WorldView: A Language Blog

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A Secret

By Dr. Tove I. Dahl | Published: August 10, 2016

These shoes are important and say a lot to those who know what they are. What do you know about them?

I have a secret. It is encoded in my language. It is an expression of who I am. It is an expression of where I come from.  It is my culture.

My culture is the keeper of my heritage and serves as a personal compass, guiding who I am and who I can become. It is my home. 

Though very personal, I and all my Concordia Language Villages colleagues are happy to share the secret of our languages and cultures every year.

As an educational psychologist, I understand the power of this secret.  I also understand the nature of language learning. Every experience at the Villages is about opening doors to other cultures through language. With that, we share the secrets of culture firsthand using a dynamic educational model. 

Our model guides villagers to enter other people’s cultural homes at each of our Villages.  While there, we not only meet and come to know the people of our new home, but we also møter oss selv i døra ( meet ourselves in the door), as Norwegians like to say. By getting to know others in this way, we naturally come to regard both others and ourselves differently -- sparking curiosity, fostering humility, and allowing us to grow into more competent and engaged human beings.

Through experiential teaching, our villagers gradually master the language and cultures of others.  That mastery is the key to flinging our global neighbors’ doors wide open, entering their homes with respect, and enabling us to see how the world is far more than what any of us could imagine from the comfort of only our own homes.

As speakers of another language, the Concordia Language Villages staff encourage every young person to find and use their voice to open doors.  Through stories.  Through play. Through exploration -- all to help them grow comfortable using their voices to share secrets and make new discoveries.

Exploring and living the stories of others can lead to surprises... and sometimes even drama.

By speaking another person’s language, contact quickly becomes personal.  We get beneath the polite surface of chit chat and enter the depths of who we are, how we differ and what we have in common.  By meeting each other through a common language, we can, for example, talk the way Norwegians do about what we are grateful for -- sincerely, specifically, and every day.

Takk for sist -- thanks for the last time we were together.

Takk for nå -- thanks for the time we share now.

Takk for alt -- thanks for this life as I have shared it with you.

On the last night of every Skogfjorden session, we gather arm-in-arm in a close-knit circle under the starlit sky to offer final thanks to our fellow Skogfjordværinger. We are comfortable outdoors in the dark, just as Norwegians are. Through time spent living together in the home of Norwegian speakers and cultures, we are changed.  Our thanks acknowledge that living together in our Norwegian home is deeply personal.

Like giving proper thanks, language learning also takes time.  Language helps us transcend time. Language links us to those who came before us through all they have experienced and expressed in the homes that they have built. Language links us to those who will follow in our footsteps with all that they will experience and express through homes yet to be built.

Transcending time through shared experiences can be everything from plain old fun to deeply personal.

Concordia Language Villages recognizes that language learning is far more than grammatical achievements and academic accomplishments.  By teaching language experientially through living in each other’s homes, we develop other ways of knowing, other ways of being and other ways of blending the best that we have from our own homes with the best of what we experience in the homes of others.  Our understanding of what makes our neighbors tick grows, our empathy for them grows, and with that, our competence as global citizens grows, guiding us in how to interact responsibly with all our neighbors from around the globe -- whether we respectfully meet them in our homes or in theirs.

That is ultimately the power of the Concordia Language Villages experience.

And now the secret is out.  

Photo credits: Tove I. Dahl, Jessica Korynta and Tor Dahl 


About the Author

Tove I. Dahl, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist at the University of Tromsø, The Arctic University of Norway. Born in Norway, she grew up in the United States and was a Skogfjorden villager, babysitter and later staff member over a span of 10 years. She has been dean of Skogfjorden since 1983.  During her graduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Tove became a strong supporter of multidisciplinary approaches to research at Concordia Language Villages in order to capture how broadly the program impacts both villagers and staff. In that spirit, one of her current areas of research is on the nature of interest -- how interest in anything is triggered, maintained and can be sustained over time.

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