they also indicate a lack of confidence in the topic, which seemed unrelated to how well they did in their tests. 

To address some of these issues, we have been running a study for the last five years in which 13-14-year-old language learners visited The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. They get to use their languages outside the classroom, witness language "in action," and perhaps gain confidence. We use a CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) method, which means that students visit galleries where our trainee instructors have prepared materials and exercises in the foreign language under study. The goal is for pupils to learn not just a new language but also about the larger world, including the art and history of the target language nation. The initiative also teaches young teachers how to prepare for simultaneous language and subject development and how to teach young people outside of the classroom. 

Marge Ainsley