Culture learning through cafés

Teksti: Marie Pignot
Kuvat: Juuso-Valtteri Kivimäki
Martti Kuikka was an active Finnish teacher last semester at language cafés.

Each semester, many people from all over the world come to Joensuu to study, practice and learn foreign language and culture. At the beginning of the semester, ESN Joensuu organized a big meeting where everyone could join, to volunteer as a teacher or register as a visitor. The language cafés are unofficial so there is no obligation to participate every time. Depending on the language taught, the groups are more or less big, from five to fifteen people. Visitors and teachers choose how many meetings are held and where, around a cup of tea or coffee and food specialities.

“These language cafés are more about culture than language skills,” according to Hugo Schönwetter, President of ESN Joensuu and student from Netherlands. The sessions are usually given in English and organized around games and discussions about the culture of the country.

Martti Kuikka was an active Finnish teacher last semester.
“Teaching some basic things in Finnish and about the Finnish culture helped me to realize that the Finnish language is complex. It is something natural for me because it is my native language. But when you try to teach it to someone, you realize that the language is not so easy,” Kuikka says.

Moreover, language cafés are essentially held by students. This gives an opportunity to learn the actual spoken language, sometimes very different than the written language learned in class. Taking part of these kinds of meetings was something natural for Kuikka. As a student who spends a lot of time with exchange students, taking part of ESN’s events wasn’t a question for him and language café is a good way to teach more about the Finnish culture.

“When you go to a language café, you must go there with the right attitude. You will not really learn a new language there. But it is a good chance to learn basic things about the culture and language in the same time as having fun, trying new foods and such things.”

Everyone can take part in language cafés. Usually the participation rate is lower at the end of semester.
“We often start with big group but at the end of the semester, only few people are still there,” says Schönwetter.
“But these few people are usually the most interested in learning. That makes the class even more interesting.”

That is maybe the only negative point of these meetings. Teaching and getting people interested in different cultures is not so easy.
“I would have liked to teach more about my culture but when you are a teacher, you need to find things to tell about each week, which is sometimes hard. After two meetings, a lot of teachers don’t know what to say anymore,” Schönwetter reflects.