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20 February, 2012

To save their endangered languages, Sami group from Norway came to the Hebrew University

Hebrew University president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson meets with members of the Sami delegation from Norway.
Hebrew University president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson meets with members of the Sami delegation from Norway.

Representatives of the Sami minority in Norway came to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem today to learn how Hebrew is taught to students from around the world. Their goal is to apply similar teaching methods to revitalize the endangered Sami languages so they can pass them on to future generations.

An estimated 100,000 Sami people live in Lapland, a region in northern Europe stretching across Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia. Of ten known Sami languages, several have disappeared, and some currently have as few as 30 speakers. Not all of the languages are mutually understandable.

With financial support from the Norwegian government, the Sami have launched several initiatives, such as a Sami-language kindergarten. They believe, however, that they can be most effective by learning from the experiences of other cultures that have successfully revived a traditional language.

According to delegation leader Kevin Johansen, We checked how many people speak the different minority languages in Europe, and we saw that most had declined but Scotland and Wales had some success. But they told us that it's better for us to go to Israel, because the Israelis are the experts and they themselves had learned from the Israelis. We decided that we wanted to learn from the best and so that's why we decided to come here.'' Johansen is an advisor for Sami issues at the University of Nordland in Norway and for the county governor of Nordland.

The delegation was greeted by Hebrew University president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, who told them that the Hebrew University's name was the result of a conscious decision to emphasize the importance of the Hebrew language. Ben-Sasson wished them luck in their efforts to revive the Sami language, and said that more than 100 years ago very few believed it was possible to bring back the Hebrew language, but history has shown otherwise.

The delegation also visited the Rothberg International School, where they experienced a short ulpan class and learned how the Hebrew University and other institutions have taught Hebrew to vast numbers of immigrants, students and others. (An ulpan is a school for the intensive study of Hebrew.)

Johansen said, ''Even though we have been here a very short time, we have already learned a lot and we have started planning for the next trip, to bring Sami teachers here for a longer stay to learn the ulpan teaching methods. We want to focus on is the spoken language, so people are able to communicate with each other. We think seeing these results will help motivate people and lead to better results.''

The delegation was referred to the Hebrew University by Hildegunn Hansen, the press and information officer of the Israeli Embassy in Oslo. Other delegation members included Lars Joar Halonen and Nils Ante Eira, who work for the Sami language center of the Lavangen municipality.

 

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