Communication and language animation during youth exchanges

The goal of a bi- or trilateral youth exchange is to foster mutual understanding and communication between participants from different countries. However, to participate in an intercultural exchange, it is not required to know the languages of the partner countries.

During international exchanges, it has been found that young people were using spontaneous means to communicate with their partners, even with little knowledge of the other language. When they are asking for help, for someone to repeat something or to speak slower, or when they show that they haven’t understood, use gesture, mimes or drawings, the young participants are already communicating to a certain degree. However, without the involvement of a facilitator, this hardly ever translates to actual language acquisition.

Others will freely write words or expressions that strike them into a notebook. Without systematic work, these notes will also not result in language acquisition. The same applies for songs learned during the exchange or for non-formal activities involving new words and expressions. These are used but quickly forgotten afterwards.

Language animation was designed to raise participants’ awareness of these strategies. By taking these strategies seriously and by showcasing their diversity, growth and development of linguistic capacities are encouraged and facilitated.

Intercultural exchanges are a prime opportunity to raise awareness of the other country’s language and culture. Non-formal methods implemented in the framework of language animation activities help youth overcome their inhibitions or fears of the foreign languages and to create an international group dynamic. Language animation must help young people communicate with others and show them that communication is possible even with little language capacities. It also aims to instill an interest in language learning after the exchange.

What is language animation and what purpose does it have?

Language animation is a non-formal method that stimulates communications, helps overcome language barriers, and reinforces motivation to discover another language and culture.

Language animation builds on the long-term experience of the FGYO and its partners in relation to its language material. In recent years, this method, developed originally for the extracurricular field, has equally been used in educational exchanges.

Language animation is not an end in itself. It must be considered in a global context of intercultural learning, allowing for the personal development of youth. Being open to a new language implies opening up as a person and to others. It is only when youth express the need and wish to learn this awareness becomes actual language acquisition.

Language animation addresses the following educational objectives:

  • spark curiosity to learn about the other countries,

  • seize the opportunity to meet youth from other cultures,

  • experience the other country first-hand,

  • make participants want to discover the language and culture of their partners and to reflect on their own language and culture.

The non-formal activities implemented allow language barriers to be overcome, thereby promoting and contributing to the language learning process.

Language animation as a way to open up

The main objective of language animation is to spark curiosity of participants: for the other countries and their culture, language and people. The non-formal methods offered help them overcome their initial fear of others and foreign languages by showing them that communication is possible with little language abilities and that it can be enjoyable.

Linguistic animation thus helps the participants to lose inhibitions that often impede natural communication. This creates an intercultural group dynamic and a real exchange between the participants of different origins. Children and teenagers develop communication strategies and qualities such as open-mindedness, tolerance and curiosity, which will be very useful to them even after the exchange.

The notion of enjoyable learning at the forefront of conscious language animation

Language animation is directly targeted at encouraging communication and to spark a desire to learn at least the words and expressions needed to live together during the exchange.

This approach leads to participants gaining an interest in the other languages by using them as means of communication as opposed to school work. Language animation provides young people with the language tools to express themselves on topics that directly concern them. The structures learned are immediately useful and language learners gain confidence and the desire to stay connected with the other languages and cultures.

Simultaneously, children and teenagers discover that communicating leads to language acquisition and thus experience language learning as a process of mutual correction and care.

Experienced as a conscious process to learn how to understand each other, language acquisition encourages participants to work with new learning strategies. Through non-formal activities that favor memorization and systemization, participants acknowledge that it is possible to effectively learn a language differently than by memorizing a vocabulary list. These activities foster motivation to continue learning after the exchange program.

This systematic process allows for a focus on language acquisition and for the discovery of language structures. Repetition, internalizing, and memorization of educational content allow for participants to consider their progress and nuances between different languages and to actively apply these skills in new environments.

Conditions for successful language animation

Language animation brings a linguistic dimension to bi- or trilateral programs without the need to organize a traditional language class. For this method to succeed, organizers must nonetheless respect a regulatory framework and ensure language animation activities are run by qualified animators.

General framework

The implementation of language animation foremost requires an international group for participants to keep in contact with native speakers of their target language. For example, this could be through accommodation in mixed rooms.

A foreign exchange at a third location offers the ideal opportunity for participants to adapt to an unfamiliar environment.

During these exchanges, it is crucial that a venue be available to the group. This venue would be set up in a manner to encourage natural communication and would be essential as a place for young people to go to when they just “have nothing to do”. As we see it, it is usually in informal environments that youth communicate together. These venues are also important for activities that involve visual elements. Participants can hang up posters for vocabulary to remember later and to use over the course of their exchange.

Language animation needs to be a permanent fixture in exchanges, be adapted to participants’ needs, and have at least an hour a day devoted to its practice. It is carried out in an informal manner throughout the day and whenever there is the chance. It is also conducted in a formal manner, such as by the use of specific methods like games and activities or tandem language work.

 Language animator roles

Language animators are experienced exchange facilitators proficient in the partner languages. They observe natural communication between young people and the strategies they are using, as well as their motivation, timing, and methods. 

These social situations, brought about by group activities, lead to a need for communication. These are social situations where “language solutions” are offered, allowing for verbal communication. Non-formal activities, where language elements are practiced, allows for effective language acquisition.

The social situations between youth remain the driving force behind language animation, seeing as it creates a genuine interest in the language. Youth are living with the language as a communication tool instead of an end in itself. Thanks to the involvement of language animators, they also discover that learning a language can be enjoyable.

The animators are not a language teachers and will therefore not conduct “classes” in the traditional sense but instead they are available to help with the immediate needs of participants. They suggest words and expressions used or that have been lacking, either one-on-one or in small groups, and will then lead activities in small or large groups, where these words and expressions can be reused, for effective memorization. This can be done by gathering vocabulary on sheets hung on the wall, by structuring the vocabulary by theme, and by bringing together the natural strategies used. We know that awareness of these strategies promotes learning.

In the FGYO trainers pool, you will find language animators certified by the FGYO.

Language animation training and resources

Language animation training

Every year, the FGYO and its partners offer language animation trainings. These programs allow participants to familiarize themselves with language animation and within the framework of a bilateral or trilateral exchange. These courses are intended for participants to familiarize themselves with the goals and principals of language animation, activities centered on language animation, group dynamics, language animator roles, and intercultural learning. Course material is taught in a hands-on manner that encourages roleplays, workshops, games, group work, discussions, etc... Educational material should encourage reflection and participant involvement. The trainings are recommended for animators, facilitators, youth workers and teachers looking to organize a Franco-German or trilateral exchange that integrates language animation.


  • IJAB, « Language Animation – the inclusive way », 2015