“Work of Art” aims to address a crucial training need which will benefit thousands of museum workers across Europe, hundreds of museums where they work and hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors who visit exhibitions at these museums every year: the difficulty in communication between foreign visitors and museum staff. This difficulty exists because these workers are often unable to speak other languages, on one hand because they can often (although not always) have low levels of qualification, and on the other hand due to the fact that they are rarely considered for language training as part of their I-VET or C-VET, despite the fact that they have a clear need for this kind of training.

The partnership therefore aims to attack this problem head on, by carrying out the following tasks:

  • analysing the differences in the profiles of museum staff at different museums across Europe, their learning styles and their existing training programmes, together with their current level of competence in English and other languages;
  • analysing the communication needs in foreign languages at museums, so as to discover what kinds of interaction should take place for giving information, explaining rules and providing safety instructions;
  • compiling a common corpus of relevant vocabulary for workers in this professional context, available in all the languages of the partnership;
  • designing a learning programme for this target population;
  • determining the involvement of ICT tools in this training;
  • making training recommendations for the future to all stakeholders;
  • encouraging the use of the CEFRL (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) as an indicator of language competence
  • making the results available to all stakeholders across Europe.

This partnership between museums and VET providers will therefore directly contribute towards improving the quality of visitor service in EU museums.

Why is this project necessary?

Every year, thousands of museums across Europe receive hundreds of thousands of visitors, some from the local area but, according to our partners, most from other countries. Once inside the museum, these visitors buy their tickets and move into the exhibition halls. And to a certain extent, this is where the problem starts. Because the visitors themselves may often have questions or need information (finding a specific work of art or section of the exhibition, asking where the toilets are, finding the gift shop or cafeteria, discovering the exit, asking if there is a lift to the upper floors, etc.). But also because the visitors may on occasion need reminding of some of the rules of the museum (not to use flash photography, not to stand so close to the painting, not to touch the sculpture, please leave your bags in the cloakroom, you need to buy a ticket before you can see the exhibition, etc.). And if the visitor is unable to speak the local language, which will often be the case in countries such as Portugal, Poland and Turkey, or the museum worker is unable to speak the visitor’s language, then we quickly reach an uncomfortable situation in which communication collapses, misunderstandings appear and the quality of service provided by the institutions may become compromised.

However, this is precisely what happens every day in museums across Europe. Visitors and museum staff in exhibition halls trying to make themselves understood through gesture. Why?

  • because very often the staff whose task it is to guard the works of art of display in the exhibition halls often have low levels of educational qualification (although this is not always the case) and usually little or no foreign language competence;
  • because this particular target population is often not considered for language training, despite their clear and obvious needs in this area;
  • this may happen for various reasons: because they work unusual timetables or even shifts, making it difficult for them to keep up with the kind of regular timetable usually associated with language courses; because in some museums they are not employees of the museum itself, but are subcontracted security staff and therefore not included in the museum’s internal vocational training programmes; because they themselves feel that learning a language is too difficult, not to say inaccessible; because at present we are in a kind of transition period in which the older members of staff traditionally entrusted with these duties are gradually being replaced by a new generation of museum workers, and this is altering the professional profile of the target group.

As a result, the reality of the situation continues: the very members of the museum staff whose task is not just to protect the works of art on display but also to provide basic practical information and instructions to visitors are normally unable to communicate with the majority of the museum’s visitors. If we add to this situation the more urgent idea that these workers are also responsible for providing security information and instructions, and for helping visitors to evacuate the museums in case of an emergency, then the need for them to be able to communicate clearly becomes not simply a matter of quality of service but also of basic safety.

For these reasons, this partnership, which is composed of both museums and VET institutions working with them in language teaching, aims to study the needs of this population in the area of language learning, with a view to producing a clear picture of how to help them to learn the language (and the languages) they need. In this way, our aim is to directly contribute towards an improvement in the level of service and efficiency provided by these workers, while simultaneously improving the levels of service of the museums themselves and improving the capacity of VET organisations to provide better, more effective language training programmes for this target population. To help overcome the difficulty in organising timetables given the changing working hours of this population, and also with a view to providing more accessible and more attractive training tools adapted directly to their needs, this solution will also examine the viable level of involvement of ICT support platforms in this training context, in accordance with the recommendations of the Bruges Communiqué of December 2010.

In addition, the partnership will study the possible extensions of the course programme to include other related museum jobs, such as cloakroom attendants, gift shop employees, etc., which could also benefit from the results of our project. In so doing, the project will reflect a common reality in museums, which is the movement of staff from one category to another, but always maintaining the ability to provide efficient customer service to foreign visitors.

What do we intend to achieve?

The partnership therefore proposes to create a language learning programme for museum workers whose task is to guard the works of art on display in exhibition halls. This programme will form the basis of a common approach to language learning for this target population among the partners of this project and will, in turn, bring about not only a renewed awareness of the need to provide language training for these workers but also a subsequent proposal to create specific learning tools after this project has ended, which may include a subsequent TOI or DOI project.

Within the framework of the present partnership project, we aim to achieve these goals by performing the following tasks:

  • analysing the professional profile of these workers in the different countries represented by the partnership and their silent partners: their professional category, their educational and vocational training background;
  • comparing the different profiles and finding language learning needs and objectives which are common to all;
  • analysing in the workplace the contextual needs of the target group in terms of language learning, through interview, observation and informal exchange of ideas, with a view to establishing common communication needs in foreign languages. In other words, what questions do visitors ask (and therefore what answers does our target population need to provide)? What instructions (museum rules, security, etc.) does our target population need to provide to visitors? What is the appropriate level of register during this discourse?
  • establishing a common corpus of vocabulary needed for communication within the specific context of this professional activity;
  • establishing the current level of the target population, in accordance with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages;
  • producing a training programme of language learning content for the target population in the languages of the countries involved in the partnership, taking into consideration the factor mentioned above;
  • analysing in the workplace the learning styles of the target population with a view to deciding on the most appropriate forms of support, materials and instruments to faciliate learning, compatible with their profile;
  • designing or adapting appropriate research instruments in order to efficiently produce these categories of information;
  • drawing up a final report which will include all the findings of the project and our recommendations for the future.
  • dissemination of the results to all interested stakeholders.

The Partners

Centro Europeu de Línguas (Portugal) – project co-ordinator
Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (Portugal)
The National Museum of Krakow (Poland)
AGH-UST (Technical University of Krakow) e-learning department (Poland)
The Isparta Teachers’ Association (Turkey)
The University of Glasgow, English as a foreign language department (UK)
Förderband e.V. Kulturiniative (Germany)

Silent Partners

Silent partners make a fundamental contribution towards the success of this project. They have agreed to contribute towards the project results by co-operating with local partners in the research to be carried out. They may participate in local partnership meetings if they so wish, and will receive regular updates on project results and deliverables, including the final results of the studies.

The “Work of Art” partnership includes the following silent partners:

Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon (Portugal)
Museu das Comunicações, Lisbon (Portugal)
Museu da Igreja de São Roque, Lisbon (Portugal)
Museo Sorolla, Madrid (Spain)
The British Council, Krakow (Poland)
Language School „Mały Rynek”, Krakow (Poland)
The Archeological Museum of Isparta (Turkey)
The Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow (UK)
The Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow (UK)
The Riverside Museum, Glasgow (UK)
The Scottish Football Museum at Hampden, Glasgow (UK)
Glasgow Science Centre, Glasgow (UK)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin (Germany)
Deutsches Historiches Museum, Berlin (Germany)
Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebgesellschaft m.b.H., Vienna (Austria)

Lifelong Learning Programme | Leonardo da Vinci Partnerships | Project 2012-1-PT1-LEO04-11978 1 “Work of Art”