How are stories born?
A literary project for bilingual classes
“The living emerges from its story. Everything we perceive, imagine, learn, is biographical.”
Stories are born from the space between what is lived and what is imagined, between the person that creates them and the individuals that surround them. Stories are told using language – sometimes with words, and sometimes without – but always with colours, sounds, smells, rhythms, and breaths. Stories travel, they are shared and are transformed by the rhythms of other people, other languages, others customs and other universes.
This project took place in a bilingual class in a secondary school and was part of the European Day of Languages. As part of the project an author-illustrator, Katharina Grossmann-Hensel, was invited to tell stories in all the different languages that she personally spoke: German (her mother-tongue), English (adopted while living in the US), and French (learnt during a long stay in Paris and now the language she speaks at home).
Why invite an author-illustrator to tell stories in class?
Artists are mediators, they are the interpreters of the world. The author engaged in a dialogue with the students that was entirely authentic as she was using all her languages as well as her personal history. The dialogue wasn’t planned or programmed, it was real: an encounter between young people, an artist, and the teachers of the two subjects, present and active both during and after the event. During the lessons that followed, the teachers were able to prolong the emotional experience of the students, creating a link between the emotions they had experienced and language learning.
Why did the children also speak in different languages, other than simply in German or English?
The artist revealed her creative universe to the students. The words and their sounds found their place with the students. While telling the story Katharina Grossmann-Hensel reminded the students that they too have many languages within them. These languages are a part of them and will have an important influence on their connection with learning. The teachers thus accepted and encouraged the use of languages spoken at the homes of the students, as well as French. In welcoming the students with their various languages, a pathway was laid between the school and the families, helping them realise that they too already have knowledge within.
« L’acquisition du langage ne peut pas être analysée en tant que seul processus cognitif, mais elle est toujours incorporée dans des situations concrètes de nature sociale, historique et individuelle. L’acquisition langagière est fortement déterminée par les émotions. Les initiatives individuelles et émotionnelles des individus interagissent avec des structures sociétales, qui soit soutiennent, soit empêchent ces initiatives. »
The students then searched for their own creative inspiration. They allowed foreign languages to emerge in an unknown universe, a universe of the language spoken at home and French. They began by drawing pictures, then from these pictures, these ideas, these graphic creations, they introduced written language, followed by the telling of their stories which were created in and through language. The students told their stories in turn through imagination, trying to use words and phrases from all the languages that were gradually becoming their own, including English and German.