Project Articles

Nordplus Nordic Languages

It is fun to produce textbooks – if they are Nordic and online

01 November 2016
AUTHOR: Joan Rask
collaborating countries: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Faroe Islands

They love it. That is what Norwegian Isabell Kristiansen says about her sixth grade pupils. She is a teacher at Tanem Oppvekstsenter in Klæbu, which is about 15 km. from Tronheim. The Norwegian children are not the only ones who are excited. In Sweden, Denmark, and on the Faroe Islands, the pupils are immersed in producing small online textbooks which they write, record, and translate themselves.

“The children love to see and listen to differences and similarities in the Nordic languages,” says Isabell Kristiansen who has been a teacher for six years.

She experiences that the children are always very motivated, and that it is easy to get them started on a task and get a good result.

Motivation is the key

Stefan Åge Hardonk Nielsen is a teacher and librarian at Vonsild Skole, which is near the Danish city Kolding. He is the originator of the idea behind the new Nordic textbook project atlantbib.org - made for children between the age of eight and 12.

“To me, this is my motivation. It is fun, and when the pupils think the same – well, then it all works out,” says Stefan Åge Hardonk Nielsen.

Atlantbib - Stefan

Stefan at the library at Vonsild Skole. Photo: Joan Rask

He tells how proud the children are to participate. In fact, they want to have even more contact with other Nordic schools.

“I had hoped that we could bring the pupils to Sweden, but unfortunately it was not possible to raise the money for it,” he says.

But that does not change the picture of a project which children have more than adopted.

All Nordic on the wish list

“The goal is to gain an equal understanding of Nordic languages and culture with all the differences and similarities,” says Stefan Åge Hardonk Nielsen.

His wish for the future is clear.

“I hope that the project becomes permanent. We seek an additional grant in the next application round, and this time we will hopefully find partners in Finland. We would like to include Sami languages as well,” he says. 

Greenland and Iceland are not forgotten. They have already initiated a partnership on a voluntary basis. This agreement, the Danish teacher hopes, becomes permanent.

“The hardest thing is to find partners. That is, schools which are willing to invest the time it takes,” says Stefan Åge Hardonk Nielsen.

And time is a necessity. Here, the headmasters are the crux.

Development on three levels

Principal Peter Nordby from Vonsild Skole in Denmark and principal Chatarina Mardell from Frösakullskolan have both chosen to make the work with atlantbib.org a top priority.

“The special thing about this project is that learning takes place on three levels – for pupils, for teachers, and for us principals,” says the Swedish principal.

Peter Nordby confirms:

“I know that it is a big motivator for the teachers. This I would like to prioritise as principal,” he says.

A linguistic shift?

Peter Nordby experiences that the Nordic countries are in the middle of a transitional phase, and he considers the Nordic community as a frame of reference which many can greatly benefit from.

“The linguistic meeting often gives a better understanding of one’s own culture,” the principal says.

He regards the area around Vonsild Skole as being an absolute good and safe place to grow up.

“That is why we are committed to equip our pupils for the globalised world and make sure that they are open towards the parts of society that they do not know,” says Peter Nordby.

Chatarina Mardell has changed jobs, and now she works at the Östergårdsskolan. There are many new Swedes here. They also use the small textbooks.

“It is easier to get a grip of Swedish via the books. New Swedes can focus on Swedish, and pupils with Swedish as their native language can focus on the Nordic. It is a significant advantage,” she says.

It makes sense

The children are aware that the books are meant to be read by other Nordic children. So tells June-Eye Joensen og Thordis Dahl Hansen who both are teachers at the Faroese school Skúlin við Streymin.

“The children experience that it makes sense to learn something new about, for example, crabs and sea urchins – because they have to tell others about it. It becomes important to them that everything is correct,” says June-Eye Jensen.

Her colleague, Thordis Dahl Hansen, adds:

“They feel a great responsibility and they imagine, literally, the children sitting in Kolding, Halmstand and Klæbu who all wants to learn about the Faroe Islands.”

The pupils are working on a book

Pupils are working on a book.

An immense joint project

“I have multiple times experienced that we had to go back to the beach to take new pictures because those I had taken were not precisely what the children wanted,” says Thordis Dahl Hansen.

Every school in the project reports in unison about how they incorporate the books into themes which the children are doing anyways. If it is about geography, then there are many cities which can be described. The same applies to flora, fauna, and authors – and things, which are especially national, have a good platform for telling stories.

“Our next books will, for example, be about Storhvalstation and how to butcher sheep on the Faroe Islands,” says June-Eye Joensen.

It is no coincidence that the project is well-suited for thecommunication of smaller languages.

From Native Americans to Nordic

Stefan Åge Hardonk Nielsen has always worked in international teacher networks. Here, he discovered an American portal where children could learn the Native American’s language.

“I became so inspired – and I developed a whole new project with the Nordic languages in mind,” he says.

No sooner said than done. The textbooks are already taken in use even though the project is only one year old  and still has another year of production left.

Needed: Time and silence

There has already been produced more than 70 books. A large part is translated to two to four languages but the minority of them are without audio and text in all languages. In Norway, there is only a single participant in the project: young Isabell Kristiansen, who cannot possibly make the time to translate all books in her classes.

“The school do not have the resources to prioritise this project at the moment, but I still hope that more teachers and headmasters from here will join in – and, long-term, more Norwegian schools,” she says.

On the Faroe Islands, it is the same issue for the two teachers. Here, they point to another common issue as well. The need for silence. Namely that digital audio requires silence.

“It is hard to find a room with complete silence during school hours,” June-Eye Jensen says.

Still she is sure that it is worth the effort.

“I have met fantastic people in this work, and when we meet, it is clear how much we have in common,” she says.

Project details 

About the new web portal – atlantbib.org

At the moment it consists of around 70 small online textbooks about the Nordic region and Nordic culture. It is written and told by children between the age of eight and 12 and their teachers.

All books are written in their native language, and the other countries will translate. The books can be taken in use from the age of seven to eight dependent on the difficulty level. All books are free and online.

Atlantbib - the portal

What the Atlantbib portal looks like - here in Faroese

On average, 100-150 persons visits the portal during the week days. After about half a year, 8000 unique users had become acquainted with the portal, which is still a work in progress and has not been marketed outside the inner project group. The project group expects that there will be a minimum of 100 books mid 2017.

You can also follow the work and progress of the project on their blog (in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian):http://atlantbib.blogspot.dk/

Participating countries: Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the Faroe Islands

Project period: 2015/17