Liz Wenger named "mover and shaker" by Are We Europe magazine

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Liz Wenger is named Luxembourg’s mover and shaker in the fourth issue of the magazine Are We Europe - because “real change happens by continued engagement from those shaking things up on the ground.“

Liz was interviewed by Are We Europe’s Toon Vos on the importance of language for integration in the run-up to the European Elections in May 2019.

The magazine profiled over 30 people from all 28 member states:

“From 9 year-olds to 30 somethings, from the left and the right, conservatives and progressives, these are the people fighting for their vision of Europe at a local, national and transnational level. “

Read about Liz’s vision here:

Or continue reading below for some of the original unedited questions and answers.

What makes Luxembourgish a language worth learning? Maybe you could give an example in Luxembourgish.

Luxembourgish has a word called “Buergbrennen” and simply translated, would mean something like “burn burn” (from the latin “burere”, to burn, and the German “brennen”, to burn) , which doesn’t make much sense until you understand that this is a millenium old tradition (dating back to the Celts in the 9th century B.C.) whereby a big bonfire is organized in each town to burn the winter on the first weekend in Lent. This tradition is still ongoing in Luxembourg today and comes loaded with predictions of weather forecasts and crop harvests, stories of courtships, and rich symbolisms of cleansing, renewal, fertility and community.

When you learn a new language you tap into a new culture and it shows you facets about your place of residence that you didn’t know before. Suddenly new vocabulary introduces you to the history and the reason why things are the way they are becomes clearer. You start to develop a new understanding of the culture you live in and I think that deepens your connection to a place. It’s a beautiful thing when you realize that the words in another language are not just a mere translation but contain stories passed on from generation to generation.

What will someone miss in Luxembourg if one lives there, but does not speak the language?

On a very practical note, if you don’t speak Luxembourgish, you’re going to have a tough time understanding the traffic news on the radio, and taking part in politics at any level. You may not see a lot of written Luxembourgish, except on social media, but spoken Luxembourgish is a big part of the social fabric of Luxembourg. If you put two Luxembourgers in a room together, they will speak Luxembourgish and you’re not going to know what they’re saying.

You can live in Luxembourg and get by to some extent with English alone and you’ll get by a little better if you add French. However, you don’t get that deep connection to the history and culture of the territory that we now call Luxembourg, a territory that has such a rich, tumultuous and exciting history in the heart of Europe. When you learn Luxembourgish, you connect to that history and all the people who lived there before you and you start to see yourself and the Luxembourg of today in a new, richer light. 

Imagine if you had moved to Japan and lived there for five years without ever learning Japanese. Think of the loss that that would have been for you! Think of all the social interactions and stories you would have missed out on, think of all the knowledge you didn’t acquire, all the nuances you do not understand! It’s the same missed opportunity everywhere we go.

What are the up- and downsides of living in a country were multiple languages are juggled on a daily basis?

Luxembourg is a small country with Belgium, Germany and France as neighbours. When children are in school they first learn German, pretty soon afterwards French, and English as young teenagers. Growing up there is great as you learn a lot of languages when you’re young and you get to use them on a daily basis so they become second nature. Speaking multiple languages opens up a lot of doors when you’re looking for a job, it’s good for your brain, may even delay dementia and it can add a new personality to yourself you didn’t even know was there.

Learning a new language, speaking a new language and living in a place of many languages is fun! If you’re watching the German news and are wondering what the French are saying about the same topic all you need to do is change the channel and check for yourself. If you get bored with your usual English-recipe-based cooking routine, why not look for recipes in German, you’d be surprised how different they are, despite decades of globalization.

The biggest downside, however, of living in a country where everyone speaks a different language is the hesitancy you develop in approaching someone. In Toronto, for example, where I live and where you can expect everyone to speak English, it’s very easy to turn to the person behind you at the grocery store checkout line and ask them a question, talk about the weather or make a joke. At least you’ll know they’re going to understand what you’re saying. In Luxembourg, that’s not the case. You might start speaking in Luxembourgish and realize that they don’t understand and then you’re spending the next minute trying to figure out which language you do have in common that you could communicate in. It takes the spontaneity out of the conversation and I’ve noticed it even with myself that I’m much more outgoing and spontaneous in Toronto than I am in Luxembourg. 

In the introductory piece presenting all of the POLITICO28, Luke Waller named you the “Integration Champion”. Why is that?

When you first move to a new country where you don’t speak the language it is very easy to feel left out and struggle to integrate yourself.  When I started I was hoping to build a framework or community that would help expats like my husband learn Luxembourgish and feel more integrated into our beautiful country.  I had a two-pronged approach, first create an online location with lots of free resources to help them learn the language and second, engage people with the culture of Luxembourg through the articles I wrote about the many traditions and events.  The response I got from the expat community was amazing – they were so happy to have the resources they needed to start their language journey and they felt that my articles helped to demystify many of the events that they would see in their community.

What potential does language learning have in terms of integration in broader sense? You could also address if language can be used as a vehicle for exclusion and, if so, how it can be used as such.

Integration happens when you become part of the social and cultural fabric around you, when you’re no longer viewing yourself as separate or different from “them”, but as one and the same. Speaking the same language is a part of that and it’s probably the one thing you can do that will contribute to your integration the most.

Learning the language of the place you live in is a sign of interest and respect that opens many doors in Luxembourg, especially. Luxembourgers realize that foreigners do not necessarily have to learn their language so it makes it all the more special when they do.  Even if you approach someone in very broken Luxembourgish, they’re going to be much more willing to help you since you’ve already signaled to them that, by learning their language, you’re contributing to the continued existence of their cultural heritage and they now want to do something in turn to help you. This is basic human nature.

What do you think of the rise of the English language within Europe?

English seems to be the most common language in popular music and on the internet so for the moment, it is inevitable that it is a language on the rise. But that does not necessarily have to mean that the other languages are on the decline. Just as English is on the rise, a minority language like Luxembourgish is on the rise as well. We have never been more proud of our language and we have never used it more than we’re currently using it, especially in writing on social media. We have never had as many people learning it, either. Between 2012 and 2018, the number of students in one language school had doubled.

I don’t consider speaking another language ever to be a loss, even if it is English. Language is a tool we use to communicate our needs, our wishes and our dreams. It helps us to make sense of an everchanging world, so it, too, needs to change to keep up.

Latin was once dominantly spoken and now we don’t speak it as such anymore yet it is still all around us since we use a considerable amount of words originating from latin every day, as in the word “considerable”, just to name one. Latin has evolved to keep up with our evolving world and our current communicative needs.

We can all speak multiple languages and strengthen our own native culture. The one does not exclude the other.

Where would you like to see LearnLuxembourgish in five years?

Ultimately, we want to keep helping as many people as we can to be successful during their time in Luxembourg.  Whether their end goal is to stay there for a lifetime, or if they are only there as an expat for a short time, we would like to continue to provide people with the resources they need to help them enjoy and take full advantage of their stay in Luxembourg.  We understand that everyone is different, and they learn differently as well, so we continue to grow our course offerings, in terms of types and levels, but also in terms of the way in which we teach it.  We have an amazing team of teachers and they are always studying the latest and greatest in language learning strategies and we do our best to incorporate these into our Skype courses and the free resources that we provide.